Table of Contents
Part V: The Trinity in the old Testament
1. The Lord as "the Word"
It has been
customary to assume that the concept of the Logos in the first
chapter of John was inspired by Greek Philosophy, particularly
by the adaptation of it to Judaic thought by the Jewish philosopher
Philo. However, John's Gospel is much more Hebrew in character
and in its thought patterns than for example Luke's Gospel, so
that it would not be surprising to find John referring back for
his symbols to a purely Hebrew tradition rather than a Greek
one, as Luke might have done. Moreover, there is some evidence
that this symbol of Jehovah is perhaps paralleled in the first
chapter of John by two others. One of these is the "Shekinah"
Presence (a symbol frequently appearing in the Targums), and
the other is "Kabodh" Glory, which may both
have been in John's mind in verse 14 where he says, "And
the Word (memra) was made flesh, and dwelt among us (shekinah),
and we beheld His glory (kabodh)." To his Jewish
readers this might be a particularly significant statement.
1 of 12
It would not do to make too much
of this, however attractive the idea may seem. The Jewish people
themselves made the mistake of giving so much freedom to their
interpretative imaginings that the plainest words of Scripture
often came to have fantastic meaning -- so much so, in fact,
that their commentaries at times are almost unintelligible. The
early Church Fathers not infrequently fell into the same trap.
For this reason we have kept this comment out of the body of
2. The Lord
as "the Promised Seed"
This brief note,
like Appendix 1 has been kept out of the body of the Paper, not
only because it contains some highly speculative ideas, but also
because it is in a way a separate subject, which would have required
making a pronounced break in the thread of thought.
In Genesis 3:15 the promise is
given to Eve that One who should be her seed would finally undo
the works of Satan. In the circumstances, it was very natural
for Eve to suppose that this Promised Seed would appear at once
and there is some evidence that she supposed this to have happened
when her first child was born. This event is recorded in Genesis
4:1 and 2, and the Hebrew of the original is in some respects
a little odd. Our text reads, "And Adam knew Eve his wife;
and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man
from the LORD. And she again bare his
brother Abel." Now in the original, Eve's statement, "I
have gotten a man from the LORD,"
may be translated in several different ways. She may have said,
"I have gotten a man with the LORD,"
i.e., with the help of the Lord perhaps. But she may also have
said, "I have gotten a man, even the Lord." In any
case, the word "LORD" is "Jehovah"
in the Hebrew, a circumstance which we shall return to in a moment.
The phrase "And she again bare his brother Abel" is
also a little strange. It could possibly be rendered, "And
she bare also (at the same time) his brother Abel." This
would be a birth of twins. The only justification for this translation
lies in the fact that the adverb "again" is a verb
in the original which means essentially "to do at the same
time," or "to repeat."
In the New Testament Cain is said
to have been born "of that wicked one" (1 John 3:12),
a phrase which is exactly parallel to that in Matthew 1:20, where
Jesus is said to have been conceived of the Holy Spirit. The
Greek ek is used in both cases implying derivation
in a special way, in the one case "out of" the Holy
Spirit and in the other case "out of" the evil one.
Is it possible that Satan was also mistakenly believing that
the first child that Eve bore would somehow or other be a Great
One and that in some supernatural way he tried to see to it that
an anti-Christ appeared before Christ? If this admittedly speculative
idea has any justification, then it seems not unlikely that with
Cain exiled by God Himself from the company of his fellows, Satan
might soon tempt other men to claim themselves to be the Promised
Seed. Although there are other interpretations of Genesis 4:26,
it is not impossible that the statement that at this time "began
men to call upon the name of the LORD"
should more properly be rendered "began men to call themselves
by the name of Jehovah." The Hebrew allows this and it may
be that notable
individuals were tempted
to make this claim for themselves openly for the first time.
In Exodus 6:2 and 3 there is a
passage the meaning of which has always been a subject of debate.
In this passage, we read, "And God spake unto Moses, and
said unto him, I am the LORD: And I appeared
unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name God Almighty,
but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them." It has
always seemed strange that the Lord who was about to redeem Israel
should say that He had not been known by name to the patriarchs,
who, as we have seen, met Him and talked with Him face to face.
I should like to suggest this possibility: When Mary was told
that she would bare a Son who was to be the Redeemer, she was
also told what His name was to be, namely, Jehovah Saviour, shortened
into the form, Jesus. It seems to me not unlikely that God might
have told Eve also that when the Promised Seed came His name
would be Jehovah. But -- and this is the point of importance
here -- she was not told that Jehovah was God's name. Accordingly
as the knowledge was passed from generation to generation, the
tradition was well known that the name of the Promised Seed when
He appeared would be Jehovah. But still no one knew that this
was God's name. As I see it, God was here saying to Moses, "You
know as others have known that when the Redeemer comes His name
will be Jehovah: but now I am revealing to you that I, God Almighty,
am that Jehovah." Or in very simple words, "I am that
I am," the second "I am" being in a sense a translation
of the word "Jehovah." Moses now knew that the Promised
Seed was not a great mortal one, but was to be God Himself. This
fact as we have seen was well understood by Isaiah (Isaiah 35:4).
Whatever may be said for or against
this suggestion, it is quite clear that when our Lord finally
appeared, there were many who were true Israelites who had, simply
by a contemplation of the Old Testament, come to understand very
wonderfully that the Promised Seed was really God made man. To
all such, the name of Jesus was full of meaning. And His true
identity is going to be acknowledged one day by all men to the
glory of the Father when every knee shall bow and confess that
Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:11).
3. Jesus in
the Old Testament: A Bibliography
books have papers or sections devoted to this subject. There
are undoubtedly hundreds of others, but these we are acquainted
with personally and have found them of value.
Childs, "Jesus Christ is Jehovah," Evangelical Quarterly,
vol.5, no.2 and 3, April and July, 1933. A most useful treatise.
Rowell, J. B., "Jehovah Jesus,"
Sunday School Times, August 21, 28, and September 4, 1958.
Edersheim, Alfred, The Life
and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Longmans Green, New York,
1900, vol.1, pp. 43ff., and vol. 2, pp. 659-666, appendix 2.
The appendix is most valuable and lists, among other things,
all the passages in the Old Testament which the Jewish people
traditionally considered as being a reference to the Messiah.
Hislop, Alexander, The Two Babylons,
Loizeaux Brothers, New York, 1916, xii and 330 pp., illustrated,
index. A remarkable book bearing witness to the author's immense
scholarship and showing how the original revelation of the nature
and relationship of the Persons within the Godhead and the identity
of the Promised Seed was corrupted in the ancient world.
Stock, John, "The God-Man,"
in The Fundamentals, vol.2, Biola Press, Los Angeles,
Browne, E. Harold, An Exposition
of the Thirty-nine Articles, Parker and Son, London,
1860, pp.13ff. on Article 1, "The Holy Trinity"; Article
2, "The Word, or Son of God Who Was Made Very Man,"
p.60; Article 5, "Of the Holy Ghost," pp.122ff. Browne's
treatment of the nature of the Trinity and the identity of the
Lord Jesus is full and very satisfying.
Liddon, H. P., The Divinity
of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Rivingtons, London,
1871, xxix and 549 pp. Rightly considered a classic.
Cooper, David, The Eternal God
Revealing Himself, Evangelical Press, Harrisburg, Pa., 1928,
362 pp., index. A valuable study of the Hebrew.
It is a matter
of common experience that whenever we see two or three people
who know us well talking together, we tend rather easily to suppose
they are talking about us. For some reason, it does not surprise
us very much (though it may confirm our suspicions!) if one of
them says, "Oh, we were just talking about you."
On the other hand, whenever an
individual who has been sitting alone apparently immersed in
deep thought, says to us, "Well, I was just thinking about
you," we are apt to be surprised. That people in groups
should talk about us seems somehow quite natural. But most of
us feel insignificant enough that we hardly expect anyone to
spend time thinking about us when they are alone. We get
the feeling that we are the subject of conversation, but not
the feeling that we are the subject of thought. Human nature
being what it is, the first feeling tends to be one of apprehension.
But setting this aside for the moment, the point I'm trying to
make here is that we feel ourselves to be involved where several
people are concerned much more readily than where only the one
is concerned -- for a solitary person is almost antisocial. The
very existence of several persons implies the willingness of
those persons to share themselves with others.
However we may explain it, apparently
this rather characteristic tendency has had its repercussions
in the realm of worship. In his Making of Religion
(Longmans Green, 1909, p.255) Andrew Lang has pointed out
that where God is believed to be a solitary Being, alone and
supreme, occupied in contemplation, He has tended to be looked
upon as One who is so far removed from the littlenesses of daily
life that He ought not to be bothered with them. Accordingly,
this lonely Supreme Being is often overlooked altogether, and
worship, personal supplications, and sacrifices are directed
towards lesser deities who are more human and therefore more
It is as though ordinary mortals
dare not intrude into the private life or interrupt the thoughts
of such a Supreme Being. It thus comes about, paradoxically,
that this kind of absolute monotheism may lead to a gross polytheism.
On the other hand, where the Godhead is plural, worshippers have
tended to assume that the Persons within that Godhead have engaged
in conversation among themselves and that the subject of the
conversation is the worshippers. They have therefore felt much
freer to intrude and address themselves to God. It would be a
great mistake to suggest that the concept of the Trinity is a
concession to human nature. It is much more likely that God has
structured human nature so that worship and the fellowship of
prayer comes more naturally to those who have believed the revelation
He has given of Himself as three Persons in one God.
of the Original Revelation in Ancient Traditions
It used to be
thought that monotheism arose by some kind of evolutionary
process out of polytheism. The idea went something like this.
At first, man attributed to other things feelings like his own.
Rivers, storms, avalanches, and other such potential restrainers
of man had wills similar to his own. In the course of time, further
sophistication removed the soul out of such inanimate objects
and attributed their apparent willfulness, at times, to disembodied
wills which stood behind them and used them. Later on these wills
were personified and eventually erected into a kind of hierarchy
of spirit beings. Subsequently these spirit beings were no longer
considered as analogous to human wills, but as something higher
and superior, and of course, much more powerful. Thus what had
been polydemonism became polytheism. Then along came the Hebrews
who said that although there were these lesser supernatural beings
(angels and demons), there was above them one Being, infinitely
removed and vastly superior. This Potentate was at first likened
to a "benevolent dictator," but in the end, so it was
held, the prophets declared Him the Father of mankind. Such was
the rationalized interpretation proposed by those who felt that
evolution was the key here as it was in biology and cultural
history, and who were quite sure that revelation was unnecessary.
But as time went on, it became
apparent that this hypothesis would not stand up. Reasonable
though it seemed, the facts were against it: the earliest faith
of mankind appears to have been a remarkably pure monotheism.
It is not our purpose to examine the evidence for this here,
since it is the subject of another Doorway Paper ("Primitive
Monotheism and the Origin of Polytheism," Part II in Evolution
or Creation? vol.4). What we should like to point out, however,
is that the records of antiquity show a dual line of development
in this matter. On the one hand, there is witness to this early
purity of faith in the existence of a single Supreme Being whose
relationship to man is perhaps best summed up by the title "Merciful
Father"; and on the other hand, an explicit understanding
of the nature of God as a Trinity of Persons. This belief in
a Trinity is quite distinct from polytheism, though one might
suppose the two would be inevitably confused. Furthermore, these
traditions regarding the nature of the Trinity often reveal a
very clear insight into the relationship between the Members
of the Trinity, and even their names.
For example, a rather common symbolic
representation of the Trinity from the Middle East in the early
historic period takes the form of the head and arms of an old
man with a beard, set in an oval frame, the latter being supplied
with wings, tail feathers, and bird's
feet. A reproduction
of such a symbol is shown in Fig. 12. (2) It was long ago pointed out that we may have in this
symbol a remarkable recollection of the three Persons in the
Godhead, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is clear
enough, perhaps, that the old man is God the Father, and the
wings, the legs, and the tail feathers are symbolic of the dove,
i.e., the Holy Spirit. But where is God the Son?
In Scripture the Son of God is known also
as the Seed (Galatians 3:16; 1 John 3:9). The Hebrew word for "seed"
is zera , a word which
has come into English via the Arabs as "zero." This word is
written as a symbol in the form "O." This symbol was given a
number of mystical meanings, in its circular form (as opposed to oval)
coming to stand for the perfect figure and for eternity -- the circle
of time (perhaps giving rise to the Babylonian word "saros,"
a cycle). By devious ways, it was played with by the mystics and in the
course of time came to be represented by an egg -- in fact, the Easter
egg. There is considerable evidence that the word "Easter" is
a corruption of a name familiar to students of antiquity as the woman
"Ishtar." This woman was given the title "Queen of Heaven."
The Seed of this woman, who in the Book of Revelation is Antichrist, became
known as the "Seed of Ishtar," or translated into its Semitic
form, Zera Ishtar, a corrupted form of which is probably found in the
name Zoroaster. Returning to the symbol illustrated, it will be seen that
the circle is indeed a circle, and not a disk, i.e., a ring and not a
plate, and is almost certainly intended to signify the presence of God
There are many authorities today
who have little or no sympathy for this kind of interpretation.
However, in Figs.12B and 12C. I have given other similar symbolic
representations found by Layard in his excavations in the Middle
East which differ significantly, yet which are clearly related.
Fig.12B shows the wings and tail feathers of the dove and what
is rather clearly an egg in the center. In this illustration,
however, the figure of the old man has been replaced by a simple
geometric form, the meaning of which is not clear. In Fig.12C
the details are even more remarkable. In the first place, it
is manifest that the circle is a circle and not a solid figure
because the feathers of the wings are continued in toward the
centre. What is more remarkable, however, is that the threefold
nature of the Godhead is reinforced by the incorporation of two
small heads arising from the wings, in addition to the central
figure, making a total of three.
2. These three figures are redrawn from Austen
H. Layard, Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon,
John Murray, London, 1853, pp.605ff.
It has sometimes
been said that the universe is so full of triads that man has
always tended to group things in threes everywhere. Thus there
are three primary colors, three dimensions, three temporal divisions
-- past, present, and future, three kingdoms -- mineral, vegetable,
and animal, three relationships -- I, thou, they; three states
-- solid, liquid, gas; and so on, almost indefinitely. It has
been customary, therefore, to argue that because the concept
of absolute unity is a highly sophisticated one, there was a
tendency to make trinities out of the gods wherever there were
gods to be reckoned with. Trinities exist, therefore, as a natural
consequence of man's reflection about the universe -- so we are
told -- and not because of an original revelation. The persistence
of trinities in so many widely separated parts of the world seems
to me to indicate that the initial revelation was at the beginning
given very explicitly
and was clearly understood
by those who received it. Wallis Budge listed some
of the Babylonian trinities such as: (3)
Sir J. W. Dawson
listed some of the ancient Egyptian trinities, of which the most
famous was: (4)
Charles F. Keary
gave some of the trinities which appear in Europe (5) as, for example
| among the Romans:
| of the Teutons:
| and in Greece:
There is even
an ancient Chinese trinity which obviously cannot have had any
connection with Christianity. The Chinese philosopher, Lao-tse,
who flourished according to Chinese chronology about the sixth
or seventh century B.C., made this statement,
The one that you are looking
for and you do not see, calls himself J. The one that
you listen for, and that you do not hear, calls himself Hi.
The one that your hand seeks, and that it is not able to grasp,
calls himself Wei. They are three beings which one cannot
understand, and which compounded together make only one.
be a mistake, I think, to suggest that there is any connection
between the three letters, J, H, and W, and the Hebrew name of
God, Jehovah. But the concept of a trinity as such is clearly
very ancient and remarkably widespread.
The trinity is also found very early
in India. In one of the most ancient cave temples at Elephanta,
(7) there is a
representation of God in the form of a figure of one body with
three heads, attached to which is an inscription which reads,
"Eko Deva trimurtti," which is
3. Budge, E. A. W., Babylonian Life and
History, Religious Tract Society, London, 1897, p.189.
4. Dawson, Sir J. W., Egypt and Syria, Religious Tract
Society, London, 1892, p.189.
5. Keary, Charles F., Outlines of Primitive Belief Among the
Indo-European Races, Scribners, New York, 1882, p.218.
6. Howard, John E., "The Druids and Their Religion,"
Transactions of the Victorian Institute, vol.14, 1881,
7. Hislop, Alexander, The Two Babylons, Partridge, London,
translated as "One
God, three forms." In this inscription Eko means
"one" and trimurtti means "three forms."
The word for God is Deva, a word related to the English
"divine." And this brings us to a further point which
seems to show that the original revelation of the nature of God
was shared by many people.
Deva, a generic name for God in
India, is commonly derived from the Sanskrit, div, which
means "to shine." But there may be another derivation
for the word, which must ultimately be traced back to the Chaldee
word for "good." The Hebrew word for "good"
is pronounced toth or toy, a form which in Chaldee
is found as thev. This adjective becomes essentially a
noun when it is given its emphatic form theva, which then
means "The Good." This is the culmination of the Old
Testament revelation, God is Good; as the culmination of the
New Testament revelation is, God is Love. When Jesus said, "Why
callest thou me good? There is none good but God only,"
I think He was referring back to this fact. God may well, therefore,
have been known from Hebrew influences as the Good One, theva,
a word which found its way as His title throughout the Indo-European
world. In India it became Deva, in Latin Deus, in
Greek Theos, in French Dieu, in old high German
Zieu and in Anglo-Saxon Tieu. As we have noted,
the word "divine" in English has the same source. It
seems just possible that the Chinese Ti and Tien are
related forms. The Sanskrit elaborated the word and linked it
with the term "Father," whence it appears as Djouspitar,
a form which seems clearly to be reflected in the Roman name,
In the light of all this, it is
not strange that etymological dictionaries should derive the
word "God" from the word "good," a point
illustrated, for example, by the contraction of "good-spel"
to "God-spel," and then to "gospel." This
phenomenon, the borrowing by other nations of a Hebrew word for
God, is found in other directions also. Thus the Hebrew word
Adonai (My Lord) seems to have spread far and wide appearing
in Egypt as "Aten" or "Aton" (in the name
Atknaton, for instance), in Syria as "Aton," in Greek
in a feminine form "Athena," in Italy (probably via
the Etruscans) as Madonna, meaning "My Lady," in Norse
as "Odin," and possibly in Saxon as "Wodin."
We have previously mentioned that
the merciful side of God's nature was revealed to Israel and
became a treasured part of Revelation. The Hebrew root of the
word "merciful," is raham, and this word seems
to have appeared in a number of forms in other parts of the ancient
world. There is good reason to believe that the Indian word brahm
is a modification of the original Hebrew, since brahm
associated with the
womb and in Hebrew thought the womb was the seat of compassion.
This is analogous to the use of the word "bowels" in
the New Testament. The Turks apply the title Er-Rahman
to the Most High. Although I can find no authority for this,
it seems to me quite likely that the Egyptian Rha is the
same word, as also the Greek Rhea.
I'm quite sure that a scholar with
a knowledge of the mythology of these peoples could sort out
for us which of these speculations is justified and which is
not. It is remarkable how many such connecting links there are
of this kind in antiquity. Thus, for example, the symbol of the
Holy Spirit in Scripture is the dove, for which the Hebrew word
is "Jonah." It seems almost certain that the Juno of
the Greeks and Romans who was always represented as associated
with a dove was none other than the Holy Spirit, though subsequently
grossly misinterpreted and misunderstood. If one is allowed to
make the further assumption that the Jove of Classical Antiquity
was a corruption of Jehovah, the following short poem, one of
the Orphic Hymns, indicates how much of the original truth was
"held in unrighteousness" (cf. Romans 1:18).
O Royal Juno, of majestic mien,
Aerial formed, divine, Jove's blessed queen,
Throned in the bosom of celestial air,
The race of mortals is thy constant care.
The cooling winds, thy power alone inspire,
Which nourish life, which ever life desires.
Mother of showers, and winds, from thee alone
Producing all things, mortal life is known.
All natures show thy temperament divine,
And universal sway alone is thine
With sounding blasts of wind, and swelling sea,
And rolling rivers, roar when shaken by thee.
all the confusion of thought, Juno, consort of Jehovah, is the
Divine Being associated with the winds, comforter, guide and
sustainer of life, and creator of the divine temperament in man.
The use of a triangle as the symbol
for God, in antiquity, might be considered as falling in the
same category. The subsequent superimposing of two triangles
one over the other, as used by the Jewish people, is believed
by some to have originated from the concept of three Persons
in the Godhead, who bore a covenant relationship with the three
great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is the so-called
Star of David.
I do not think it without significance
that Paul wrote of the Romans that they among other nations in
the pagan world "held the
truth in unrighteousness"
(cf. Romans 1:18). It is easy to direct one's attention to the
words "in unrighteousness" and to overlook the admission
that they did hold "the truth." In fact, in the Greek
the word "hold" is a little more meaningful than the
English translation. It is a compound word and has the meaning
of "to conceal" (Liddell and Scott). As we have seen,
the ancient pagan world retained something of the original nature
of the Godhead by the names by which they remembered the persons
who composed their pantheons. These names did not necessarily
have any specific meaning to them, but if we trace them back
to that area of the Middle East from which they originally came,
we find them changing slightly until they are suddenly recognized
in the Old Testament.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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