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PFRS Home > Doctrinal Studies > Oneness Pentecostal & Baptism

The Trinity
in the Old Testament
Copyright © Tim Warner - 08/2001

Having studied the Bible for over 25 years, one of the things I have learned is that God's revelation through His Word has been progressive. It has been built "line upon line, precept upon precept" over many centuries. To properly interpret God's revelation to man, we have to start at the beginning, and build the foundation from the very first things revealed in Scripture. Everything else must be built progressively on the foundation IN THE SAME ORDER each new revelation was given, using the grammatical historical method. All new revelation is built upon previous revelation, and assumes the reader/hearer is familiar with, and has a proper understanding of, prior revelation. Without a proper understanding of previous revelation, the next layer of revelation cannot be understood properly. Here is an example of progressive revelation.

Exod 6:2-3
2 And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD:
3 And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.

The name "Jehovah" is a key element in Deut. 6:4, "Hear O Israel, the LORD (Jehovah) our God is one." Yet, we see here that the sacred name was not revealed before Moses.

Here is another example. When we look at Gen. 1, where God revealed Himself through Moses using plural personal pronouns ("let US make man in OUR image"), we must interpret this statement WITHOUT appealing to Deut 6:4! Why? Because of the order of revelation. The original readers of Genesis did NOT have Deuteronomy to compare. And, since the creation account was passed down to Moses via oral tradition, neither did Adam, Eve, or anyone before the exodus know of the later revelation of Deut 6:4. From the creation until the exodus, as far as we know from Scripture, the revelation of God in Gen. 1 was known and understood by God's people. But, the revelation of God in Deut. 6:4 was not know (as far as we know from Scripture) until after Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. Therefore, Deut 6:4 must be interpreted in light of Gen. 1, and not the other way around.

Genesis one introduces us to God. It assumes no prior knowledge of God. We must simply accept it at face value, not seek to find a way to make it conform to what we think Deut. 6:4 teaches. It provides the foundation on which we can build.

In our interpretation of any given passage, we must keep in mind that the intended hearers of that particular revelation only knew what had been revealed up until that point in time, and did not have knowledge of later revelation. We must interpret these passages with ONLY the resources available to the intended audience. In short, interpret it as they would have interpreted it. Since any revelation in Scripture was originally intended for a particular historical audience, we must put ourselves in their shoes and interpret the new revelation as they would interpret it. The true interpretation of a passage is normally the one that conforms to this method. There are exceptions to this, however, when cryptic prophetic revelation is given. However, we are not dealing with prophecy here, but with God's revealing Himself to His people in plain terms.

So, let's start "in the beginning."

Gen 1:1
1 In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heaven and the earth.

The Hebrew word for God (Elohim) used here is plural. That is the very first thing we learn about God in the Bible! In Hebrew, we have a very strange construction here. While Elohim is the plural form of "God," the Hebrew text adds "eth" (himself). (This is not translated in most English versions). Literally, it says "in the beginning Gods [plural] Himself [singular] created..." No further explanation is given for this seeming contradiction in number until we get to verses 26-27, where we find a similar apparent contradiction in grammatical number.

Gen. 1:26,27
26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Again, we have a similar situation. In verse 26 God is referred to using plural personal pronouns and possessives (us & our). Yet, in verse 27 singular personal pronouns and possessives are used of God (His, He), along with the plural "Elohim." Verse 26 begs the question, whom was Elohim speaking to when He said "let us make man in our image and after our likeness?" The answer is clear in verse 27, that He was speaking to Himself, because man was created BY God and in God's own image, (not the image of angels, or created by angels). The only logical conclusion is that Elohim is a plurality of persons, that Elohim as a plurality created mankind, and that mankind in some way manifests this plurality of the Godhead.

In chapter 2 we have more revealed regarding in what way mankind is made in God's image.

Gen 2:18,21-24
18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be ALONE; I will make him an help meet for him. ...
21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be ONE (echad) flesh.

I want to point out the contrast between the words "alone" and "one" in the above passage. God said that it was not good for Adam to be "alone." The word "alone" is the Hebrew word "bad" which means solitary. This word would be a good choice to describe a "Oneness" concept of God. So also would the word "yachiyd" ({only} as in Abraham's "only son" Isaac). Notice the remedy for being alone [solitary] in the above passage. It was for Adam to be "one (echad) flesh" with his wife, Eve. Notice also that Eve was "bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh." Eve was created from Adam's rib, of the same substance as Adam. God could have made the woman from the dust as He made Adam. And then they would be of the same KIND. But, then Adam could not say she was "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh." God said that future marriages between man and woman were the joining in "one flesh." That is, they are symbolic of the first couple, that Adam and Eve are of the same substance, created from one individual being. When the text says God created "man" in His own image, He was referring to mankind. He went on to restate, "male and female created He them."

God also created the ability in Adam and Eve to reproduce offspring. Offspring "proceeds forth" from Adam through Eve. Offspring is also bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. So, in creating Adam, then Eve out of Adam's rib, and then offspring, God has given us an illustration of the Trinity. Of course, this illustration only goes so far, because while Adam, Eve, and their offspring all had a created beginning, God Himself is eternal. But, the concept of three persons proceeding from one being is clearly demonstrated in the creation of mankind. The man is symbolic of the Father, the woman is symbolic of Jesus Christ, and offspring is symbolic of the Holy Spirit which "proceeds forth" from God (John 15:26).

The very first things we learn about God from the statement, "let US make man in OUR image and after OUR likeness," is that God is a plurality of persons (or personalities) who communicate with one another and who cooperate with one another in creation. We see again the use of plural personal pronouns in reference to God in the following verse.

Gen 3:22
22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

From what we can observe from the creation account, there is no reason to suppose that God is a solitary being. Rather, all indications thus far point to a being consisting of a plurality of persons. Both singular and plural personal pronouns are used, as well as the plural proper noun "Elohim." From this data alone, one would NOT logically conclude that God is a solitary person. And since Deut 6:4 was only revealed (to our knowledge) to Israel after the exodus, we must conclude that from Adam to Moses, God was seen as a plural being.

I realize that it is possible that God revealed many things to His people before the flood that are not recorded in Scripture. It can be argued that the "oneness" of God COULD have been taught from the very beginning. However, if we view the written Word of God as His revelation to future generations, then we must ask why such data was not preserved for us who must interpret this written Word many generations later? I believe that God preserved what He wanted preserved in Scripture. And everything we need to know about God is preserved for us in a logical format. If this assumption is correct, then we must use the data we have available, and not speculate about what God might have revealed to others. If He expects us to find the truth via "line upon line, precept upon precept," then we must build our understanding in the progressive fashion that we are doing here.

The next important revelation about God's nature is revealed in the story of Abraham. While John 1:18 says "no man hath seen God at any time," Gen. 18 clearly has Jehovah coming to visit Abraham along with two angels. Since John continued by saying that "the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him," we must conclude that the one who came to see Abraham was in fact Jesus Christ. And this is confirmed by Jesus Himself in John 8:56-59. One might say that the solitary God simply changed form and appeared to Abraham as a man. But, not only does that violate John 1:18, but the account in Genesis makes it clear that the "LORD" was on earth while the "LORD" was in heaven.

Gen 19:22-24
22 Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do any thing till thou be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.
23 The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar.
24 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;

We have a clear distinction drawn here between "the LORD" who visited Abraham, and sent the two angels to evacuate Lot from Sodom, and "the LORD" in heaven. (LORD in all caps in the KJV is Jehovah {YHVH} in the Hebrew text). Yet, the name "Jehovah" is used of BOTH. Again, we have a plurality of persons illustrated here, both being called "Jehovah."

Now, we know that this account was written by Moses who was familiar with the name "Jehovah." And so Moses records the sacred name when referring to God for the sake of his Jewish readers who were also familiar with the sacred name. However, during the time these events were unfolding, neither Abraham nor any of the others knew God's name "Jehovah."

Exod 6:2-3
2 And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD:
3 And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name JEHOVAH (YHVH) was I not known to them.

God made a covenant with Abraham. But, He never revealed the sacred name to Abraham. The sacred name was revealed first to Moses, who revealed it to the Israelites, God's covenant people. Prior to Moses, God was known by the plural "Elohim," and various compound titles, like "God Almighty" (El Shaddai). But, when the promised seed came, and God began to fulfill His promise to Abraham to make of him a great nation, and AFTER God appeared as the "I AM" to Moses when He rescued them from Egypt, He then revealed His personal name to Israel through Moses.

Now, lets look at Deut 6:4, the "proof text" for Oneness Pentecostals (and orthodox Jews). The Hebrew text reads as follows: "Hear O Israel, Jehovah Elohim [plural], Jehovah is one [echad]." All indications are that Moses was revealing something new to the Israelites. The expression, "Hear O Israel" indicates a major announcement was forthcoming.

The meaning of the word "one" in this passage is really the nail on which the entire Oneness Pentecostal movement rests their case. If "one" necessarily means a solitary person, then the the issue is settled!

It is acknowledged by all sides that the Hebrew word here is "echad." This is the simple number "one." There are other words in Hebrew that mean exclusively alone, or solitary, (bad, yachiyd). We already mentioned the use of "bad" (alone) in Genesis 2:18. God said it was not good for Adam to be "alone." Had Moses used "bad" here, He would have been making the point that Jehovah is alone God. The other word Moses could have used is "yachiyd," which means "only" or "solitary." This is the word used when God said to Abraham, "take thine ONLY son Isaac." Had Moses used yachiyd, he would be saying that there are no other gods besides Jehovah. But, Moses used "echad," the simple number one.

There is a commonly acknowledged rule in biblical hermeneutics, called "the rule of first mention." Basically, this states that you can generally find the biblical meaning of a word or idea by tracing it back to the place where it is first used in Scripture. Not only is "echad" (one) used of a compound unity in regards to Adam and Eve being "one flesh" as we already saw, but it is used in a similar way regarding the first day of creation.

Gen 1:5
5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first (echad) day.

Here we have the first (echad) day consisting of "day" and "night," yet called "one day" - a compound unit. What we find in Scripture is the use of the word "one" in both Testaments (Hebrew and Greek) is precisely the same as it is in English. It is the simple number "one." It can mean first, singular, or united, depending on context. But, it always means "united" when it is used of a plurality of persons or things. The context determines whether a single thing is meant, or whether "one" refers to a plurality of things or persons, thereby meaning "united." The following verses from Genesis use the word "echad" in reference to a plurality of things or persons. In each and every case, "echad" means "united," not "solitary," (Gen. 1:5, Gen. 2:24, Gen. 11:6, Gen. 34:16, Gen. 41:25,26).

Based on the fact that "echad" means "united" when it is used of a plurality, AND since up to this point God has revealed Himself as a plural being, AND since "Elohim" in this very verse is a plural form of "God," the natural understanding of Moses' statement is that Jehovah, Israel's "Elohim" (plural) is (are) UNITED. The basis for this concept is clearly the "one flesh" example in Gen. 2, where this concept is clearly demonstrated. And, in Gen. 1, the "unity" in purpose is further demonstrated in the single act of creation of man in "our image and after our likeness." What Moses was saying to Israel was very profound! The heathen worshipped many gods. There was a god of fire, another of wind, one of fertility, etc. One god competed with another god, and one tribe worshipped a god who competed with the god of another tribe, etc. But, in contrast, Moses was saying that our God (plural), Jehovah, is united. While allowing for His plurality of persons, He moves and acts as one being to carry out one purpose. In other words, even though Jehovah is a plurality of persons as is clear from the creation account, there is never any competition, or disagreement, as with the pagan gods. What Scripture has revealed FIRST in creation is the PLURALITY of persons, and secondly in Deut 6:4 the "oneness" or UNITY of these persons in a single being with a single purpose.

I realize that the rest of the Old Testament presents God as "one God." And that is absolutely true! His name is Jehovah. Yet, this in no way diminishes the plurality of persons who form a united being. Jehovah is the name of this one being, who is Himself composed of a plurality of persons.

There are several other examples of the plurality of God in the Old Testament, particularly in Psalms. The New Testament refers to these many times. I suggest that you read Hebrews one, and look up all of the Old Testament quotations in that chapter alone. Hebrews one makes the case from Old Testament citations that the Son was WITH God at creation, and it demonstrates from the Old Testament that the Son is distinct from the Father. But, there are other cases in the Old Testament that prove this as well.

Dan 7:13-14
13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought HIM near before HIM.
14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

Jesus identified Himself as the "Son of Man" who comes on the clouds of heaven, in Matt. 24:29-31. He was referring to this prophecy of Daniel. Yet, Daniel says He will be brought BEFORE the "Ancient of Days" where the Ancient of Days will present Him with a Kingdom. This makes absolutely no sense apart from a plurality of persons interacting (just as Jesus and the Father interacted in prayer in John 17).

While the Old Testament does not in so many words teach a "Trinity," that is one God in three persons, it does most definitely establish both the plurality of persons and unity of the Godhead. It simply does not develop this concept into three. This is accomplished in the New Testament.

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