Many skeptics say there is no mention of a multi-personal God in the Old Testament. However, this article contends that idea and offers evidence that there is.
This article is a transcription of this video. Published with permission.
Is there any evidence of a multi-personal God known as the Trinity in the Old Testament? Was this concept of God made up by early Christians – or can we see this teaching of a multi-personal God existing in the Old Testament long before the rise of Christianity?
Many Unitarians say no – that the Trinity was made up by early Christians and there is no evidence of it in the Old Testament, and no evidence that early Jews believed in anything but a Unitarian God. They often point to Deuteronomy 6:4:
”Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”
Unitarians say this verse clearly refutes the idea of any plurality within the Godhead and shows God’s nature is Unitarian. But is this how the verse was meant to be interpreted with the surrounding context and with the unique words used in the verse? Many Christian scholars say no – and provide ample evidence as to why.
Does Deuteronomy 6:4 disprove a Triune God?
First, Deuteronomy 6:4 is a very short statement. The surrounding context doesn’t give any more clarification to imply the verse is definitely talking about the internal nature of God. In fact, the opposite is true. The surrounding context implies the verse is intended to contrast YHWH to the possibility of other gods existing with Him – such as pagan grouping of gods, in which three individual gods are in close related association with one another. A few verses down, in verse 13 and 14, we read:
”You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. ”You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you,”
So the context implies verse four is saying the Lord is one being, in contrast to early pagan grouping of gods.
Echad vs yachid
Second, the words used in Deuteronomy 6:4 do not prohibit the idea of a multi-personal God. The word used for one is echad. Echad simply mean “one”, but it doesn’t absolutely mean solitary or entirely singular. Messianic scholar Dr. Michael Brown says:
“Actually, ‘echad’ simply means ‘one’, exactly like our English word ‘one’. While it can refer to a compound unity (just as our English word can, as in one team, one couple, etc.), it does not specifically refer to compound unity. On the other hand, ‘echad’ certainly does not refer to the concept of absolute unity, an idea expressed most clearly in the twelfth century by Moses Maimonides, who asserted that the Jewish people must believe that God is yachid, an ‘only’ one. There is no doubt that this reaction was due to exaggerated, unbiblical ‘Christian’ beliefs that gave Jews the impression Christians worshipped three gods. Unfortunately, the view of Maimonides is reactionary and also goes beyond what is stated in the Scriptures. In fact, there is not a single verse anywhere in the Bible that clearly or directly states that God is an absolute unity.”
Echad is used in Genesis 2:24 to say a man and his wife shall become one (echad) flesh. So echad is used to say two are together one.
Genesis 11:6 says the people are one (echad) and they all have one language. Obviously, the people are all individuals. But the word echad is being used to show they are working together as one. So since echad can be used to describe multiple things as one, why does echad in Deuteronomy 6:4 have to mean God is a Unitarian being?
The Bible uses plural names and pronouns when speaking about God
Also, the verse uses a word for God that ends in a plural possessive pronoun-suffix (inu in Eleinu). Other words ending this way can be seen in:
- Numbers 20:15 – abth’inu (our Fathers)
- Isaiah 53:5 – aunth’inu (our Iniquities)
- 1 Samuel 12:19 – chtath’inu (our Sins)
This shows the word used for God is plural and not singular. So since a plural name is used for God, many Christians argue that Deuteronomy 6:4 can easily be translated like this:
“Hear, O Israel: YHWH our Gods (plural – ELEINU) is YHWH ECHAD (united).”
This shows us that once we understand the original meaning of the words used, we can see that the verse does not favor Unitarianism.
Many other examples of plural names and pronouns are used throughout the Bible when speaking about God, for example in Genesis 1:26, Genesis 3:5, Deuteronomy 10:17, Joshua 24:19, 2 Samuel 7:23, Psalm 29:1, Psalm 58:11 and Job 35:10.
However, I agree with skeptics that this evidence alone is not enough to show a multi-personal God in the Old Testament. It is good evidence, but it isn’t sufficient on its own, since there are other good alternative explanations as to why plural names and pronouns are used for God, which is why I point to the evidence of the three divine persons in the Old Testament.
The three persons of God
In the New Testament, the three persons of God are the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. But in the Old Testament, we also see three persons of God – the Lord, the Angel of the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord.
Person 1: The Father
Now, no one is going to dispute the first one. Clearly, the Old Testament says the Lord is God (Deut. 32:6, Isaiah 63:16, Malachi 2:10) and a Father to his people. What Unitarians dispute is the other two claims, especially the Angel of the Lord. While I agree that the phrase Angel of the Lord could at times be referring to an ordinary angel, there are several passages where the context clearly shows this Angel is the divine God, and yet distinct from another divine being who is also God.
Person 2: The Angel of the Lord
There are several passages where the Angel of the Lord is mentioned:
A few only mention him in passing, and only about nine show a clear distinction between the Lord and the Angel of the Lord, but do not give any details about the Angel. But these other eleven passages (Genesis 16,22,31, Exodus 3,14, Numbers 22, Judges 2,6,13, Zechariah 3 and 12) clearly show the Angel of the Lord is a divine figure and has the authority that only God should have. On top of that, three of these passages (Genesis 22, Numbers 22 and Zechariah 3) also show that this divine figure is also distinct from another divine being who is also God.
Before I continue, the important thing to remember is the word for angel in Hebrew, m’lak, doesn’t mean a winged being of heaven. It actually just means messenger or representative. For example, in Genesis 32:3 when Jacob sent messengers (m’lakim) to Esau, the Old Testament uses the same word that it uses for angel. So we have to study the context of each passage to understand who the Angel of the Lord is and not just put our modern cultural defining of words onto the text. So let’s take a look at a few of these passages.
Genesis 16 – The Angel of the Lord appears to Hagar
Genesis 16 is a story of what happened when Hagar fled Sarah and the Angel of the Lord appeared to her:
”Then the angel of the LORD said to her, ”Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, ”I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” (verses 9-10)
If the Angel of the Lord is just an ordinary angel, then why does he say “I will greatly multiply” her descendants? He doesn’t say “God will greatly multiply” – he says he will do it.
Verse 13 says:
“Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ”You are a God who sees ”; for she said, ”Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?”
Here, the Genesis author clearly says the Lord spoke to her – but verse 9 and 10 says the Angel spoke to her. So the author clearly identifies the Angel of the Lord as the Lord himself. Hagar even says she has seen the God who sees her.
Exodus 3 – The Angel of the Lord appears to Moses in the burning bush
Let’s look at another passage, one of my personal favorites, Exodus 3 when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Starting in verse 2 we read:
”The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, ”I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ”Moses, Moses!” And he said, ”Here I am.” (verse 2-4)
Here, we read the Angel of the Lord appeared in the burning bush and then two verses later we read that God called Moses from in the bush (verse 4). So obviously the Angel of the Lord is the Lord. Now, some skeptics says God is just speaking through the Angel. But that is inconsistent with verse 16 which says:
”Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ’The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, ”I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.” (Emphasis added).
God says he appeared to Moses – but verse 2 says “the Angel of the Lord appeared to him.” So clearly the Angel of the Lord is God. The interesting thing about this passage is the Angel says (verse 14) his name is “I AM WHO I AM” (Ehyeh asher ehyeh, אהיה אשר אהיה). He is saying that he is the existing one, the timeless being whose existence depends on no one. So the Angel of the Lord says he is not a created being. He is the existing one – which is why Jesus says in John 8:58 “… before Abraham was, ‘I AM’”, clearly showing that Jesus or the Angel of the Lord claimed to be the existing one whose existence is dependent on no one else.
Many skeptics can turn this around and say “there is no distinction shown here between the Angel of YHWH and YHWH. These verses just show YHWH appearing in the form of an Angel.” However, I already mentioned there are other passages (Genesis 21, Judges 5, 2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21, 2 Kings 1, 2 Kings 19, 2 Chronicles 32, Isaiah 37, Zechariah 1) where there is an undeniable distinction between the Lord and the Angel of the Lord. Plus, there are no passages in the Old Testament where the phrase “Angel of the Lord” appears and the surrounding context implies it is an ordinary created angel.
Genesis 22 – The Angel of the Lord is divine, yet distinct from another divine being
There are also passages (Genesis 22, Numbers 22, Zechariah 3) where the Angel of the Lord is divine and yet distinct from another divine being. Take a look at Genesis 22:10-12:
“Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ”Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, ”Here I am.” He said, ”Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
Here the Angel of the Lord says “you have not withheld your son… from Me”, showing the Angel is the God in verse one who said that he would test Abraham. But the angel of the Lord also says “now I know that you fear God.” In a single sentence, the Angel of the Lord distinguishes between himself and another he refers to as God, while at the same time identifying himself as the God who said he would test Abraham.
Zechariah 3 and Psalm 45:7 – Another example of the deity of the Angel of the Lord
We can also look at Zechariah 3:
“Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, ”The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”
Here, the Angel of the Lord is identified as God once more, but then to rebuke Satan, the Angel of the Lord says “The LORD rebuke you”. Why doesn’t the Lord just say “I rebuke you?” This is showing the Lord, known as the Angel of the Lord, is distinct from another divine figure who is also Lord. It is similar to Psalm 45:7:
“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows.”
This verse and Zechariah 3:2 both show us that there are two distinct persons who are both God, which also explains why there are so much plurality in the Old Testament, like we see in Deuteronomy 6:4. But it is also very Trinitarian sounding, showing there are distinct divine beings who are both fully God.
Person 3: The Spirit of the Lord
There is a third person of God in the Old Testament known as the Spirit of the Lord. He is very similar to God the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. In 1 Samuel 10:10, it says Saul went to meet a group of prophets:
“When they came to the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them.” (Emphasis added)
This is similar in the book of Acts when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles (Acts 2:17) and they began to speak in tongues and prophesied. There are also verses (Exodus 31:3, Numbers 24:2, Judges 3:10, 1 Samuel 19:20) where it says the Spirit of the Lord entered into people, which is what Christ and Paul (John 14:17, Romans 8:9) said the Holy Spirit did when you accepted Christ as your Savior.
The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
In fact, the term Holy Spirit was not invented in the New Testament. It is used in the Old Testament in Psalm 51 and Isaiah 63. In Isaiah 63, the term Spirit of the Lord and Holy Spirit are used interchangeably, but we also see that the Holy Spirit is distinct from God. Isaiah 63:11-12 says:
“Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them,” (verse 11)
“Who caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, Who divided the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting name,” (verse 12)
So here, we see the Holy Spirit is mentioned by name in the Old Testament – and is distinct from God “Where is He…” We also see distinctions in other passages as well, between the Spirit of the Lord and the Lord. Ezekiel 11:5 says:
“Then the Spirit of the LORD fell upon me, and He said to me, ”Say, ’Thus says the LORD, ”So you think, house of Israel, for I know your thoughts .”
Here, the Spirit came to Ezekiel with a message from the Lord.
Psalm 104:30 says God sends his Spirit:
“You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the ground.”
So there is a clear distinction between the two. But in 2 Samuel 23 we see that when the Spirit speaks, it is actually God speaking. Verse 2 and 3 say:
”The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue. ”The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spoke to me, ’He who rules over men righteously, Who rules in the fear of God,”
In this passage, it doesn’t say God is speaking through the Spirit. It says when the Spirit speaks, God is speaking.
In Job 33:4 we read:
”The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
The verse says the Spirit made him – but only God can give life. Therefore the Old Testament teaches that the Spirit of the Lord is also God.
My favorite Trinitarian verse in the Old Testament is Isaiah 48:16, because it puts all members of the Trinity together:
”Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord GOD has sent Me, and His Spirit.”
In “from the time it took place,” the Lord is speaking about his eternal nature, but then says there are two distinct, separate persons known as the Lord and His Spirit who are sending him. In one verse we see the entire teaching of the Trinity; three separate divine beings who are all God.
Different persons of God in ancient Jewish literature
I want to let my viewers know the information I presented here is only a fraction of the evidence. I certainly cannot cover it all without making a video over two hours long. But I want to give people a starting point to see that like the New Testament, in the Old Testament there are three distinct persons of God known as The Lord, the Angel of the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord. All are distinct from each other and all are fully God.
Not only that, but there were ancient Jewish authors who also noticed the different persons of God. Philo of Alexandria, for example, differed with Christianity a little and argued that the Hebrew Scriptures taught that there were two separate Gods who made creation, since God was deemed untouchable in all ways. According to Philo, the world was created by extensions of God known as the Spirit of the Lord and the Memra of the Lord – which translates in Greek to the Logos, which translates in English to the Word.
In volume 2 of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Dr. Michael Brown presses this case and shows that the Old Testament shows that the Angel of the Lord is also referred to as the Word of the Lord. So when John wrote his Gospel and said “in the beginning was the Word,” he wasn’t the first to call the second member of the Trinity the Word. However, this topic would take way too long for me to get into now. But I think it is clear that the fraction of the evidence that I covered clearly shows Unitarianism is not in the Old Testament. There is overwhelming evidence of a multi-personal God who is three distinct persons in the Hebrew Scriptures. Clearly, this concept was not introduced by Jesus and his apostles.