The Trinity in the Old Testament

Is there any evidence of the multi-personal God known as the Trinity in the Old Testament? Was this concept of God made up by early Christians or can we see this teaching of a multi-personal God existing in the Old Testament long before the rise of Christianity? Many Unitarian say now that the Trinity was made up by early Christians and there was no evidence of it in the Old Testament and no evidence that early Jews believed in anything but a Unitarian God. They often point to Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Unitarians say this verse clearly refutes the idea of any plurality within the Godhead and shows God’s nature is Unitarian. But is this how the verse was meant to be interpreted with the surrounding context and with the unique words used in the verse? Many Christian scholars say no and provide ample evidence as to why. 

First, Deuteronomy 6:4 is a very short statement and the surrounding context doesn’t give any more clarification to imply the verse is definitely talking about the internal nature of God. In fact the opposite is true. The surrounding context implies the verses intended to contrast the Lord to the possibility of other gods existing with them, such as pagan grouping of gods in which three individual gods are in close related association with one another. A few verses down in verse 13 and 14 we read: You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him and shall take oaths in his name. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you. So the context implies verse 4 as saying the Lord is one being in contrast to early pagan grouping of gods.

Second, the words used in deuteronomy 6:4 do not prohibit the idea of a multi-personal God. The word used for one is “Echad”. Now “echad” does simply mean one but it doesn’t absolutely mean solitary or entirely singular. Messianic scholar Dr. Michael Brown says actually “echad” simply means “one”, exactly like our English word “one” while it can refer to compound unity just as our English word can – as in one team, one couple, it does not specifically refer to compound unity. On the other hand “echad” certainly does not refer to the concept of absolute unity, an idea expressed most clearly in the 12th century by Moses Maimonides, who asserted that the Jewish people must believe that God is “yachid”, as only one. There is no doubt that this reaction with due to exaggerated unbiblical Christian beliefs that gave Jews the impression that Christians worship 3 gods. Unfortunately the view of Maimonides is reactionary and also goes beyond what is stated in Scripture. In fact there is not a single verse anywhere in the Bible that clearly or directly states that God is an absolute unity. 

“Echad” is used in Genesis 2:24 to say a man and his wife shall become one flesh so “echad” is used to say two are together one. Genesis 11:6 says the people are one and they all have one language. Obviously, the people are all individuals but the word “Echad” is being used to show they are working together as one so since “echad” can be used to describe multiple things as one, why does “echad” in deuteronomy 6:4 have to mean God is a Unitarian being? Also the verse uses a word for God that ends in a plural possessive pronoun suffix. Other words ending this way can be seen in Numbers 20:15 (our fathers), Isaiah 53:5 (our iniquities) and 1 Sam 12:19 (our sins). This shows the word used for God is plural and not singular. So since a plural name is used for God, many Christians argue this first can easily be translated like this:

Deut 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: YHWH our Gods (plural – Eleinu) is YHWH Echad (united).

…which shows us that once we understand the original meaning of the words used, we can see that the verse does not favor Unitarianism. Many other examples of plural names and pronouns are used throughout the Bible when speaking about God. 

“Then God said, ‘Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness…” (Gen 1:26)

“For God (Elohim, plural) knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened” (Gen 3:5)

“For the Lord your God is Gods (Eloheh) of gods…” (Deut 10:17)

However I agree with skeptics that this evidence alone is not enough to show a multi-personal God in the Old Testament. It is good evidence but it isn’t sufficient on its own since there are other good alternative explanations as to why plural names and pronouns are used for God, which is why I point to the evidence of the three divine persons in the Old Testament.

In the New Testament the three persons of God are the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. But in the Old Testament we also see three persons of God, who are the Lord, the angel of the Lord and the Spirit of the Lord. Now no one is going to dispute the first one. Clearly the Old Testament says the Lord is God and a father to his people. Unitarians dispute is the other two claims especially the angel of the Lord and while I agree that the phrase angel of the Lord could at times be referring to an ordinary angel, there are several passages where the context clearly shows this angel is the divine God and yet distinct from another divine being, who is also God. Now there are several passages where the angel of the Lord is mentioned. A few only mentioned him in passing and only about Lord and the angel of the Lord but do not give any details about the angel. But these other eleven passages clearly show the angel of the Lord is a divine figure and as the authority that only God should have. 

Gen 16, Gen 22, Gen 31, Exod 3, Exod 14, Numbers 22, Judges 2, Judges 6, Judges 13, Zechariah 3, Zechariah 12

On top of that, three of these passages also show that this divine figure is also distinct from another divine being who is also God. 

Gen 22, Numbers 22, Zechariah 3

Before I continue, the important thing to remember is the word for “angel” in Hebrew doesn’t mean a winged being of heaven. It actually just means “messenger” or “representative”. For example in Genesis 32:3, when Jacob sent messengers to Esau, the Old Testament uses the same word that it uses for “angel”.

Gen 32:3 Then Jacob sent messengers (mlakim) before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.

So we have to study the context of each passage to understand who the angel of the Lord is and not just put our modern cultural defining of words on the text. So let’s take a look at a few of these passages.

Genesis 16 is a story of what happened when Hagar fled Sarah and the angel of the Lord appeared to her. The angel of the Lord said to her “Return to your mistress and submit yourself under her hand then the angel the Lord said to her ‘I will multiply your descendants exceedingly so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” If the angel of the Lord is just an ordinary angel, then why does he say he will multiply her descendants. He doesn’t say God will multiply her descendants. He says he will do it. Verse 13 says 

Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her. You are the God who sees for she said “Have I also here seen him who sees me.”

The Genesis author clearly says the Lord spoke to her but verse 9 and 10 say the angel spoke to her. So the author clearly identifies the angel of the Lord as the Lord himself. Hagar even says she has seen the God who sees her.

Let’s look at another passage. One of my personal favorites is Exodus 3 when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Starting in verse 2 we read

And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the flame of the fire from the midst of the bush. So he looked and behold the bush was burning with fire but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.” So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said “Moses, Moses” and he said “Here I am.”

Here we read the angel of the Lord appeared in the burning bush and then two verses later we read that God called Moses from in the bush so obviously the angel of the Lord is the Lord. Now some skeptics said God was speaking through the angel but that is inconsistent with verse 16 which says:

Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them “the Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob appeared to me.”

God says he appeared to Moses but verse 2 says the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses. So clearly the angel of the Lord is God. The interesting thing about this passage is the angel says his name is “I am Who I am”. He is saying that he is the existing one, the timeless being whose existence depends on no one. So the angel of the Lord says he is not a created being; he is the existing one, which is why Jesus says in John 8:58 “Before Abraham was, I am.” clearly showing that Jesus or the angel of the Lord claimed to be the existing one whose existence is dependent on no one else. 

Now many skeptics can turn this around and say “Well there’s no distinction between the angel of the Lord and the Lord. These verses are just showing God appearing in the form of an angel.” However I already mentioned there are other passages where there is an undeniable distinction between the Lord and the angel of the Lord. Plus there are no passages in the Old Testament where the phrase “angel the Lord” appears and the surrounding context implies it as an ordinary created angel. But there were also passages where the angel the Lord is divine and yet distinct from another divine being. Take a look at Genesis 22:10-12.

And Abrahm stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel the Lord called to him from heaven and said “Abraham, Abraham” so he said “Here I am” and he said “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him for now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.”

Here the angel the Lord says “not withheld your son from me” showing the angel is the God in verse 1, who said he would test Abraham. But the angel of the Lord also says “for now I know that you fear God” in a single sentence. The angel of the Lord distinguishes between himself and another he refers to as God while at the same time identifying himself as the God who said he would test Abraham. We can also look at Zechariah 3. 

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And the Lord said to Satan “The Lord rebuke you Satan. The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you. Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”

Here the angel of the Lord is identified as God once more. But then to rebuke Satan the angel says “the Lord rebuke you.” Why doesn’t the Lord just say “I rebuke you. This is showing the Lord known as the angel of the Lord is distinct from another divine figure who is also Lord. It is similar to Psalm 45:7: Therefore God, your God, has anointed you. This verse in Zechariah 3:2 both show us that there are two distinct persons who are both God which also explains why there are so much plurality in the Old Testament, like we see in Deuteronomy 6:4. But it is also very Trinitarian sounding showing there are distinct persons who are both fully God.

Now there is a third person of God in the Old Testament known as the Spirit of the Lord and he is very similar to God the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. In 1 Samuel 10, it says: Saul went up to meet a group of prophets. Then the Spirit of God came upon him and he prophesied among them.” This is similar to the events in the book of Acts when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and they began to speak in tongues and prophesied. There are also verses where it says the Spirit of the Lord entered into people, which is what Christ and Paul said the Holy Spirit did when you accepted Christ as your Savior. In fact the term Holy Spirit was not invented in the New Testament. It is used in the Old Testament in Psalm 51 and Isaiah 63. In Isaiah 63 the term Spirit of the Lord and Holy Spirit are used interchangeably but we also see that the Holy Spirit is distinct from God. Isaiah 63:11 and 12 says: Where is he who put his Holy Spirit within them, who led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name. So here we see the Holy Spirit is mentioned by name in the Old Testament and is distinct from God. We also see distinctions in other passages as well between the Spirit of the Lord and the Lord. Ezekiel 11:5 says: 

Then the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me and said to me “Speak thus says the Lord. Thus you have said O house of Israel, for I know the things that have come into your mind.” Here the Spirit came to Ezekiel with a message from the Lord.

Psalm 104:30 says “God sends his Spirit” so there is a clear distinction between the two but in 2 Samuel 23 we see that when the Spirit speaks, it is actually God speaking. Verse 2 and 3 say “the Spirit of the Lord spoke by me and his word was on my tongue” The God of Israel said…In this passage it doesn’t say God is speaking through the Spirit; it says when the Spirit speaks, God is speaking. 

In Job 33 for we read: The Spirit of God has made me and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. The verse says the Spirit made him but only God can give life. Therefore the Old Testament teaches that the Spirit of the Lord is also God. Now my favorite Trinitarian verse in the Old Testament is Isaiah 48:16 because it puts all members of the Trinity together.

Come near to me. Hear this. I have not spoken in secret from the beginning. From the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord God and His Spirit have sent me.

Here the Lord is speaking about his eternal nature but then says there are two distinct separate persons known as the Lord and His Spirit who are sending him. In one verse we see the entire teaching of the Trinity – three separate divine beings who are all God. Now I want to let my viewers know the information I presented here is only a fraction of the evidence. I certainly cannot cover everything without making a video over 2 hours long but I want to give people a starting point to see that, like the New Testament, in the Old Testament there are three distinct Persons of God known as the Lord, the angel of the Lord and the Spirit of the Lord, all distinct from each other and all are fully God. 

Not only that, but there were ancient Jewish authors who also noticed a different persons of God. Philo of Alexandria for example, differed was Christianity a little, and argued that the Hebrew Scriptures taught that there were two separate Gods who made creation. Since God was deemed untouchable in all ways according to Philo, the world was created by extensions of God known as the Spirit of the Lord and the “memra” of the Lord, which translates in Greek to the logos, which translates in English to the Word.

In volume 2 of answering Jewish objections to Jesus, Dr. Michael Brown presses his case and shows that the Old Testament shows that the angel of the Lord is also referred to as the Word of the Lord. So when John wrote his gospel and said “In the beginning was the Word”, he wasn’t the first to call the second member of the Trinity the Word. However this topic would take way too long for me to get into now but I think it is clear that the fraction of the evidence I covered clearly shows Unitarianism is not in the Old Testament. There is overwhelming evidence of a multi-personal God who is three distinct persons in the Hebrew Scriptures and clearly this concept was not introduced by Jesus and His apostles.