The Trinity in the Torah
God does not change. His nature is the same now as it as has ever been and will ever be throughout eternity. What this means is that the God who reveals Himself in the New Testament is the same God who reveals Himself in the Old. And while the New Testament gives a fuller explanation His nature, aspects of these revelations are nonetheless present in the Old Testament. This is particularly true of God’s triune nature. Even back in the time of Moses and his contemporaries, aspects of the Trinity are already partially revealed in the pages of the Torah.
This does not mean that the Israelites in those days had the exact same understanding of God that Christians do today. The Israelites were limited to what God has chosen to reveal about Himself at that point in time. This is true even today, as even with the fullness of revelation, we continue to be limited to what God has revealed in the books that today comprise the Bible. The reason why the Trinity will always be mysterious and paradoxical to us is that God does not reveal everything that there is to know about Himself, but chooses only to give us what we need to know about Him. As the Torah states: “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). We shall speak only where He speaks, and we shall remain silent where He remains silent.
That being said, it is worth looking at what is contained in the Torah in order to see what can be gleaned from it regarding the Triune nature of God. In doing so, it must be confessed that we are approaching it in hindsight: we are interpreting it in light of what has been revealed later on in the rest of the Bible. This is not an invalid approach, since truth is necessarily consistent, and the fact that something wasn’t noticed before doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there prior to its being noticed. What matters is that we are being true to the real meaning of the text, and are not merely attempting to import foreign concepts into it.
First of all, it must be pointed out that the Trinity has always been there from the beginning. Even in the opening chapters of Genesis, one can see that when God decrees creation, when He says “let there be” it is His Word that brings about the creative acts. Moreover, we are told that His Spirit hovers over the face of the unformed world just prior to the six days of creation (Genesis 1:2). This same Spirit gives life to creation, as seen when God puts His breath in the first man, and he is said to become a living soul (Genesis 2:7).
It is interesting to note as well that in the sixth day, when God decides to create man, He says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). The usage of the first person plural here is very intriguing, and implies that personal self-distinctions exist within the Being of the Creator. Now, there are alternate ways of attempting to explain this passage. Some say that God is addressing His angels, or that He is speaking in the plural of majesty (just as how the queen of England would say “We are not amused.”) Needless to say, these explanations do not really work, as they cannot be substantiated by the rest of scripture. The best explanation remains that God speaks in the first person plural because He is multi-personal in nature.
One other piece of information to take into account is the appearance of God to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:1ff). As He converses with Abraham, He discusses His plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:17ff). In the next chapter, God walks towards Sodom and Gomorrah, and their destruction is described. Interestingly, it is written towards the end of the account that “Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.” (Genesis 19:24). Here, there appear to be two Yahwehs present simultaneously; one on earth and one in heaven. If we read this passage in light of the Triune nature of God, the appearance of more than one person who are both regarded by scripture as Yahweh make perfect sense.
Finally, a word must be said regarding the oneness of God, as it is always important to connect the oneness of God’s Being with the threeness of His person: Every practicing Jew is familiar with the words of the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). What is interesting is that the Hebrew language has two words for “one.” The first one is the word yakhid (יְחִֽידְ). This word is used to denote absolute oneness. In the Torah, it is used to refer to a child who has no siblings. If the Hebrew author wanted to indicate that God was an absolute, homogenous unity, he would have used this term.
However, as anybody who can read the shema in Hebrew knows, the word that is used is not yakhid, but rather ekhad (אֶדחָֽ). This is a word that is used to simply mean unity, without the connotation of homogeneity or aloneness that comes with the first word. It is interesting to see how this word is used elsewhere in the Torah. For example, in Genesis 2:24, when a man leaves his parents to become joined to his wife, it is said that they become “one [אֶחָֽד] flesh.” And when the spies are sent by Moses to survey the promised land, when they come to the valley of Eshcol, it is written that “[they] cut down a branch with a single [אֶחָ֔ד] cluster of grapes; and they carried it on a pole between two men, with some of the pomegranates and the figs” (Numbers 13:23). As is clear from the way the word is used in these two instances, the word Ekhad can be used to denote a compound unity. That is exactly what the Trinity means: That God is a compound unity of three persons Who together constitute One Being.
Thus, it can be seen that belief in God as a Trinity is perfectly compatible the confession of faith found in the Shema. Furthermore, we can see how this teaching is found embedded in the pages of the Pentateuch. Although it is nowhere near as clear here as it is in the New Testament, we see that even then, God has already provided hints of His Triune nature.
- Some translations (such as the NRSV and NEB) render the word Ruwakh (ר֣וּחַ) as “wind” rather than “Spirit,” but this makes little difference, since in the Hebraic conception, wind and spirit are one and the same concept.
- Biblical scholar Dr. Gleason Archer notes concerning Genesis 1:26: “This first person plural can hardly be a mere editorial or royal plural that refers to the speaker alone, for no such usage is demonstrable anywhere else in biblical Hebrew. Therefore, we must face the question of who are included in this ‘us’ and ‘our.’ It could hardly include the angels in consultation with God, for nowhere is it ever stated that man was created in the image of angels, only of God. Verse 27 then affirms: ‘and God [Elohim] created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them’ (NASB). God—the same God who spoke of Himself in the plural—now states that He created man in His image. In other words, the plural equals the singular. This can only be understood in terms of the Trinitarian nature of God. The one true God subsists in three Persons, Persons who are able to confer with one another and carry their plans into action together—without ceasing to be one God” (Archer, Gleason. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982. p. 359.).
- It is used this way three times in Genesis 22, where Isaac is said to be Abraham’s “only [יְחִֽידְ] son” (verses 2, 12 and 16).
- James White – A Brief Definition of the Trinity
- Rich Deem – The Triunity (Trinity) of God in The Old Testament