One of the most difficult doctrines of Christianity to fathom is the doctrine of the Trinity. Too many people have trouble getting their minds around the concept that there is one God who exists as three persons. Yet, the New Testament seems clear in this portrayal of God’s nature. But what about the Old Testament? Why doesn’t the Old Testament clearly teach the doctrine of the Trinity?
It may surprise you to learn that, in fact, we do find elements of the Trinity in the Old Testament, though not spelled out as clearly as is found in the New Testament. So, let’s camp for a while in the Old Testament and see how God reveals himself.
First, let’s lay an explanatory foundation. In its revelation of God, the Bible uses something we call progressive revelation. This means that God does not reveal all of himself at one time, rather, God reveals himself over time, long periods of time, slowly revealing his true nature. This does not mean that God hides truth from us. Rather, God reveals truth as he enables us to handle it. We do the same thing with our children. When they are younger we don’t tell our kids everything about us. There is only so much that a child can handle or understand. But over many years our children learn more and more to the point where what they know of us when they are older far exceeds what they knew when they were younger. This is also true of God’s nature in the Bible. Written over thousands of years, the Bible slowly reveals more and more about God until we come to the knowledge we have today. But, we still don’t have a comprehensive picture of God today. There is still more of himself that he waits to reveal to us when we finally enter his presence in Heaven.
Let’s keep this mind as we search the Old Testament for references to the Trinity. In fact, let’s start at the beginning.
Genesis 1:1 we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Here we have a reference to a single person, God. But then we read verse 2, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Some, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, say that this is a reference to the power of God and not a person. But this is mistaken. The reference is to a person. Thus, we have God (one person) and the Spirit (another person). The Spirit is often referred to in the Old Testament with attributes of personality. Isaiah 48:16, “And now the Lord God has sent me and his Spirit.” The Spirit can be grieved in Isaiah 63:10.
A few verses later in Genesis, we read of God referring to himself as multiple persons. Look at verse 26: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.’” Some have said that this is a form of statement known as the royal we, as when a king refers to himself in plural form. However, the royal we is not used of God in scripture anywhere. So something else is going on here. God is referring to himself in multiple persons. In fact, God does this several times in the Old Testament. He does it in Genesis 3:22, “The man has become like one of us knowing good and evil.” He does it in Isaiah 6:8, “Who will go for Us?”
There are other times in the Old Testament where God is referred to as multiple persons. For instance, Psalm 45:7 states, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of joy above Your fellows.”
There are times when God refers to a person who will come to earth and seem to carry the authority of God. “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deuteronomy 18:18). God is more explicit in another prophecy in Malachi 3:1-2, “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” Notice that the word, Lord, is used to refer to two separate persons. Combine this with what we already know. God reveals himself in Genesis 1:1, then the Spirit is revealed in 1:2, then a third person called, Lord, is revealed in Malachi.
A second person to God is also referred to in a controversial passage in Proverbs 8:23-31, “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. From everlasting I was established, from the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills I was brought forth; while He had not yet made the earth and the fields, nor the first dust of the world. When He established the heavens, I was there, when He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, when He made firm the skies above, when the springs of the deep became fixed, when He set for the sea its boundary so that the water would not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth; when I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in the world, His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men.”
Some have noted that this text refers to wisdom and not a person. However, that position ignores certain statements in the text. It says the second person was “Beside him” and he was “Rejoicing always before him,” and that his delight was in humanity.” These are not attributes of “Wisdom,” rather, they are attributes of personality—a person.
Isaiah’s prophecies also portray God as multiple persons. In 9:6 a human person is referred to as the, “Mighty God.” Yet, this is a person who is separate from God in Heaven.
This is just a short overview of Old Testament passages that reveal that the one God is three persons. But, it isn’t until we get to the New Testament that the Bible more clearly spells out this amazing and challenging doctrine. Because it is in the New Testament that we learn who the second person of the Trinity actually is: Jesus Christ.