Where is the Trinity in the Old Testament?

A piece of mine reflecting upon the doctrine of the Trinity within the Old Testament has just been posted over on the Desiring God website:

Arising out of the crucible of christological and theological debates in the early centuries of the church, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity expresses the mystery of God that is the heart of all revelation. The philosophical cast and categories of these later disputes transposed the biblical material into very different idioms and discourses animated by rather different concerns. While they were concerned faithfully and fully to articulate the material truth of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, the philosophical vantage points from which they did so were not, for the most part, native to — or at least typical of — the Scriptures themselves.

The result is a doctrine that speaks to deep realities that are often only penumbral to the revelation of Scripture itself, within which the sort of philosophical concerns regarding being that would exercise later theological minds emerge only sporadically and tangentially. Although the truth of the Trinity is materially present within Scripture, it requires a sort of discourse that proceeds according to different — and largely extra-scriptural — principles of investigation for that truth to come into crisp doctrinal focus.

The later philosophical discourse that played midwife to a Christian doctrine of the Trinity is by no means either illegitimate or inappropriate, as some more biblicist thinkers have suggested. Quite the opposite! It has served more fully and consistently to disclose the eternal, uncreated, living God who exists independent of all created things. This, it must be observed, continues a work of demythologization that distinguishes the Old Testament itself from the ancient Near Eastern literature contemporary with it, the gods of whose polytheistic pantheons were typically fickle, flawed, and limited sexual beings with origin stories, conceptually and metaphysically imprisoned within the changeable material realm of creation itself.

Read the whole piece here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Doctrine of God, Genesis, OT, OT Theology, The Triune God, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Where is the Trinity in the Old Testament?

  1. Col. Bunny says:

    It’s materially in scripture, but, like, invisible. However, stuff outside of scripture shows how it’s really in scripture after all.
    Got it.
    I think.

  2. Andrew says:

    Thanks. Very interesting.

    I also observe that the NT uses God and Father interchangeably in casual use. Beyond this, it often explicitly refers to the Father as the God of Jesus, but occasionally carefully restructures the language to deliberately connect Jesus / the Son as God.

    Selection of passages that clearly refer to God as distinct from Jesus: John 20:17, Acts 3:13, Rom 15:6, 1 Cor 8:6, 15:27, 2 Cor 1:3, Gal 1:1, Eph 1:3,17, 1 Thess 3:11, 1 Pet 1:3, 2 Pet 1:17, Rev 1:5-6. Mostly, when the NT says “God” it means “God the Father”, and this is consistent with OT usage.

    But contrast John 1:1, 1:18 or Romans 9:5, each of which explicitly ties Jesus’ divinity into the divinity of God himself (not just “like God”, but “is God”).

    And then you get the consistent NT pattern of “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (which is used by almost all the NT authors, not just Paul). This isn’t describing Jesus as just a chief angel. Rather, the OT title for God of LORD has been shamelessly placed on Jesus – he carries the (OT) Lordship of God as his birthright.

    Every so often, the NT looks back to the OT attributes of God and describes them as joint works. For example, in 1 Cor 8:6 everything (including life) explicitly comes from God and through Jesus – both are necessary for the divine work. Likewise, compare Rev 1:8 and 4:8 with Rev 1:17 and 22:13. God is the Alpha and the Omega, who was and is and is to come. But in Rev 1:17, Jesus is the First and the Last (NIV), and in 22:13 describes himself as the Alpha and Omega.

    Finally, from a philosophical perspective, it’s worth observing that “God” (in all his persons) primarily exists outside our space & time. We only see of God what he chooses to present to us. And therefore trying to model the physical nature of God within our temporal categories is a fools errand – we should accept him as he presents to us rather than trying to model his nature as if he were a temporal being.

  3. Francis Ryan says:

    I enjoy so many articles on Desiring God. Your title grabbed my attention because it is of special interest to me. I must admit not having a doctorate I found this a difficult read. Many of us are just lay people anxious to learn. Could you recommend other articles on this topic that are easier to understand? I by no means intend to offend. I grew up with Jesuits and hardly understood most of those deeper conversations. 😊

  4. Mike Ford says:

    The Trinity is metaphorically (i.e. “typologically”) pictured in the OT as Abraham (Father), Isaac (Son) and Eliezar (Spirit).

    Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac pictures God, the Father, sacrificing His Son (Jesus as Messiah). Eliezar, as Abraham’s servant, sent to find a “bride” (Rebekah) for Isaac, shows the Holy Spirit seeking Jesus’s “bride” (the true Church) for the Divine Marriage (total covenant union and unity) to come in the Next Age. Note the “veil” she wears when she sees Isaac, figuratively reveals the “veil” (barrier) between God (alive, uncreated and invisible) and Man (visible creation).

    • Mike Ford says:

      So, the “veil” in the Bible refers both to: 1) the curtain separating the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle and temple, AND 2) the veil worn by a bride to show she is engaged to be married (like Rebekah – Genesis 24:65).

      This has obvious inferences to the Church as the “bride” of Christ and the meaning of seeing Christ “face to face”, as the Bride sees the Groom, once they are wed.

  5. Pingback: Где Троица в Ветхом Завете? - Life

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