The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The OT and the Trinity


Ok, so the Trinitarian/Unitarian debate (Trinitarian Versus Unitarian Debate at “Parchment and Pen”) has re-kindled my interest in this topic, so I decided to blow the dust off of the little I’d written so far in response to Jason and try to finish what I’d started! While it’s not as thorough as I’d like, I didn’t want to keep this thread in suspended animation for too much longer. So here’s my attempt at a “rebuttal.” :slight_smile:

Except the Shema neither says nor implies that “YHWH is numerically one YHWH of three Persons.” It says “YHWH is one,” period - which I would suggest emphasizes in the strongest language possible the utter oneness of God in every conceivable sense, and, if so, would necessarily exclude any idea of YHWH being numerically more than one (e.g., having numerically more than one will, or more than one center of consciousness).
(As an aside, there are some instances in which AeCHaD may convey the stronger idea of “only one” or “just one” - e.g., Num. 10:4; Deut 17:6; Josh. 17:14; Esth. 4:11; Isa. 51:2. But since this is not necessary to my argument, I simply mention it for your consideration)

First (and as I’m sure you’d agree), this is figurative language; husband and wife do not literally become “one flesh.” This is a powerful image that speaks of the intimate bond between husband and wife. Second, AeCHaD here still means “numerically one” - not numerically more than one. The “one flesh” that husband and wife become in Gen 2:24 is indeed “one flesh” (not “one fleshes”). AeCHaD still means “numerically one.” But third (and here’s what I really want to stress) the key factor in this and other similar passages is that two or more “parts” are mentioned, such that the reader can immediately discern that there is some kind of “coming together” of the people or things mentioned. AeCHaD, in fact, must maintain its meaning of “numerically one” for these expressions to convey their intended sense. But it is this factor that is conspicuously absent from Deut. 6:4! The Shema does not say, “YHWH our God, though three, is yet one.” There is no hint of anything numerically more than one “coming together” here. No composite “parts” (or persons) that together make “one.” The verse says that YHWH our God is unequivocally “one.”

Moreover (and I may be bringing this up again later), it is a common Hebrew idiom found in the OT (and in the NT) to repeat a word (e.g., a person’s name or title) for emphasis instead of using a pronoun. While the idiom can be used with impersonal things as well (and I’d be glad to provide examples if you want), here are just a few examples where persons are in view: Gen 4:23-24; 16:16; 18:17-19; Ex 34:35; 1 Kings 2:19; 10:13; 12:21; Esther 8:8; Ezekiel 11:24 (I’ve included this verse since you believe the Spirit of God is a divine person ); Dan 3:2-3; 9:17; Ex 16:6-7; 1 Sam 3:21; 12:7; 2 Chron 7:2. Now, it’s evident that Deut. 6:4 is a clear example of this idiomatic way of speaking; the divine name YHWH is repeated for emphasis instead of the use of a pronoun. But consider this: if we were to replace the second use of the name YHWH with an appropriate pronoun, what would we use? Well, based on the kind of pronouns consistently used in reference to YHWH throughout the OT, it’s kind of a no-brainer: we would use the singular personal pronoun “he” (not “they”). So when we replace the second, emphatic use of the divine name with an appropriate pronoun, Deut 6:4 would thus read, “Hear, O Israel: YHWH our God, HE is one.” “He” is the personal pronoun that is implied here.

Thus, I think the ONLY way the Shema could not be the serious blow to trinitarian doctrine that I believe it is, is if the plural pronoun “they” were an appropriate substitute to replace (i.e., implicitly) the second emphatic use of YHWH in Deut 6:4. But it would not at all be appropriate. Throughout the OT, YHWH Elohim is an “I,” a “He,” a “Him” a “Me,” a “Myself,” etc. He is referred to, and refers to himself, as a singular person. Here’s a prime example of YHWH himself speaking (notice all the singular pronouns): “How can I give you up Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within Me; all My compassion is aroused. I will not carry out My fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man (!) – the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath” (Hos. 11:8-9). And here’s an example of people referring to YHWH: “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘YHWH, He is God; YHWH, He is God’” (1King 18:39). Is there one example in the OT where we are told, “YHWH, they are God”? No, there’s not. And that’s why I think the Shema not only doesn’t support trinitarian doctrine, but stands in opposition to it.

(Interestingly, there are five instances where AeCHaD is used in the plural (AeCHaDiM): Gen. 11:1; 27:44, 29:20; Ezek. 37:17; and Dan. 11:20. AeCHaDiM is usually translated “few,” but “one” may be the best translation in Gen. 11:1 and Ezek. 37:17. In those passages, AeCHaDiM is used with plural nouns, and perhaps here does have the sense of “compound one!”)

Again, AeCHaD here still means “numerically one” - not numerically more than one. The evening and morning are dual “components” of numerically one day.

It would mean we are all singularly and numerically one in whatever sense is meant - but obviously it would be in a figurative sense. That is, it would mean “one” in the sense of sharing a common emotional or religious bond, sharing a common purpose, or sharing the same character (etc.). To use a NT example, when Jesus says “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), the word “one” literally means “numerically one.” But it’s being used in a figurative sense, and carries the same figurative meaning as in John 17:21-23 when believers are in view (i.e., it is a “oneness” in will and purpose). Another example is when the apostle Paul speaks of he and Apollos as being “one” (1 Corinthians 3:8). That is, it means they share a common purpose. But again, literally it still means “numerically one.” AeCHaD in the OT has a fixed meaning no matter what it refers to, and that meaning is “numerically one.” But I think we’re in fundamental agreement on this; again, the main issue is, “Does the name YHWH denote numerically more than one person?” As it turns out, it doesn’t (at least, if singular personal pronouns mean anything at all). All of the singular personal pronouns used in reference to YHWH compel us to understand the Shema to mean, “YHWH our God, HE is one.” Not “they are one.”

Again, AeCHaD denotes numerical oneness and can never mean (as you said at one point) “numerically more than one.” It is the noun that is modified by AeCHad that carries any meaning of plurality or “corporality.” Any sense of “more than one” or plurality must be derived from the noun that AeCHaD is modifying - the meaning of AeCHaD itself doesn’t change. And in the case where a noun isn’t explicitly mentioned, it is either implied, or “one” is being used figuratively to mean something like “sharing a common purpose.” Either way, the literal meaning of AeCHaD is numerically one.

I agree that AeCHaD can modify that which is collective or compound, but in order for it to be understood to be modifying that which is collective or compound, it must first be understood that whatever it’s modifying IS collective or compound. AeCHaD itself tells us nothing about whether or not something is collective or compound; and since all we are told in the Shema is simply that “YHWH our Elohim, YHWH (“he”!) is one” - with nothing further implied - then it seems utterly counter-intuitive (even contrary to what’s being said) to see the declaration as in any way suggesting or implying or “hinting” that YHWH is in any sense numerically more than one.

I realize you added “with YHWH’s sanction” but still, I find the word “pretending” to be rather inappropriate, as it would suggest deceit and/or insincerity. When YHWH invested an angelic being with the authority to act and speak on his behalf (i.e., when YHWH’s “name” was “in him” - Ex 23:20-23) then as long as the angel had that authority, he spoke the very words of YHWH himself. Thus, when a representative agent spoke on behalf of YHWH, it was as if YHWH himself were personally present and speaking. The agent speaking is speaking the very words of YHWH, so however YHWH would speak and refer to himself is how his representative agent would speak. A representative agent functioned as one’s mouthpiece. Again, according to the Jewish understanding of agency, the agent was regarded as the person himself. In The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion under “agent” (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.”
I will have more to say in regards to representative agency later, but yes, the multitude of singular personal pronouns used either by YHWH himself OR his authorized representative agents do (I think) forcibly tip the scales in favour of Unitarianism.

Well seeing as God is mentioned more than any other single personal entity in the Bible, of course it would be “pretty rare!” And regardless of one’s view of how many persons God is, why would we even expect it to be used frequently and as a rule for non-God personal entities? The whole point of the idiom is to intensify and emphasize a word, so of course the Jews would use the idiom when referring to the Creator of the universe as a rule instead of when referring to non-God personal entities. But the fact remains that it is used “outside of God,” and your conceding this is all my argument needs.

Now, the common characteristic of intensive plurals is that they have the plural suffix while denoting singular objects, and as a result they receive singular adjectives and verbs. Now, is this the case that we find with Elohim? Yep, overwhelmingly (and for ADNY too!). The word Elohim appears in its plural form over 2,000 times throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and in virtually every instance it has singular verbs and singular adjectives - which is exactly what we would expect if this were an example of an intensive plural and not a numerical plural. In Hebrew, a numerically plural noun has three characteristics: 1. It receives a plural suffix. 2. It receives a plural verb. 3. It receives a plural adjective. Whenever YHWH Elohim is in view (as opposed to any non-God entities), we have only 1 of these 3 characteristics met, which again is proof-positive that Elohim, as a title for YHWH, is to be understood as an intensive plural and not in any way as a numerical plural.

I take it this is your way of agreeing that, “Yeah, basically the plural form of ‘lord’ is being used to refer to a human being here.” :smiley:

I do think they could have been using the plural intensive title in a flippant and non-respectful way. But even if they were, it is likely they were still referring to Joseph according to the actual status he was previously perceived as holding (i.e., when they were “worshiping” at his feet! - Gen 42:6). So while I have no problem with the idea that Joseph’s brothers were not using the title respectfully, I think it’s extremely unlikely that they were (sarcastically) ascribing “divine status” to him. Even if Joseph’s brothers were speaking of Joseph as the “lord of the land” in a sarcastic and exaggerated way by using the intensive plural, it is by no means the case that, in doing so, they were ascribing a pseudo-divine status to him (instead, it would be more like a person saying to their spouse under their breath, “Whatever you say, your highness…” - not that I’ve ever done that, of course! ). In either case, I see no reason to believe that the title “lord” was being intensified by his brothers because it had anything inherently to do with Deity (much less anything to do with a supposed “plurality of persons” in the God!), but because intensive plurals (when persons are in view) conveyed the idea of reverence and respect (or the opposite, if used disingenuously).

Now, you appear to be using “intensive (or “emphatic”) plural” and “divine plural” interchangeably. But these expressions are not interchangeable; the former is a recognized Hebrew idiom that may be employed with divine titles, human titles or virtually anything. But the latter (what you refer to as the “divine plural”) is not an idiom in itself; rather, it is a particular application of the intensive/emphatic plural idiom. In other words, to intensify a singular word by making it plural is not exclusive to speaking about Deity - it’s simply a way to intensify or emphasize anything, whether it’s a personal title or a non-personal thing or animal; the same idiom is being used in both cases.

To show that human beings could be appropriately referred to with “intensive plural” titles without conveying the idea of divine (or pseudo-divine) status, here are a few more examples of the intensive plural being used for singular non-God entities.

In Isa 19:4, we read, “I will imprison the Egyptians in the hand of a harsh master; and a fierce king shall rule over them.” In this verse the fierce king that will enslave Egypt is described as a “a hard (singular) master (plural).” The plural suffix attached to the word “master” does not make it a numerical plural (“masters”) but instead intensifies the meaning (i.e., “great master”). Because the word “master” is here an intensive plural and not a numerical plural, it receives the singular adjective (“hard”) and not the plural adjective that would be required for a numerical plural.

Similarly, in Exodus 21:28-32 the owner of the “goring ox” is repeatedly referred to with the plural suffix even though the ox is only owned by one person. In this case, the plural suffix intensifies the noun, imbuing it with a connotation of “absolute owner” or “complete master.” Because “owner” is an intensive plural, it gets a singular verb. Thus we read concerning the negligent owner whose ox has killed someone, “the ox shall be stoned and the owner (he) will be put to death” (Ex 21:29). The verb “he will be put to death” is in the singular even though the word for “owner” has the plural suffix.

And in Mal 1:6, God says, “A son honors his father, and a servant his master (“masters”). If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master (“masters” again), where is my fear?” In both cases the word is not a numerical plural, but an intensive plural (i.e., “great master”). What’s interesting is that YHWH is clearly taking human titles that have nothing inherently or necessarily to do with Deity and applying them to himself to make his point (this fact will be important later on when we get to Isaiah 9:6 and 10:21).

In Judges 19:26 we read, “And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master (adoneyah, “lords/masters”) was, till it was light.” Here the concubine’s master is referred to by the intensive plural for “lord.” It is clear from the context (where the referent of the plural noun is a single individual) that the plural emphasizes the Levite’s absolute authority over the woman.

In Gen. 24:9-10 we read, “So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter. Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor.” In all three cases, “master” is plural. But since Abraham is a singular being, the plural is to be understood as an intensive plural, not a numerical plural.
In Gen 40:1 we read, “Sometime after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord (“lords”) the king of Egypt.” Again, same thing here; the plural is clearly intensive, not numerical. What’s most significant about this example is that here we find the same title used by Joseph’s brothers when they spoke of Joseph. However, Moses is not quoting anyone here (as is the case with Gen 42:30); it’s simply part of the narration; just as objectively true as Pharaoh was the “king of Egypt,” so he was the “lord” (plural intensive) of the cupbearer and the baker.

There are other examples, but I think the above are sufficient to show that, while certainly not as common as when God is being referred to (for obvious reasons, even from a non-trinitarian view), the intensive plural was an idiom not used exclusively or reservedly for God. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Joseph’s brothers were using the intensive plural when speaking of Joseph as a way to insult him in the sense that you suggested. To illustrate (albeit, simplistically) my problem with your argument that the use of plural titles, when referring to God, provides support for trinitarian doctrine, here’s a fictitious (and silly) dialogue:
Brother # 1 (as they’re all leaving Egypt): "Can you believe that guy? What a jerk! (At this point he pretends to act like someone very dignified) “Hey everyone, look at me, I’m ‘lord’ (plural) of the land! Everyone bow to me!” (all the brothers laugh)

Brother # 2 (who is somewhat denser than the others and tends to ask dumb questions): "Wait…why did you use the plural for “‘lord’?”

Brother # 1: “Duh, because we use plural titles like Elohim and Adonai when we’re talking about YHWH, and I’m insulting this guy who evidently thinks he has divine status or something!”
Brother #2: “Oh, ok…” (He is obviously still confused) “Uh, remind me again why we use plural titles for YHWH.”

Brother # 1: “I’m glad you asked! I’ve been giving it a lot of thought myself lately, and have concluded that it’s because…wait for it, guys…YHWH is a plurality of persons!

(His brothers stare at him in stunned silence)

Brother #1 continues: “That’s right - as difficult as it may be for you all to comprehend (especially you, Bro # 2) - YHWH is more than one ‘he.’ YHWH is a “they!” That’s why we refer to him most of the time as ‘Elohim’ and ‘Adonai.’ It’s to reflect his multiple personhood!”

At this point brother #3 (who is noticeably flustered) speaks up: “What the #@!* are you talking about? YHWH isn’t a ‘plurality of persons,’ you idiot. We use plural titles for YHWH - such as Elohim instead of El, and Adonai instead of Adon - because the plural form simply emphasizes and intensifies the meaning of a word.”

(Brother #1 then quickly changes the subject; end imaginary dialogue)

Now, do you think “brother # 1” was closer to the truth, or “brother # 3?” Or do you think neither of them really knew why plural titles were used for YHWH (like brother # 2)?

Actually, I welcome your point (assuming it’s valid, of course), as I think it supports my point that elohim can either be understood in a numerically plural sense, or an intensive plural sense. When it’s referring to “more than one,” it’s understood in a numerically plural sense. But when it’s understood to refer to “one,” it’s understood in an intensive/emphatic plural sense. But it’s still the case that elohim is used to refer to singular (i.e., non-multi-personal) entities. As such, it must be understood as an intensive plural, and not as a numerical plural: Ex 7:1; 32:8, 31, 35; Judges 16:23; 1 Kings 18:25, 27; Psalm 45:6; Nehemiah 9:18.

That the heavenly hosts are being referred to when God speaks of “us” and “our” (which again, is the exception and not the rule) need not suggest that God receives advice from them as a human king who is limited in knowledge receives counsel from other men. And I’m not sure what other passages you have in mind other than Isaiah 40:13-14 (not to say there aren’t any), but these verses are evidently about God gaining understanding and knowledge from men, and do not mean that God doesn’t involve angelic beings in the decisions he makes (e.g., 1 Kings 22:19-22).



Well in one sense, I do think that’s the case (since we’re told it was the angel of YHWH who personally executed the judgment by killing 185,000 Assyrians and thus postponing the fall of Jerusalem for almost 150 years - 2Kings 19:29-35 - or maybe that was not an angelic servant of God at all, but the pre-incarnate Son of God slaughtering all of those people?). But I don’t think angelic representative agency is what’s necessarily being denoted here. I believe YHWH is simply speaking of himself by name as their God to emphasize that he, YHWH, was still the God of the house of Judah, and that it would be he, YHWH their God, who would deliver Judah instead of their deliverance being due to the implements that men use to conquer by means of battle (how he did this was by means of one of his heavenly hosts). A similar example of a “redundant” use of God’s name or title for emphatic purpose can be found in Dan 9:17, which reads, “Now therefore, our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and for the Lord’s sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate.” Here the expression, “for the Lord’s sake” is simply an emphatic way of saying, “for your own sake” (which, notably, is how the ESV translates it). For other examples of the Hebrew idiom in which a name or title is repeated for the purpose of emphasis, instead of using a pronoun, see Gen 4:23-24; 16:16; 18:17-19; Ex 34:35; 1 Kings 2:19; 10:13; 12:21; Esther 8:8; Ezekiel 11:24; Dan 3:2-3; Ex 16:6-7; 1 Sam 3:21; 12:7; 2 Chron 7:2.

As I pointed out earlier, YHWH may take human titles that have nothing inherently or necessarily to do with Deity and apply them to himself. Isaiah 10:21 may very well be an example of this. Just as God is “our father” and “Israel’s husband” so he is a “mighty leader” (or however you think the expression in Ezekiel 32:21 should be rendered). If this is the case, then the expression Ael GBWR should probably be understood as having already been in use in reference to powerful men before it was ever applied to YHWH as a title.

I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying above; are you saying it’s within the bounds of ortho-trinitarianism to identify the Son as the Father and the Father as the Son?

Again, although elohim is a plural word, it’s not plural in a numerical sense when referring to YHWH, but in an emphatic sense. If it was to be understood in a numerical sense, we would likely find plural verbs and pronouns used with it throughout Scripture when YHWH was in view. But that’s not the case.

I think the reader would just be led to think that either the heavenly hosts were involved in the creation of mankind in some way, or perhaps God created through their agency (just like in Hosea 1:7, where God said he would save Judah himself, though he carried out their deliverance through the agency of “the angel of YHWH,” who actually executed the judgment upon the Assyrian people).

Well I’m glad you at least concede that! It means the word Elohim, when referring to YHWH, could legitimately be understood by the Hebrew people apart from an understanding that YHWH was a “plurality of persons,” and that the “us” and “our” used did not necessarily convey to them the idea of a multiplicity of divine persons. It would mean that the word Elohim (and the plural pronouns used in the opening chapters of Genesis) had an inherent and understandable meaning to the author and original audience that did not necessarily suggest or imply that God consisted of more than one person. For the author and original audience would not have used and read the language without ascribing some meaning to it; but if that meaning did not originally suggest to them a plurality of persons in God, then it is no evidence for such a doctrine.

And I think that’s a valid question. But as I think the OT seems to lay a very solid Unitarian foundation, and that any support that the OT offers for a trinitarian understanding of God is, at best, pretty ambiguous (deriving much of its strength from a presupposed trinitarian understanding of the NT), I don’t think we should approach the NT expecting it to reveal something that we have little reason to believe the “human authors” of the OT understood about God or his Messiah. So when we extend this discussion into the NT, one thing I will be attempting to show is that a change in the understanding of how many God is would have produced far more controversy, and required far more argumentation, than we find concerning, say, the covenantal acceptance of both Jews and Gentiles as God’s people, and the laying aside of circumcision and food laws as “badges” of covenant membership.

First, I have no problem at all understanding the divine Person sitting on the throne as being YHWH himself (not themselves! ), since I understand this to have been a vision (or perhaps a dream), and not something actually transpiring in time and space. That is, it was not an actual, objective experience that Isaiah saw with his eyes and heard with his ears. I don’t think Isaiah was actually beamed up to the heavenly throne room, or that he actually saw God’s face (for no mortal can see the face of God and live!). So yeah, I do see this divine Person as representing (in vision form) YHWH (i.e., the Father, who is “the only true God”).

Second, I’m going to try and anticipate where you might be heading when you say you’re glad that I “acknowledge that a divine person is sitting on the throne of God here.” I could be wrong, but based on my discussions with Trinitarians in the past, you may have John 12:38-41 in mind. It’s commonly argued by Trinitarians that when Isaiah saw this divine person on the throne he was seeing “God the Son” (for in v. 41 John writes that Isaiah saw [the Messiah’s] glory." But that’s not at all the only possible (and I think certainly not the best) way to understand John’s words. I understand “these things” in v. 41 to refer back to both the quotation from Isaiah 6 and the quotation from Isaiah 53. So what I would suggest is that Isaiah “saw” the Messiah’s glory and spoke of him in both cases. But how did Isaiah see the glory of the Messiah? As a fulfilled reality? No; I believe he saw it in the same sense that Abraham saw the Messiah’s “day” and “was glad” (John 8:56) - that is, he saw it prophetically, in an anticipatory sense (this is most apparent from the prophecy in Isaiah 53, which is one of the greatest Messianic prophecies in all of the OT!). So I submit that it could be said by John that Isaiah “saw” the Messiah’s “glory” when anything Isaiah wrote (i.e., “spoke”) had prophetic application to the coming Messiah. And because (according to John) the prophecy in Isaiah 6 had a dual fulfillment and was thus applicable to BOTH Isaiah’s own day (i.e., when he saw YHWH in vision and was commissioned by him) AS WELL AS to the time of the Messiah, it could be said that, in both cases, Isaiah “saw [the Messiah’s] glory.”

Not just two persons, but two persons with two different titles - titles which, though similar, would distinguish one as YHWH and the other as a being less-than-God. I think an important question is this: was adoni (my lord) EVER used in the OT to denote YHWH? I have yet to find anywhere that this is the case (unless this be the sole exception!); in every instance it appears to refer to a being who is not YHWH - that is, unless it is believed that the angel whom Daniel addressed as “my lord” (e.g., Dan 10:16; 12:8) was understood by Daniel as being God himself!

I have no problem understanding certain references to YHWH in the OT as being later applied to Christ in the NT by Paul and other authors, since I understand Jesus to be YHWH’s ultimate representative agent. When Jesus was “made Lord” (Acts 2:36) he was given functional equivalence to YHWH in the sense that, just as everyone who called on YHWH would be saved (Joel 2:32), so everyone who, since the time of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation, calls on Christ will be saved (Rom 10:13) - since, as YHWH’s supreme representative agent, he has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” - which includes the power and authority to save mankind. This delegation of divine authority to Jesus by YHWH was, I believe, foreshadowed in the story of Joseph. For instance, whereas the people would previously had gone to Pharaoh for their needs to be met, after Pharaoh elevated Joseph to the exalted position he was given over Egypt (even giving him his signet ring), he told the people, “Go to Joseph” (Gen 41:55).

Well to be sure, there are some (both Trinitarians and Unitarians) who see the second use of YHWH in v. 24 in an emphatic sense. In that case, it would simply mean, “YHWH rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from himself out of heaven.” And I think that’s very possible - as noted earlier, this would not be an isolated example of this kind of figure of speech being employed in the OT when persons (or God’s power/operative presence!) are in view (Gen 4:23-24; 16:16; 18:17-19; Ex 34:35; 1 Kings 2:19; 10:13; 12:21; Esther 8:8; Ezekiel 11:24; Dan 3:2-3; 9:17; Ex 16:6-7; 1 Sam 3:21; 12:7; 2 Chron 7:2). But this would not negate the fact that the angels were the agents through whom which “YHWH himself” carried out this judgment upon the cities (which you seem to come close to admitting above). The narrative is pretty clear that the two angels were the ones who were sent to carry out this judgment (v. 13), which seems to imply that YHWH did not directly execute the judgment. So, since it was the angels (plural) who were sent to execute the judgment, v. 24 would simply serve the emphasize who was ultimately behind it. The two angels were simply doing the job God had authorized/empowered them to do, and God took ultimate responsibility as the one who destroyed these cities.

Moreover, as I’m sure you’re aware, in Hebrew thought the “first cause” is not always distinguished from “intermediate” or “secondary” causes. That is to say, the “principal” is not always clearly distinguished from the agent (i.e., the one commissioned to carry out an act on behalf of another). Sometimes the agent, standing for the principal, is treated as if he or she were the principal him or herself, though this is not literally so. The principal and agent remain two distinct persons, but they act in complete harmony. The agent acts and speaks for the principal. For instance, in v. 16 we’re told that “the men (i.e., the two angels) seized [Lot] and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, YHWH being merciful to him, and they (the two angels) brought him out and set him outside the city.” While you appear to go on to use this verse as evidence that YHWH was personally present with them at this point, that is not necessary to make sense of what’s being said. We’re specifically told that “the men” (the two angels that came to Sodom at the beginning of chapter 19) were the ones interacting with Lot and his family and physically leading them to safety. But the merciful act performed by the angels (i.e., the agent) is here said to have been the mercy of YHWH (i.e., the principle), even though the angels were the ones who actually performed the act of mercy by (almost forcefully) moving Lot and his family to a safer location so that they could carry out their orders from YHWH (which are made known in v. 13). Being God’s agents, the mercy they show is the mercy shown by YHWH himself, for he sent them for that purpose. But again, the repeated use of the divine name in v. 24 may or may not be an example of an agent or agents being referred to as the principle they represent. Although I think representative agency is present earlier in chapter 18 (and perhaps in vv. 17-22), v. 24 may simply be emphasizing who was ultimately behind the judgment, and is not necessarily an example of a non-God person or persons being called YHWH as his representative agent. It should also be noted that, while the two angels make known their orders from YHWH in v. 13 ("…and YHWH has sent US to destroy it"), they go on to say, “Get out of this place, for YHWH is about to destroy the city.” There is no contradiction or need for trinitarian speculation when we take into account the idea of agency. Even though the angels were the ones who were sent to execute the judgment, it was YHWH who sent them to do it. Consequently, it could be said that YHWH was “about to destroy the city.”

What you say above is, I think, an example of trinitarian doctrine (or perhaps the metaphysical constraint that grounds your trinitarian doctrine) being presupposed and read into the passage in order for it to provide any kind of support for the doctrine. But there is nothing in the passage that is inconsistent with the view that there are three angels in the narrative, with one functioning specifically as YHWH’s representative agent who, as YHWH’s mouthpiece, speaks on YHWH’s behalf (i.e., in chapter 18 and perhaps in 19:17-22) and the other two angels being sent for the purpose of actually carrying out the judgment for which YHWH sent them. Now, it is possible that Lot is simply addressing the two angels previously in view when he uses the word adonai in v. 18. The ESV (which, in spite of its trinitarian bias, remains my Bible of choice) even renders adonai “lords” here, which means the translators understood adonai here as a numerical plural (since two angels had previously been in view), and not as an emphatic plural: “And Lot said to them, 'Oh, no, my lords.

But I’m not against the idea that the person introduced in chapter 18 as YHWH comes back into the narrative at this point. But even if the person whom Lot addresses in v. 18 as “ADNY” is the person called “YHWH” of chapter 18, it is not necessary to understand this person as being YHWH in an ontological sense (i.e., the “principle”). Instead, this person need only be understood as the duly appointed representative agent who legally speaks and acts on YHWH’s behalf and with YHWH’s authority (while the other two angels, while still God’s agents, were sent merely to execute the judgment upon the cities while saving Lot and his family). As noted before, it is a fact recognized by OT scholars that, in Jewish custom, whenever a superior commissioned an agent to act on his behalf, the agent was regarded as the person himself (which is well expressed in The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion: “Agent (Heb. Shaliah): The main point of the Jewish law of agency is expressed in the dictum, ‘a person’s agent is regarded as the person himself’”). And the fact that the person speaking in v. 21 grants the request made by Lot is perfectly consistent with the idea of representative agency; as God’s representative agent, this angel would have had full authority to grant such a request without being ontologically equal to YHWH.

I think a failure to fully appreciate the Jewish law of agency has led trinitarians to assume that any person who is referred to as YHWH and speaks as YHWH must be YHWH. Admittedly, the concept of representative agency is not something with which we’re familiar today; the closest thing we have to it our society is “durable power of attorney.” But what I’m having trouble understanding is this: You seem to acknowledge that the concept of representative agency is not in fact foreign to the Bible, yet it seems that whenever an example appears in the OT that can be understood as being an example of representative agency, you act as if representative agency couldn’t possibly be a valid explanation of what’s been described. It’s like you accept the idea of representative agency theoretically, but if someone were to claim that any one passage could be reasonably explained by the concept representative agency, you deny it. Again, the Jewish law of representative agency is expressed in the dictum, “A person’s agent is regarded as the person himself.” If that’s the case, then it would be perfectly natural and appropriate for beings who are not YHWH ontologically (but are his representative agents) to yet be identified and referred to in the narrative as if they were YHWH. To deny this is to deny that there is such a thing as representative agency (or that this motif ever appears in Scripture). If you do deny it, that’s fine; but I don’t think it’s fair to allow for it and then cry foul when someone argues that a passage like Gen 18 is an example of a being who, though not by nature YHWH, is yet regarded as YHWH because he is functioning as YHWH’s representative agent at that particular time.

An example of this which has previously been touched on is Moses’ being made “elohim” to Aaron and Pharaoh (Ex. 4:16; 7:1). Now, in Exodus 7:17-21 YHWH says, “By this you will know that I am YHWH: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood…” YHWH then says to Moses: “Say to Aaron, 'Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt…” So while YHWH said that he himself would strike the waters with the staff in his own hand, it was actually Aaron’s hand that held the rod, and Aaron who struck the Nile. But Aaron was Moses’ “prophet,” and thus Moses’ representative. So here we find that YHWH (as principal) was represented by Moses (the agent), who in turn was represented by Aaron (so does that make Aaron a triple agent? ).

That representative agency was not something exclusive to the OT can be seen in the account of Jesus healing the centurion’s servant, as found in both the Gospel of Matthew and Luke. While Matthew speaks of a conversation between the centurion himself and Jesus (Mt. 8:5-13), Luke tells us that the centurion did not in fact come personally. He sent some “Jewish elders” and, subsequently, some “friends” to Jesus with his requests (Luke 7:1-10). The centurion here is the principal; the Jewish elders and the centurion’s friends are his appointed, commissioned agents. Because in Hebrew thought the principal and the agent are not always clearly distinguished, Matthew mentions only the principal (the centurion) without distinguishing the agent (the Jewish elders and friends). Luke mentions both principal and agents. So in Matthew’s account, the elders (agents) stand for and are treated as the centurion (principal), even though this is not literally true. Another example of representative agency in the Gospels can be seen by comparing Mark 10:35-40 with Matthew 20:20-23. See also John 4:1-3.

To return to Genesis 18. Since Moses was the author, do we have reason to believe that Moses understood the being who he describes in Gen 18 as YHWH (and perhaps ADNY in ch. 19) to be YHWH himself, in an ontological sense? Well we know from the NT at least that “no one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18; 1John 4:12; 1Tim. 6:16). But was this Moses’ understanding as well? I think so. Before I go on, however, I first need to retract a statement I made earlier, since I think I somewhat overstated my position. Previously, I said, “I submit that in every instance in which Moses is said to have interacted with YHWH, he was interacting with one or more of these angelic beings who spoke and acted on behalf of God.” But I don’t think what I said was completely accurate. Here’s why: In Exodus 33:11, we are told of how “YHWH used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” As said earlier, I believe this refers to the fact that God, through the agency of an angelic representative, personally interacted with Moses in an objective sense, as opposed to his making himself known in a vision or a dream, as he did with other prophets (Num 12:6). But we’re also told that Moses “[beheld] the form of YHWH” (v. 8). While I think this may be explained by Moses’ speaking directly to a divine representative, it is possible that Ex 33:18-23 is being referred to. In this passage, we find that Moses makes a very bold request to YHWH: “Please show me your glory” (v. 18). From this request alone we might not have understood what Moses meant. But YHWH goes on to say, “Behold, here is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen” (vv. 21-23). We are later told of how YHWH “descended in the cloud and stood with [Moses] there” and “passed before him,” proclaiming “the name of YHWH” (34:4-6).

What are we to make of this highly unusual and mysterious account? Well, at the very least I think we are to understand God’s granting of Moses’ request as being a very unique and highly exceptional thing for God to have done. God was going to do for Moses what he had never done for anyone else, and perhaps would never do again. What is here being described was no doubt intended to fill the reader with awe and wonder. So what took place? Well, it’s significant that YHWH previously told Moses that, while he would see his “back,” his “face” would “not be seen” (for God had told Moses, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live”). But if YHWH had personally appeared to people on several occasions already (with Gen 18 being just one example), why was it such a big deal that Moses get to see YHWH’s “back,” while not being allowed to see his “face?” If YHWH had already been showing his “face” to people, why would his “back” be the most Moses could see? Were other people simply seeing another YHWH (or, as trinitarians would have it, one of the three persons who are all equally YHWH) who was much less glorious to behold? But if each of the “members” of the trinity are equally God in an ontological sense, wouldn’t they all be equally glorious to behold? If God is comprised of three persons (Father, Son and Spirit) who are all equally God in an ontological sense, wouldn’t that which makes the Father infinitely glorious make the Son and Spirit equally glorious? And if the Father’s “face” is so glorious as to be unable to be looked upon by mortals without them dying, why not also the face of the Spirit and the pre-incarnate Son? Is the glory of the Son that much more “dim” than that of the Father that people will die if they see the latter but not so much as faint if they see the former?

I think this can best be explained by the understanding that YHWH had not made any prior personal appearances to people before this unique incident. Instead, he’d sent a duly commissioned non-God agent to act and speak on his behalf. But when YHWH granted Moses’ request and “passed by” him, Moses experienced something that no one else had previously enjoyed. Whereas before YHWH had sent an angelic agents to represent him, at this time it would seem that YHWH himself appeared before Moses. But because no mortal could see YHWH’s face and live (v. 20), Moses would only be able to see YHWH’s “back.”

Perhaps, but which “theological/metaphysical restriction” is justified - mine or yours? Like I said before, I believe God defined what a “man” is when he created the first man, Adam. So when Scripture refers to the Messiah as a “Son of man,” I understand this expression based on what the word “man” means - i.e., my understanding is derived from what God created on the sixth day, and what this creature continues to be today. That’s my working definition of “man” and “human nature,” and as such it places a constraint on what my reason will and will not accept. It is this “metaphysical constraint” that prevents me from rationally accepting the Trinitarian proposition that the Messiah is “both fully God and fully man,” or that we are to derive from any OT prophesy the idea that the Messiah would be what is inherently a contradiction. At the very least, the word “man” denotes a created being. Well if Jesus is fully man, then he is a fully created person - which excludes him from the category of uncreated persons.

Unless a multi-personal understanding of God is presupposed and read into the text, I submit that no Hebrew reader would have any reason to understand this Psalm to be teaching the existence of two supreme, self-existent Elohims, with one Elohim described as being anointed by another Elohim who, despite being “co-equal” to him (according to trinitarian theology) is also his Elohim. So are there really two persons in view who are both Elohim and YHWH in the same sense? Well that’s two Gods and two YHWH’s, for God is but a personal title like “king,” and YHWH is but a personal name like “Jason.” Two persons with the same title “God” make two Gods, not one God (just like two persons with the same title “king” make two kings, not one king, and two persons who share the name Jason make two Jason’s, not one Jason). To argue from this that there are two persons who are both referred to as “God” but together make up one God is like arguing that two persons who are both referred to as “President” together make up one President. But the text clearly distinguishes between two Gods. To argue that there is only one God in view one would have to prove that there is only one person in view. Moreover, you’ve made much of the fact that the word elohim is plural, and see this as support for a multi-personal understanding of God; well if the plurality of the word Elohim denotes a plurality of persons, we have here two self-existent Elohims who are both a plurality of persons!

What specific statements did you have in mind you understand to be also applied to God Most High? Surely you don’t think God Most High has “daughters of kings” as his “ladies of honor,” or that a queen stands at his right hand in “gold of Ophir?” Or that God Most High is the one who will desire the beauty of the daughter who is instructed to “forget” her people and her “father’s house?”

I’m not exactly sure if I understand your argument above. Each “rebel judge” being referred to in Psalm 82 is a single person to whom the title “elohim” was applied - and unless each rebel judge is to be identified with YHWH in an ontological sense, then I think Psalm 82 is an appropriate example of “elohim” being employed in a “representational or functional sense” - or at least, in some sense other than ontological.

When I said “degree” I was referring to all non-divine beings who are referred to as “elohim” in the OT in a representational sense; I do believe that the Messiah was given “all authority in heaven and on earth,” which places him far above all former agents who represented God to humanity.



I originally wrote:
“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.”

Though I can appreciate your dissent from scholarly consensus on this topic, I don’t find your argument against the majority view very compelling at all. I don’t know of any scholars who have argued that Isaiah was representing Cyrus as “declaring such things publicly from the first from the time such things took place, that ‘I am He, I am the First and the Last’ and ‘Surely My hand established the Earth, and My right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand together.’” I could be wrong, but I think most are in agreement that YHWH is the one speaking from v. 12 through most of v. 16. That was certainly my understanding. So does it follow that Isaiah can’t be representing Cyrus as speaking at the end of v. 16 merely because Cyrus wasn’t making the declarations in vv. 12-13? I don’t see why this would be the case at all. Unless it is already presupposed that there is more than one person who is YHWH (and in spite of trinitarian insistence to the contrary, I’m really unsure as to how two persons who both refer to themselves as YHWH can equate to something other than two YHWH’s), the person represented as speaking at the end of v. 16 would most naturally be understood as being someone who is not to be identified as YHWH. Do you not see how a trinitarian understanding of God must already been taken for granted in order for this verse to be understood as providing any kind of support for a multi-personal view of YHWH? Even if the identity of the speaker at the end of v. 16 were to forever remain a mystery, and there were no contextual clues as to who Isaiah might be representing as speaking, it is not even possible to understand the speaker to be YHWH apart from the presupposition that YHWH consists of more than one person! If the reader doesn’t come to the text with such a presupposition, the only reasonable understanding of who is speaking is that it’s a non-divine person who was commissioned by YHWH to accomplish something (e.g., Cyrus or Isaiah himself).

Now, I would understand why you might not agree that the person represented as speaking at the end of v. 16 was Cyrus if the words appeared somewhere prior to, say, Isaiah 44:28 - or maybe somewhere after chapter 60. But that’s not the case. These words appear at the end of several chapters whose primary focus has been the judgment that God was purposing to bring upon Babylon through the instrumentality of Cyrus, the one who YHWH had previously called his “shepherd,” his “anointed,” and the one “whose right hand I have grasped”; about whom YHWH says, “I call you by name, I name you, though you do not know me” (45:4) and, “I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free” (v. 13). I think the reader could even be excused for being unsure of who was represented as speaking at the end v. 16 if, say, vv. 14-15 were absent from the text, and the words spoken in v. 16 appeared immediately after what was said in v. 13. Even though I think the larger context would provide some good clues, I might concede that in this hypothetical scenario the reader might have a difficult time identifying who the speaker might be. But again, that’s not the case. Verses 14-15 are very clearly for the purpose of temporarily bringing Cyrus back to the forefront. It is most certainly not a transition by which Isaiah provides himself the opportunity to begin waxing metaphysical about the existence of multiple persons in the Godhead.

Again, most scholars would challenge your assertion that Cyrus “quickly drops out of view” after 45:13 (which is the last verse in this chapter that refers specifically to Cyrus). He is referred to again in 46:11. And throughout chapter 47, it is implied that Cyrus (not Jesus) would be the instrument through whom YHWH would make Babylon “sit in the dust” and “sit on the ground without a throne” (47:1), “sit in silence and go into darkness” (v. 5). It would be through the instrumentality of Cyrus (not Jesus) that YHWH, Israel’s Redeemer, would “take vengeance” on Babylon (v. 3) and make her “sit as a widow” and “know the loss of children” (vv. 8-9). It would be through the instrumentality of Cyrus (not Jesus) that “evil” and “disaster” and “ruin” would fall suddenly upon Babylon (v. 11). So no, Cyrus does not “quickly drop out of view.” While it is true that Isaiah devotes a substantial portion of these chapters to YHWH’s rebuke of Babylon’s idolatry (etc.), as long as the judgment of Babylon has been in view, Cyrus has been in the background the whole time. He is still present up to and in chapter 48. And in case the reader had begun to forget that Babylon’s judgment through the instrumentality of Cyrus was a primary theme of this portion of Isaiah’s prophecy (and was in fact how this portion of the prophecy was introduced!), Isaiah reminds the reader in 48:14-16. Jesus is not the one whom YHWH said would “perform his purposes on Babylon!” It is not Jesus’ “arm” that would be “against the Chaldeans!” Isaiah is again referring to Cyrus, just as he had in the previous chapters. It is Cyrus who was the one “called” and “sent” by YHWH for the purpose of executing judgment upon Babylon - not Jesus.

But I never said the Messiah is a “type” of God himself; that’s not my position.

Again, Cyrus did not, in fact, “drop out of sight long ago” - no more than Babylon did. And the fact that Cyrus was guilty of idolatry is nothing to the point, for the guilty nation in view whose judgment is being prophesied is Babylon, not Persia - and certainly not every idolater who has ever existed throughout history (Cyrus included).



“I believe that the God of the Old Testament (YHWH) was in fact, the preincarnate Christ. According to the visions of YHWH that the prophets received, the YHWH had the appearance of a man!”

“The fellow walking in the garden of Eden and the fellow who spoke to Adam in the garden. Was not God the Father but the preincarnate Christ, the Word (YHWH), who had the appearance of a man in the visions of the prophets.”

“The visions are not an added extra to add color to the narration. The visions help us to identify who YHWH really is.”



Origen, are you trinitarian?



I favor that viewpoint, though don’t consider it necessary for salvation.