The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The OT and the Trinity

The following is a response to the first part of Jason’s Trinitarian Digest paper.

I’ll begin my response with just a few relevant quotes:

“There is in the Old Testament no indication of distinctions in the Godhead; it is an
anachronism to find either the doctrine of the Incarnation or that of the Trinity in its
pages” (“God,” Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 6, p. 254).

“Theologians today are in agreement that the Hebrew Bible does not contain a doctrine of
the Trinity” (The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, Macmillan Publishing
Company, 1987, Vol. 15, p. 54).

“The doctrine of the Trinity is not taught in the Old Testament” (New Catholic
Encyclopedia, 1967, Vol. XIV, p. 306).

“The Old Testament tells us nothing explicitly or by necessary implication of a Triune
God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit… There is no evidence that any sacred writer
even suspected the existence of a [Trinity] within the Godhead… Even to see in the Old
Testament suggestions or foreshadowings or ‘veiled signs’ of the Trinity of persons, is to
go beyond the words and intent of the sacred writers” (Edmund J. Fortman, The Triune
God, Baker Book House, 1972, pp. xv, 8, 9).

Actually, echad can (and very often does) mean “absolute mathematical oneness,” exactly like our English word “one” and the number “1,” with nothing further implied. When a Jew counts to three he says “echad, sh’nayim, shalosh” (“one, two, three”). The fact that the Hebrew and English word for “one” can modify a collective noun does not mean “one” can ever mean “compound unity” or in any way mean more than one. Even in English when we speak of collective nouns like “team,” “group” or “herd” and modify such nouns with “one,” the word “one” still means “one.” To speak of “one something,” regardless of what the “something” is, still means we’re talking about one single of whatever is in view. “One” means the exact same thing whether we’re talking about “one grape,” or “one cluster of grapes” (Num 13:23): i.e., “absolute mathematical oneness.” To list every verse reference in the OT in which echad means “one” in the sense of mathematical oneness would be overkill (the word appears in the OT between 940 and 970 times), so here are just ten (9 + 1!) examples: Gen 2:21; 42:11; Ex 9:7; Lev 16:5; Num 10:4; 2Sam 17:22; Eccl 4:9; Isa 4:1; Jer 52:20; Mal 2:10.

Yachid, on the other hand, is only used about 12 times in the entire Bible and then only in a narrow, specific sense. The Old Testament language authority, Gesenius, tells us that yachid is used in three very specialized ways: "(1) “only” but primarily in the sense of “only begotten” - Gen. 22:2, 12, 16; Jer. 6:26; and Zech. 12:10. (2) “solitary” but with the connotation of “forsaken” or “wretched” - Ps. 25:16; 68:6. (3) As yachidah (feminine form) meaning “only one” as something most dear and used “poet[ically] for ‘life’ - Ps. 22:20; 35:17.” Ironically, among the Hebrew words that can mean something like “united oneness” (such as achadim and kechad) are the various forms of yachad. The New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance (1981, p. 1529) tells us that #3161 yachad means “to be united” and #3162 yachad means “unitedness.” And Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament (1980, pp. 430, 431) also describes the various forms of yachad: “Yachad appears about 46 times and in all periods of Biblical Hebrew. Used as an adverb, the word emphasizes a plurality in unity.” Used as a verb “yachad means ‘to be united, meet.’” And although the noun yachad occurs only once, it is still used “to mean ‘unitedness.’”

Now, if (as will later be argued based on verses such as Genesis 19:24, Is 48:12-17 and Hos 1:2-7) there is one Elohim but more than one Yahweh, Deut 6:4 would have been the perfect place to say this. Though no less contradictory and counter-intuitive, the idea of a trinity of persons (i.e., three centers of consciousness) within one God could have been expressed by a declaration such as: “Hear O Israel: Yahweh our Elohim, Yahweh is three (shalosh).” If half of all Hebrew manuscripts said “one” here and the other half said “three,” I’m pretty certain which ones the Trinitarians would be arguing are superior and more reliable! :slight_smile: But of course, that’s not the case; Yahweh is never said to be “three.” Yahweh is “one.” That the Shema Israel means just what it seems to say (i.e., that Yahweh God is a unity, not a trinity) becomes even more evident when we take into account the thousands of singular personal pronouns used in reference to God throughout the OT.

In reading Genesis 1:1, 26, 27 and 3:22, we must ask ourselves: is it reasonable to conclude that Moses was trying to teach a multi-personal view of God in these verses? If the doctrine that God is a multi-person being was indeed being taught by Moses at the very opening of the Torah, why does this doctrine not jump off the pages of the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures? Why is it the rule that God speaks using the singular pronouns “I,” “me,” and “myself” instead of “we,” “us,” and “ourselves” (which is clearly the exception)? It would seem that if God were actually a multi-person being, the very opposite would be the case. Why do we only find this in the opening chapters of Genesis (and later in Isaiah 6) if this is indeed the truth about God that he wanted to reveal to us?

If the plural elohim is to be understood literally (as opposed to idiomatically) it would not be evidence for a multi-personal God, but multiple Gods. It would literally read, “In the beginning, Gods created the heavens and the earth.” But every English translation I’ve read recognizes the Hebrew idiom and properly translates elohim “God” and not “Gods” when it is obviously referring to Yahweh, the God of Israel. In Hebrew the plural can be used for emphasis, intensity and amplification. Other examples of the use of the plural for emphasis and intensity can be found in Gen 4:10 (lit. “bloods”); Gen 19:11 (lit. “blindnesses”); Gen 27:46 (lit. “lives”) Psalm 45:15 (lit. “gladnesses”); Ez 25:15, 17 (lit. “vengeances”), etc. Especially relevant to this topic is Genesis 42:30, where Joseph is spoken of as the “lord” (adhoneh) of Egypt. Though the word adhoneh is plural, this title does not make Joseph a multi-personal being. The plurality of the word simply intensifies it.

The Jews were thoroughly familiar with the idioms of their own language, and have consequently never understood the use of the plural elohim to indicate a plurality of persons within the one God. The use of the plural elohim is for amplification and intensification. That the plural name for God does not imply a plurality of persons is well-attested by scholars:

In The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures (Vol. xxi, July 1905) we read: "Several phenomena in the universe were designated in Hebrew by plural expressions because they inspired the Hebrew mind with the idea of greatness, majesty, grandeur, and holiness…

"Various theories have been advanced to explain the use of the plural elohim as a designation of the God of Israel. Least plausible is the view of the Old Theologians, beginning with Peter Lombard (12th century A. D.), that we have in the plural form a reference to the Trinity…

"That the language of the OT has entirely given up the idea of plurality [in number] in elohim (as applied to the God of Israel) is especially shown by the fact that it is almost invariably construed with a singular verbal predicate, and takes a singular attribute…

“…elohim must rather be explained as an intensive plural denoting greatness and majesty, being equal to the Great God. It ranks with the plurals adonim master'] and baalimowner’, `lord’] employed with reference to [individual] human beings.”

The trinitarian scholar, Robert Young, (Young’s Analytical Concordance and Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible) wrote in his Young’s Concise Critical Commentary (p. 1): “Heb. elohim, a plural noun…it seems to point out a superabundance of qualities in the Divine Being rather than a plurality of persons…It is found almost invariably accompanied by a verb in the singular number.”

And *The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology * (Zondervan Publishing, 1986) tells us: “Elohim, though plural in form, is seldom used in the OT as such (i.e. `gods’). Even a single heathen god can be designated with the plural elohim (e.g. Jdg. 11:24; 1 Ki. 11:5; 2 Ki. 1:2). In Israel the plural is understood as the plural of fullness; God is the God who really, and in the fullest sense of the word, is God.” - p. 67, Vol. 2.

The NIV Study Bible says about elohim in its footnote for Gen. 1:1: “This use of the plural expresses intensification rather than number and has been called the plural of majesty, or of potentiality.” – p. 6, Zondervan Publ., 1985.

A Dictionary of the Bible by William Smith (Smith’s Bible Dictionary, p. 220, Hendrickson Publ.) declares: “The fanciful idea that [elohim] referred to the trinity of persons in the Godhead hardly finds now a supporter among scholars. It is either what grammarians call the plural of majesty, or it denotes the fullness of divine strength, the sum of the powers displayed by God.”

Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament notes: “The common plural form `elohim,’ a plural of majesty.” - Unger and White, 1980, p. 159.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says: “It is characteristic of Hebrew that extension, magnitude, and dignity, as well as actual multiplicity, are expressed by the pl[ural].” - Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984 ed., Vol. II, p. 1265.

Today’s Dictionary of the Bible (Bethany House Publishers, 1982) says of elohim: “Applied to the one true God, it is the result in the Hebrew idiom of a plural magnitude or majesty. When applied to the heathen gods, angels, or judges …, Elohim is plural in sense as well as form.” (p. 208).

In The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Vol. 12, p. 18), we read: “Early dogmaticians were of the opinion that so essential a doctrine as that of the Trinity could not have been unknown to the men of the Old Testament…No modern theologian…can longer maintain such a view. Only an inaccurate exegesis which overlooks the more immediate grounds of interpretation can see references to the Trinity in the plural form of the divine name Elohim, the use of the plural in Genesis 1:26 or such liturgical phrases as three members of the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24-26 and the Trisagion of Isaiah 6:3.”

Milton Terry in his Biblical Hermeneutics ( p. 587) states: “The plural form of the name of God, elohim, in the Hebrew Scriptures has often been adduced as proof of the plurality of persons in the Godhead…Such use of Scripture will not be likely to advance the interests of truth, or be profitable for doctrine…The plural of elohim may just as well designate a multiplicity of divine potentialities in the deity as three personal distinctions, or it may be explained as the plural of majesty and excellency. Such forms of expression are susceptible of too many explanations to be used as valid proof texts of the Trinity.”

Moreover, according to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, the use of plurality when referring to a single deity wasn’t unique to the Hebrew people: “The Ethiopic plural amlak has become a proper name of God. Hoffmann has pointed out an analogous plural elim in the Phoenician inscriptions (Ueber einige phon. Inschr., 1889, p. 17 sqq.), and Barton has shown that in the tablets from El-Amarna the plural form ilani replaces the singular more than forty times (Proceedings of the American Oriental Society, 21-23 April, 1892, pp. cxcvi-cxcix).”

Significantly, in the Septuagint, elohim is always rendered using the singular theos when referring to Yahweh. But whenever elohim clearly refers to a plural (in number) noun, it is always found to be plural in number in Greek (theoi or theois). Exodus 20:2 and Psalm 100:3 are just two examples: “I am the Lord thy God [elohim - plural of excellence in Hebrew becomes theos - singular in the Greek Septuagint].” And “know that the Lord he is God [the plural elohim, as applied to the God of Israel, becomes the singular, theos in the Septuagint] he made us…” When elohim really does mean plural in number, we see it rendered into the Greek plural for “gods” in the Septuagint: “Thou shalt not worship their gods [elohim in Hebrew becomes theois - plural in the Greek Septuagint], nor serve them … And thou shall serve the Lord thy God [theos].” - Ex. 23:24-25.

What of God’s use of “us” and “our” in the early chapters of Genesis (as well as in Isaiah 6)? It may be that this is an example of that figure of speech known as the “plural of majesty.” Possible examples of this figure of speech being employed by human kings may be found in Ezra 4:11, 18 (“To King Artaxerxes, from your servants.” “The king sent this reply: Greetings. The letter you sent us has been read and translated…”) as well as in 2Chron 10:9 ("And then [King Rehoboam] said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me…”). These words are similar to what God asks in Isaiah 6:8, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

It is more likely, however, that God is simply referring to the angelic members of his heavenly court (and in the two references above, the human kings may very well be referring to themselves and the members of their own royal court): “The Old Testament can scarcely be used as authority for the existence of distinctions within the Godhead. The use of ‘us’ by the divine speaker (Gen. 1:26, 3:32, 11:7) is strange, but it is perhaps due to His consciousness of being surrounded by other beings of a loftier order than men (Isa. 6:8)” (A.B. Davidson, “God,” Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. II, p. 205).

It was a common Jewish understanding that Yahweh dwelled in heaven with a countless multitude of created beings that served and worshipped him; if the use of “us” and “our” is to be understood in this way in these verses, then Genesis 1:26 would be teaching that the angels somehow participated in, and were involved with, God’s creative work in some significant way. This is the view found in the NIV Study Bible as well as in the NET Bible (, both of which are conservative and Trinitarian in their bias. In the NET Bible notes under Genesis 1:26 we read:

“In 2 Sam 24:14 David uses the plural as representative of all Israel, and in Isaiah 6:8 the Lord speaks on behalf of his heavenly court. In its ancient Israelite context the plural is most naturally understood as referring to God and his heavenly court (see 1 Kings 22:19-22; Isaiah 6:1-8). (The most well-known members of this court are God’s messengers, or angels.) If this is the case, God invites the heavenly court to participate in the creation of humankind (perhaps in the role of offering praise, see Job 38:7), but he himself is the one who does the actual creative work (v. 27). Of course, this view does assume that the members of the heavenly court possess the divine “image” in some way. Since the image is closely associated with rulership, perhaps they share the divine image in that they, together with God and under his royal authority, are the executive authority over the world.”

And according to Gordon Wehham’s Word Commentary on Genesis (p. 27): “From Philo onward, Jewish commentators have generally held that the plural is used because God is addressing his heavenly court, i.e., the angels (cf. Isa. 6:8). From the Epistle of Barnabas and Justin Martyr, who saw the plural as a reference to Christ, Christians have traditionally seen this verse as foreshadowing the Trinity. It is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author.”

I would only add that the “image” of God in which mankind (and angels as well, it seems!) was created is simply that which separates humans from the brute creation - i.e., rational self-awareness. It is this aspect of our nature that allows us to “have dominion” over the animal kingdom and “subdue” it (for we definitely aren’t stronger, faster or more agile than many animals!). Thus, the “image” of God could only be referred to in a singular sense, even though shared by angelic beings as well.

As with ELHM, the plurality of the word ADNY is meant for emphasis and intensity, and expresses the idea of God’s greatness and excellence. The plural “us” probably carries the same import as it does in Genesis, since it is clear that there is only one divine person sitting on one throne addressing the prophet, while there are also angelic beings in view. So the “us” with whom God includes himself would simply be the members of his heavenly court (and this would in no way mean that Isaiah was a “spokesman for mere angels,” since, again, God is obviously including himself!). Moreover, Psalm 110:1 reveals that the Messiah (adoni) is distinct from the Being here represented by the title “ADNY.” So if “ADNY” in the OT expresses the idea that God is a multi-personal being and refers to him (them?) as such, then Psalm 110:1 expresses the idea that the Messiah is distinct from this multi-personal being. The same idea applies to Daniel 7:9ff, where we read of the “Ancient of Days” sitting enthroned, and the “one like a son of man” being presented before him. The Messiah is clearly distinct from, and not to be identified with, the “Ancient of Days” (i.e., Adonai/Yahweh). There simply need not be any confusion or ambiguity about this.

Again, the use of the plural is a Hebrew idiom that expresses emphasis and intensity, not multiple persons.

The OT records a number of instances where a representative agent of God (e.g., an angel) is referred to as “God” or “Yahweh” himself, and speaks and acts on full behalf of God. According to the Jewish understanding of agency, the agent was regarded as the person himself. In The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion under “agent” (Heb. Shaliah) we read: “The main point of the Jewish law of agency is expressed in the dictum, ‘a person’s agent is regarded as the person himself’ (Ned. 72b; Kidd. 41b). Therefore any act committed by a duly appointed agent is regarded as having been committed by the principal, who therefore bears full responsibility for it with consequent complete absence of liability on the part of the agent.”

The first example of angelic representative agency is found in Gen 16:7-14. The NIV Study Bible notes:

“Since the angel of the Lord speaks for God in the first person and Hagar is said to name “the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’” the angel appears to be both distinguished from the Lord (in that he is called “messenger”—the Hebrew for “angel” means “messenger”) and identified with him. Similar distinction and identification can be found in 19:1,21; 31:11,13; Ex. 3:2,4; Judges 2:1-5; 6:11-12,14; 13:3,6,8-11,13,15-17,20-23; Zech. 3:1-6; 12:8. Traditional Christian interpretation has held that this “angel” was a pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ as God’s messenger-Servant. It may be, however, that, as the Lord’s personal messenger who represented him and bore his credentials, the angel could speak on behalf of (and so be identified with) the One who sent him. Whether this “angel” was the second person of the Trinity remains therefore uncertain.”

(For a few more examples of representative agency not referenced above, see also Genesis 32:24-30; Ex 13:21; cf. 14:19; 23:20-23).

Genesis 19:1-15 and 21 is the next example of angelic beings representing God by speaking and acting on God’s behalf. Yahweh sent these two angels to destroy the cities; they were the ones who carried out Yahweh’s will (vv. 13, 21-22). Thus it was actually the angels who “rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from Yahweh out of heaven” (v. 24). But as Yahweh’s agents and representatives, it could be said that Yahweh himself did this. Moreover, if understood apart from the idea of representative agency, this verse would not so much be teaching the idea that Yahweh is “multi-personal” as it would be teaching that there are two distinct Yahweh’s! But of course, the Shema of Israel does not allow for this: “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.” “The messenger of Yahweh” cannot be another Yahweh, for there is only one Yahweh. He is instead Yahweh’s representative agent, speaking and acting on Yahweh’s behalf.

The Psalmist is here speaking of an ideal king of Israel. By “ideal” it is not meant that this was the Psalmist’ description of what the future Messiah had to be like (and would be like) in every respect; instead, it is simply mean that this Messianic figure existed only in a conceptualized sense in the mind of the Psalmist. While part of this Psalm is certainly prophetic and would later be appropriately applied to Jesus, there are certain verses that cannot properly be applied to Jesus (except in a highly figurative sense). Now, we know that the Psalmist’s own understanding of the nature of this Messianic figure is that he would be human and not deity, for he speaks of him as being “the most handsome of the sons of men” and as being blessed by God (v. 2). He is also said to have been anointed by God with the “oil of gladness” beyond his “companions” (v. 7). But the one Jesus called “the only true God” (i.e., the Father) has no “companions” beyond whom he can be anointed; consequently, the Psalmist must have in mind a human being who, were it not for God’s anointing him, would have been equal to his “companions.” The Psalmist also describes this ideal Messianic figure as being victorious in battle and slaying his enemies with arrows (vv. 4-6), as being dressed in fragrant robes and dwelling in ivory palaces with music being played for his enjoyment (v. 8), as having the daughters of kings as his “ladies of honor” and with a queen standing at his right hand in “gold of Ophir” (v. 9), as desiring the queen’s beauty before they are married (v. 10-11), and as their bearing children who will be princes (v. 16).

Even so, this human king is addressed by the Psalmist as “God” (elohim) in v. 6. But as in Exodus 4:14-16; 7:15; 21:5-6; 22:8-9; and Psalm 82:1-8, the most natural and reasonable interpretation is that the Psalmist is employing the word elohim in a representational or functional sense. The Psalmist was no doubt familiar with the flexibility with which the word could be used, and, being conscious of his specialized use of the word “God” to describe this ideal king, he quickly adds that the God of this Messianic figure (i.e., Yahweh) has granted him his royal privileges (v. 7). Thus this Psalm is a good example of how “God” could be used in Scripture to describe both Yahweh as well as those to whom Yahweh has given a degree of divine power and authority to act and function as his representative.

However, if elohim expresses the idea of more than one person in one godhead, then we would have one “multi-personal God” anointing another “multi-personal God!”

Actually, Moses and Aaron do not together share the title “elohim” in Exodus 4:14-16 and 7:15. Moses is the ONLY one who is given the title “elohim”; Aaron is not. In fact, Moses is specifically told that Aaron would be his “prophet” (i.e., Moses would be elohim to Pharaoh, and Aaron would be the prophet of Moses). Thus, the fact that the title elohim can be applied to Moses is evidence that elohim does not refer to a plurality of persons.

First, there is much scholarly consensus that the one whom Yahweh “loves” in v. 14 refers to Cyrus (cf. Isa 44:28; Isa 45:1; 45:13; 46:11). Methodist commentator Adam Clarke (who was a Trinitarian) understood it this way, and translates the verse as follows: “He whom Jehovah hath loved will execute his will on Babylon…” Jamieson, Fausset and Brown agree with this interpretation in their Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (though they go on to say that Cyrus should be understood as “a type of Messiah”). The English Standard Version (my devotional version of choice!) reads, “Assemble, all of you, and listen! Who among them has declared these things? The LORD loves him [Cyrus]; he shall perform his purpose on Babylon, and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans. I, even I [Yahweh], have spoken and called him [Cyrus]; I have brought him [Cyrus], and he will prosper in his way. Draw near to me [Yahweh], hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.” The ESV (as well as the NIV) closes the quotation marks at that point, and a new speaker then says: “And now the Lord GOD has sent me with his Spirit.” Like the ESV and NIV, the NET Bible closes the quotation marks just prior to this declaration, and translates it as follows: “So now, the sovereign LORD has sent me, accompanied by his spirit.” It then notes that “The speaker here is not identified specifically, but he is probably Cyrus, the Lord’s “ally” mentioned in vv. 14-15.” This is not a “second Yahweh” speaking, for again, there is only one Yahweh - not two or three (Deut 6:4). Even if we see him as a type of Messiah, in the context it is clearly Cyrus who is here represented as declaring that he had been sent by Yahweh to fulfill Yahweh’s purpose against Babylon.

This is simply a more emphatic way of saying “by Myself” (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown). But if taken literally (i.e., without taking the idiom into account), it would not be teaching a multi-personal God, but the existence of two Yahweh’s (again, which the Shema does not allow for).

In every one of these examples, the comments regarding representative agency apply quite well. Because God neither has been nor can be seen by man (John 1:18; Col 1:15; 1 Tim 6:15-16), whenever someone is said to have seen, spoken to and interacted with God in the OT, the person they actually saw, spoke to and interacted with was an angelic agent acting and speaking on God’s behalf.

None of these prophecies suggest that the Son of God (which implies he is not to be identified with God himself!) pre-existed his birth, or that he should be understood as somehow ontologically equal to Yahweh. The most reasonable and internally consistent way to understand the unique and unprecedented honor, authority and exalted status that the Son was prophesied to have is to understand that it would be given to him by Yahweh. That is, in light of the overwhelming evidence in the OT that Yahweh is a singular divine person (“Yahweh is one”), such prophecies should be understood as revealing that Yahweh would bestow upon his (human) Messiah a “name that is above every name,” thus making him superior to every being except Yahweh himself. For instance, in Psalm 89:26-27, we read: “He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.” It is this that would have been the expectation of the believing people of Israel - not that the Messiah would be “100% Man and 100% God” (which, if not an example of a logical contradiction, then nothing else can be).

First, it should be noted that it’s possible that the traditional translation of Isaiah 9:6 is invalid. According to the NET Bible:

"There is great debate over the syntactical structure of the verse. No subject is indicated for the verb “he called.” If all the titles that follow are ones given to the king, then the subject of the verb must be indefinite, “one calls.” However, some have suggested that one to three of the titles that follow refer to God, not the king. For example, the traditional punctuation of the Hebrew text suggests the translation, “and the Extraordinary Strategist, the Mighty God calls his name, ‘Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’” (tn 16 from NET on Isaiah 9:6)

If this is true, then there is no issue at all with Isaiah 9:6 calling the child (Jesus) “Mighty God” (el gibbor) for it would actually be the Mighty God who calls the child “Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” But assuming that the traditional translation is accurate, and that the Messiah is being referred to as el gibbor, the NET Bible goes on to say:

“(Gibbor) is probably an attributive adjective (“mighty God”), though one might translate “God is a warrior” or “God is mighty.” Scholars have interpreted this title in two ways. A number of them have argued that the title portrays the king as God’s representative on the battlefield, whom God empowers in a supernatural way (see J. H. Hayes and S. A. Irvine, Isaiah, 181–82). They contend that this sense seems more likely in the original context of the prophecy. They would suggest that having read the NT, we might in retrospect interpret this title as indicating the coming king’s deity, but it is unlikely that Isaiah or his audience would have understood the title in such a bold way. Ps 45:6 addresses the Davidic king as “God” because he ruled and fought as God’s representative on earth. Ancient Near Eastern art and literature picture gods training kings for battle, bestowing special weapons, and intervening in battle…According to proponents of this view, Isa 9:6 probably envisions a similar kind of response when friends and foes alike look at the Davidic king in full battle regalia. When the king’s enemies oppose him on the battlefield, they are, as it were, fighting against God himself.” (tn 18 from NET on Isaiah 9:6)

I think their assessment (i.e., that “it is unlikely that Isaiah or his audience would have understood the title in such a bold way”) is absolutely correct. Even if the Messiah is being called “mighty God” it could easily be understood in a representational sense (Ex 4:14-16; 7:1-2; 21:5-6; 22:8-9; Ps 45:6; 82:1, 6). But it need not even mean that. The word translated “God” (el) can simply mean ruler or leader, as it does in Ezekiel 31:11 where the king of Babylonian is in view. Moreover, the phrase el gibbor appears in the plural form in Ezekiel 32:21, where the dead “heroes” and mighty men are said (by a figure of speech) to speak to others. If here the expression simply means “mighty leaders” or “mighty chiefs” (plural), then there is no reason why it cannot be understood to mean something akin to “mighty leader” or “mighty chief” in Isaiah 9:6.

But what about the phrase, “eternal Father” (or “Father eternal”)? Well, this poses a problem for orthodox trinitarians as well; it is a basic tenet of Trinitarian doctrine that Christians should “neither confound the Persons nor divide the Substance” (Athanasian Creed). That is, the Son can’t also be the Father. Concerning this expression, the NET Bible comments:

“This title [Eternal Father] must not be taken in an anachronistic Trinitarian sense. (To do so would be theologically problematic, for the “Son” is the messianic king and is distinct in his person from God the “Father.”) Rather, in its original context the title pictures the king as the protector of his people. For a similar use of “father” see Isa 22:21 and Job 29:16. This figurative, idiomatic use of “father” is not limited to the Bible. In a Phoenician inscription (ca. 850–800 B.C.) the ruler Kilamuwa declares: “To some I was a father, to others I was a mother.” In another inscription (ca. 800 B.C.) the ruler Azitawadda boasts that the god Baal made him “a father and a mother” to his people. (See ANET 499–500.) The use of “everlasting” might suggest the deity of the king (as the one who has total control over eternity), but Isaiah and his audience may have understood the term as royal hyperbole emphasizing the king’s long reign or enduring dynasty (for examples of such hyperbolic language used of the Davidic king, see 1 Kgs 1:31; Pss 21:4–6; 61:6–7; 72:5, 17).” (tn 19 from NET Isaiah 9:6)

I would only add that the word translated “eternal” ('ad) need not be understood hyperbolically here (as the NET Bible suggests), since it is possible that 'ad may not carry the idea of absolute endless duration. If I’m not mistaken, the Septuagint translates the Hebrew 'ad with the Greek aion (or its adjective; I’m not sure), which could simply be understood to mean “Father of the age.” That is, the Messiah would here be prophesied as being the “father” (i.e., the leader or originator of) the coming age.

But Isaiah also says, “For to us a child IS born.” So in whatever sense the son had “already been given” the child had “already been born” as well. I think it’s pretty obvious that Isaiah is simply speaking proleptically here.

What I think should remove any and all possible ambiguity here and elsewhere in regards to the identity and nature of the Messiah is the simple and undisputed fact that the Old Testament foretold that he would be a human being. A human Messiah is the only expectation any believing Jew should have had, based on what is revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures (Gen 3:15; 12:3; 22:18; 28:14; 49:10; Numbers 24:17-19; Deut 18:15; 2Sa 7:12-13; 1 Chronicles 17:13; Psalm 45:2-7, 17; 72:1; 89:3-4; 110: 132:11; Isaiah 7:14; 11:1-5; 52-53; Jeremiah 23:5; 30:21; Dan 7:13; Zech 6:12-13; Micah 5:2). But to be human and to be God are two mutually exclusive experiences and states of being. By definition, God is not a man, and man is not God. To have all the essential properties, attributes and qualities of a human being entirely excludes one from also having all the essential properties, attributes and qualities of God, and vice-versa. It is logically impossible for a man to possess all the essential properties, attributes and qualities of God, because in possessing them he would, by necessity, fall into the category of “God” and not “man.” And it is logically impossible for God to possess all the essential properties, attributes and qualities of a human person, because in possessing them he would, by necessity, fall into the category of “man” and not “God.” This simple, straightforward fact is, I believe, fatal to the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ. Everything else being equal, this concept alone should deter us from even entertaining the possibility that the doctrine of the Trinity is valid.

According to Edmund Fortman (The Triune God, pp. 6, 9, 15),“The Jews never regarded the spirit as a person; nor is there any solid evidence that any Old Testament writer held this view…Although [the spirit of God] is often described in personal terms, it seems quite clear that the sacred writers [of the Hebrew Scriptures] never conceived or presented this spirit as a distinct person…The Holy Spirit is usually presented in the Synoptic gospels (Matt., Mark, Luke) and in Acts as a divine force or power.”

Similarly, The Catholic Encyclopedia (1912, Vol. 15, p. 49) states: “Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find any clear indication of a Third Person.”

In the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967, Vol. 14, pp. 574, 575), we read: “The Old Testament clearly does not envisage God’s spirit as a person…God’s spirit is simply God’s power. If it is sometimes represented as being distinct from God, it is because the breath of Yahweh acts exteriorly…The majority of New Testament texts reveal God’s spirit as something, not someone; this is especially seen in the parallelism between the spirit and the power of God.”

The Holy Spirit is called the “third person of the Trinity” for good reason; “he” was the last member to be officially included into the “Godhead” by the orthodox church: “The third Person was asserted at a Council of Alexandria in 362…and finally by the Council of Constantinople of 381” (A Catholic Dictionary, p. 812). But considering the greater ambiguity that exists in regards to what is exactly meant by the word “spirit” in the Bible, the early church’s hesitancy in ascribing divine ontological equality to the Spirit of God should come as no surprise. Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople, wrote in 380 AD: “Of our thoughtful men, some regard the Holy Spirit as an operation, some as a creature and some as God; while others are at a loss to decide, seeing that the Scripture determines nothing on the subject” (Oratio 38: De Spiritu Sancto).

The Hebrew ruach is a fairly flexible word encompassing several different (though related) meanings, among which are wind (Gen 8:1; Ex 10:19; 15:10; Num 11:31; 2Sa 2:11; 1Ki 19:11; Job 1:19; Ps 83:13; 107:25; Ecc 1:6; Isa 64:6; Jer 10:13; Dan 7:2; etc.) the essence of the life and vitality in both human beings and animals that is manifested through movement and breathing (Gen 2:7; 6:17; 7:15; Num 16:22; 1Ki 10:5; Job 7:7; 12:10; Ps 146:4; Eccl 3:19; 12:7; Jer 10:14; Eze 10:17; 37:5; etc.), and a mental disposition or state of mind (Deut 34:9; Num 5:14, 30; 1 Sam 1:15; 1 Kings 21:5; Psalm 51:17; Prov 16:9, 18, 19; Eccl 1:14; 7:9; Isa 11:2; 19:14; 61:3; etc.). In each case, the word denotes that which, though unseen (and largely unexplained) has visible effects. Just as “spirit” was considered the essence of human life, so analogously the term was used in reference to the presence, activity and power of God - i.e., characteristics that demonstrate that Yahweh is truly a “living God” (Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10; 1Sam 7:26; Isa 37:4; Dan 6:20; Matt 16:16; Rev 7:2).

In general, the Spirit of God, or Holy Spirit, denotes the operative presence of God by which God puts his thoughts and purposes into action. It is God extended to his creation. Though God’s Spirit is certainly personal in the sense that it proceeds from him and expresses (or may even be identified with) his thoughts, character and disposition, it is not a person distinct from the Father (I say “distinct from,” since it has been argued by some non-Trinitarians that God’s Spirit is in fact the Father himself, but in a non-localized form; that is, the Father is thought to be fixed in some specific location in space, while his Spirit is simply himself in an omnipresent state, as opposed to being a distinct, self-aware person. While there may be some truth to this idea, I don’t understand Scripture as requiring that we affirm it).

The Spirit of God, being the operative presence of God’s mind and influence, may be taken from one and distributed to others (Num 11:17), cause the one it rests upon to prophesy (Num 11:25, 29; 24:2-3; 1Sa 10:6, 10; 1Ch 12:18; 2Ch 15:1; 20:14; 24:20), provide the means by which God speaks to people (2Sa 23:2), lead someone to a different location (1Ki 18:12), transport people from one location to another (2Ki 2:16), be how God speaks through the prophets (Neh 9:30; Zech 7:12), empower leaders to judge/rule the people (Jud 3:10), impart warlike energy or confidence (Jud 6:34; 11:29; 14:6, 19), supply supernatural strength (Jud 15:14), cause righteous anger (1Sa 11:6-7), impart peace (Isa 32:15), give the Messiah wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, the fear of Yahweh, and ability to judge justly (Isa 11:2; 41:2), endow artisans with skill (Ex 31:3; 35:31), be parallel with the anointing of Yahweh (Isa 61:1) and the omnipresence of God (Ps 139:7), and be synonymous with the “hand” and “finger” of God (Ez 3:14; Job 26:13; Ps 8:3).

Against this view it is often objected that God’s spirit is sometimes spoken of as if it is a distinct person (e.g., God’s Spirit is described as being grieved). However, man’s spirit is often spoken of in a similar same way. For instance, we are told that a man’s spirit can be made troubled (Gen 41:8), long to do something (2Sa 13:39), be vexed (1Ki 21:5), be stirred up (Ez 1:1), be broken (Ps 51:17), diligently search (Ps 77:6), be unfaithful (Ps 78:8), become bitter (Ps 106:33), faint (Ps 142:3), be crushed (Prov 15:13), be ruled (Prov 16:32), search a man’s innermost parts (Prov 20:27), earnestly seek God (Isa 26:9), be followed after (Eze 13:3), become anxious (Dan 7:15), be willing (Matt 26:41), rejoice in God (Lk 1:47), be provoked (Acts 17:16), be present with others when the person is absent (1Cor 5:3), pray, sing praise, and give thanks (1Cor 14:14-16), be refreshed (1Cor 16:18), be restless (2Cor 2:13), and be gentle and quiet (1Pet 3:4).

Moreover, God’s Spirit is said to “bear witness with our spirit” (Rom 8:16). However, this doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit is a self-aware person distinct from the Father any more than it means our own spirit is a self-aware person that is distinct from us. Similarly, in 1Cor 2:11 we read, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” Just as the Spirit of God is spoken of as if it is a distinct person that “comprehends the thoughts of God,” so the spirit of a man is spoken of as if it is a distinct person that “knows a person’s thoughts.”

As noted earlier, the “messenger of Yahweh” is not to be identified with Yahweh himself, but is instead an angelic representative of Yahweh who acts and speaks on Yahweh’s behalf. And again, God’s Spirit being grieved is no more evidence that it is a distinct person from the Father than our own spirit being troubled is evidence that it is a distinct person from us.

And this concludes my response! :mrgreen:

Yay! Something interesting to do Saturday! :smiley:

(I’m trying to figure out how it can have seven replies but only four views so far… :laughing: When I post up multiple comments, the refresh seems to always involve a new ‘view’.)

Genuinely pleased to see this put up; I’ve made some minor tweaks (including corrections) to the digest since posting it originally, and I sure don’t mind making more–where applicable. :mrgreen:

Note: a doc file with all my replies so far (I think) can be found attached to to this comment later.

The must have been every hard for Isaiah to understand as he was inspired to write it. And no doubt just as hard for his readers to understand. His name will be called Mighty God. Which He, that Son given, is still called to this day.

I don’t believe that Isaiah was prophesying that a lingering error authored by the early church would stem from his prophesy - that argument seems silly. But there it is - Christ is being called Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I do believe that Isaiah was revealing the Trinity to a monotheistic people in the only way they (and he) could understand at that time.

Hard perhaps, but not incomprehensible (like, say, the doctrine of the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ :wink: ). Ran if you have time, please respond to the arguments given on this verse.

Well I’m sure he wasn’t anticipating it, because it makes fine sense without having to resort to Trinitarian metaphysics to understand it.

You do realize this view is called “Oneness” and is not compatible with orthodox Trinitarianism, right? :slight_smile:

Why do you think it would have been harder for them to understand it at that time than for others at a later time? Also, your statement presupposes that the Trinity had not yet been revealed to the Hebrew people. But before, you told me that “Adam, Abraham and David” were all Trinitarian theists: Should we form universalist congregations?


Before Christ, they were waiting for Christ - all the way back to the oldest book - Job: “I know my redeemer lives.”

Adam, Abraham and David - Hebrews 11: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

I think we are to make them perfect in understanding. They expected the Messiah, a man, a priest, a King - what they didn’t expect was God Himself in the God/man. The expected a priest on the order of Melchizedek - “based on the power of an indestructible life” - and got the God/man. Plenty of hints - and faith was still faith - but we have much more revealed to us.

Apparently, at the resurrection there will be a lot of splaining to do. We fill them in about the Trinity and then we both fill you in about worshiping anything but God…after you’re done mopping the floors of my mansion. :mrgreen:

Really though, this whole idolatry thing is bothersome. Granted, there will be correction, but I am hedging my bets with fathers and the community of saints. Just be careful about what you teach, dross is dross, but man, that’s gotta sting if the dross is at the core of one’s being - that is to say, one’s faith.

Here’s a Jewish translation of Isaiah 9:6. (Actually it’s 9:5 in theirs.)

I know no Hebrew at all, and have no way of evaluating translations, but it seems to me like* they* would be pretty good at translating their own language… :wink:

Here’s the link to that verse:

This Jewish translation was recommended to me by an orthodox Jew as being a pretty accurate version. But he highly recommended I learn Hebrew and read it in the original… :sunglasses: I’d love to be able to do that someday.


Consider the source of any translation and the agenda they have - their theological bent. OK? The verse in question is in the Dead Sea Scrolls - written 300 years before Christ. Religion, as far as I can see, is all about spin.

One has to trust one’s love for God if one is to carry on. Outside of that love is a world of doubt.

Except for the “plenty of hints” part (which I question), you’re kinda making my point, Ran. Based on the OT, I don’t think the Hebrew people would have had any reason to expect a “God/man” as a Messiah. An utterly unique man who would be without equal, yes, but not “God incarnate” (which, to me, amounts to nothing more than a logical contradiction - and you have yet to show that a being who is “100% God and 100% Man” could be anything but that). My purpose in responding to the first part of Jason’s paper was not so much to prove my position right, but simply to shed light on the fact that the foundation for a Trinitarian understanding of God in the OT is so unsound as to be utterly unsafe to build upon. "Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one" (Deut 6:4). "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Mark 12:29).

Ran, you’ve said it yourself that Jesus is “100% God.” If he’s 100% God, and the Father is 100% God, and the Holy Spirit is 100% God, then you have three Gods. 1+ 1 + 1 does not equal 1; it equals 3. And a being who is “100% God and 100% man” equals 100% logical contradiction. It’s incoherent. It’s like saying, “God loves you but he’ll torment you forever if you don’t love him back!” Either way, we’re being asked to set aside our God-given reason to accept something.

Well, as the Lord said, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave…” :smiley: But seriously, I’m really not sure why everything I’ve tried to explain to you about the Biblical meaning of “worship” is just not getting through. Maybe it’s my delivery. But a lot of it’s just facts…not even interpretation. It’s as if all you’re reading is, “Aaron’s worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator!!”

Well if I am wrong, I’m confident it’s because God wants me to be wrong (for now) and that it will bring glory to him. And in all honesty, I look forward to having any and all false views I may have burned away, and coming to a full knowledge of the truth. I really want to know the truth, Ran. But until either of us knows for sure who is right or wrong, I’m “hedging my bets” with the most reasonable interpretation of Scripture that God will allow me to see at this time.

Aaron, Why can’t you see, logic will fail you in measuring the Infinite substance of God. You can never measure by the dimensions we use in this world. 1,3, 37 or 100% or even 150% are folly when placed against the Infinite God, of Whom there is no measure.

In the Hebrew the seven represents, that which is full and perfect and then you have after it the superabundant eight which is fuller and more perfect. This is a better measuring system for the Kingdom of God but it too must fail, for God is the all and the naught, and that too shall fail because God is still more than the all and less than the naught … on and on we go and on and on we fail!

Throw away your ones, your three and your percentage points and then you must eventually throw away your logic should you care to know the depths of our Immeasurable God.

You might do well to read some physics and cosmology stuff and see the shadow of which I share above, as the best of scientists try to measure the smallest and greatest things in this world. Just the shadow of Heaven and God Himself, which is nature, when measured leaves the brightest of the bright scratching their heads. It too cannot be measured for it also is the substance of the Immeasurable God.

In the end logic will fail us all, because God is beyond what we can even imagine. “Not many wise” it says, doesn’t it.

Be blessed,

Such good strategy. Stand your ground for now. I’ll try to move you, others might as well, but, in the end, you will move only as your heart decrees to new ground and then stand there.That might take years. Oh, thank God for those epiphanies!

But you are correct by my experience, if God wants us to be wrong for a season - it’s to humble us.


God never wants you to be in bondage to false doctrine especially when it comes to know the true nature of Jesus. Being in bondage to false doctrine does not bring glory to God. Your views are all over the place and certainly not orthodox nor evangelical. There is a good possibility you do not hold to any basic biblical doctrines of Christ that are correct. (Hebrews 6:1)


Aaron wont move unless he humbles himself and allows the Holy Spirit to teach him. It is a choice. I believe Aaron needs to get born again and most of these views will melt away. Your view of the sovereignty of God is not accurate. You act like Aaron cannot choose to humble himself and it is all up to God for Aaron to know the truth. Like God is holding the truth from Aaron for a season to teach him something. That is so ridiculous. It is up to to Aaron to yield to the Holy Spirit to come to the truth. Your view of the sovereignty of God will kill you.

Yes, I know that–just tossing it out there for consideration. In any case, trinitarian theory hardly rests upon that one verse. :wink:

I’m not quite sure if I’d put it that way … by “religion” are you talking about the structures and institutions? I agree our trust has to be in Christ himself–not in any theory about Christ–ultimately we are saved by God’s love. Anyway, James says that ‘true religion’ is to ‘visit widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.’ (I don’t see much there about having the correct doctrines. :wink: ) A lot of the ‘facts’ are going to remain a mystery until we see Him face to face and know him as we are known.