The term “trinity” is never used in the Bible, though the concept is taught throughout Scripture. The term represents the biblical presentation of one God in three distinct, co-equal, co-eternal persons. Many believe that the concept of the Trinity is only found in the New Testament. As Wayne Grudem states with insightfulness, “If God has eternally existed as three persons, it would be surprising to find no indications of that in the Old Testament.”1 While the Old Testament does not give us a direct view of the Trinity, as in the New Testament, the author finds many passages that suggest or imply the plurality of the one true God in the Old Testament.
Key passages in the Old Testament, which as Feinberg states, “suggests the plurality in the Godhead.”2 Dan Story, author of Defending Your Faith, has an interesting insight for introducing this topic, “Although the doctrine of the Trinity is fully revealed in the New Testament, its roots can be found in the Old Testament.”3 Similarly, Strong in his Systematic Theology book summarizes the doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament as:
Our general conclusion with regard to the Old Testament intimations must therefore be that, while they do not by themselves furnish a sufficient basis for he doctrine of the Trinity, they contain the germ of it, and may be used in confirmation of it when its truth is substantially proved from the New Testament.4
To suggest the Old Testament infers the concept of the Trinity the author will review the Old Testament title Elohim, instances where the Son or Messiah is deemed God, and Scriptural examples of the Holy Spirit given deity. Additionally, verses which demonstrate the separateness of each person will be reviewed. The author will not review passages that denote the Father as God since this is generally accepted within theological circles.
The term Elohim is a controversial Hebrew term in regards to its origin and support of a Trinitarian view. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible gives a neutral background on the meaning of the term. It states:
Elohim is also commonly used as the name of God, occurring over 2500 times in the OT. There are differences of opinion concerning the exact origin and meaning of this plural name. Some have suggested that Elohim is the plural form of El, but it seems more likely that it is a plural of Eloah, which appears in the poetical writings. Some critical writers have suggested that this plural form is borrowed from pagan polytheistic sources; but no such plural form is found among pagans as the name of a deity. Others have suggested that the plural form is used to indicate the triune nature of God, and support for this has been seen in the use of a singular verb with this plural noun. The biblical doctrine of the Trinity, as it is developed throughout the Scriptures, does not appear to be based on the use of this plural form of God’s name, even though the two positions are not contradictory.5
The author of A Survey of Biblical Doctrine also notes the general usage of the term Elohim but also leaves open the potential for a Trinitarian view:
The most general (and least specific in significance) name for God in the Old Testament is Elohim, Although its etymology is not clear, it apparently means “Strong One,” and it is used not only of the true God but also of heathen gods (Gen 31:30; Ex 12:12). The im ending indicates that the word is plural, and this has given rise to considerable speculation as to the significance of the plural. Some have suggested that it is an indication of polytheism, which would be difficult to sustain since the singular (Eloah) is rarely used and since Deuteronomy 6:4 clearly says that God is one. Others have attempted to prove the concept of the Trinity from this plural word. While the doctrine of the Trinity is of course a biblical one, it is very doubtful that it can be proved on the basis of this name for God. Nevertheless, this is not to say that the plural Elohim in no way indicates some distinctions within the Godhead. Though the plural does allow for the subsequent clear revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament, it most likely is best understood as indicating fullness of power. 6
Unique points are discovered when reading Feinberg’s book No One Like Him in regards to the term Elohim. Feinberg admits that “there are more substantial OT indications of plurality in the Godhead.”7 Yet he reveals some interesting aspects about grammatical usages of Elohim. Feinberg notes that nouns and verbs usually agree in number. What is unusual is that Elohim is a plural noun that:
“is so commonly used to refer to Israel’s one God, Yahweh, that it is most often used with a singular verb….In fact, it is so typical to use this plural noun with a singular verb that it becomes significant when a plural verb is used with elohim to refer to Israel’s God. In Gen 20:13 elohim is used with a plural verb for “caused to wander,” and in Gen 35:7 God is spoken of as having “revealed” (plural in Hebrew) himself to Jacob. In 2 Sam 7:23 we are told that Israel’s God (elohim) went (haleueca-third person plural) to redeem Israel. ”8
Feinberg also discusses that, “pronouns are supposed to agree with their noun in number, case, and gender, we would expect to see plural pronouns referring to elohim…Hence, in instances where plural pronouns appear (grammatically correct but contrary to typical usage), those cases seem to suggest plurality of some sort in the Godhead.”9 He notes passages like Genesis 1:26 and comments, “God says, “Let us make man in our image”; the verb “make” (naaseh) is plural, and so is “our.”10 He notes that that some explain the grammar of this passage in the context of God speaking in concert with angels as the pronoun “us”. Of course this cannot be textually correct since humans being are made in the image of God, not angels. The Bible Knowledge Commentary states, ““Image” (ṣelem) is used figuratively here, for God does not have a human form. Being in God’s image means that humans share, though imperfectly and finitely, in God’s nature, that is, in His communicable attributes (life, personality, truth, wisdom, love, holiness, justice), and so have the capacity for spiritual fellowship with Him.11 In his book Systematic Theology Grudem comments on this passage:
What do the plural verb (“let us”) and the plural pronoun (“our”) mean? Some have suggested they are plurals of majesty, a form of speech a king would use in saying, for example,” We are pleased to grant your request.” However, in Old Testament Hebrew there are no other examples of a monarch using plural verbs or plural pronouns of himself in such a “plural of majesty,” so this suggestion has no evidence to support it.12
Two other similar passages where plural pronouns for God are used in Gen 3:22 and Gen 11:7.
The Son is God
A plethora of verses in the New Testament designate Jesus Christ as God (John 1:1. John 10:30, John 20:28, Col 1:16, Hebrews 1:8, Romans 9:5, Phil 2:8, Titus 2:13, Rev 1:8, etc). Yet many are surprised to find deity given to Christ in the Old Testament.
Psalm 45:6-7 reads, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” The Pulpit Commentary defies any notion that this verse could be an earthly king:
The psalmist’s intention is to address the King, whom he has already declared to be more than man (ver. 2), as “God.” Is for ever and ever. A dominion to which there will never be any end. This is never said, and could not be truly said, of any earthly kingdom. When perpetuity is promised to the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:13–16; Ps. 89:4, 36, 37), it is to that throne as continued in the reign of David’s Son, Messiah. The sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre; literally, a sceptre of rectitude (comp. Pss. 67:4; 96:10).
Ver. 7.—Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness, therefore, etc. God will only commit rule and authority over his Church to one who will rule justly—one who loves righteousness and hates iniquity. Messiah is alone perfect in righteousness, and therefore entitled to rule. Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. Some moderns translate, “Therefore, O God, thy God hath anointed thee,” etc.; but the rendering of the Authorized Version is maintained by Dr. Kay, Professor Alexander, and our Revisers. The anointing intended is that outpouring of glory and blessedness on Messiah which followed upon his voluntary humiliation and suffering (comp. Phil. 2:9; Heb. 2:9).13
The writer of Hebrews 1:8 clarifies this as he quotes Psalm 45:6-7 and references the passage to the Son.
There are many verses in the Old Testament which ascribe deity to the Angel of the Lord, but also make a distinction from Yahweh. For example, in Genesis 16:10 the Angel of the LORD speaks to Hagar and tells her that, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly..” This would indicate an act of God. Then in Genesis 16:13 Scripture records, “Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You Are the God Who Sees”. MacArthur notes:
This special individual spoke as though He were distinct from Yahweh, yet also spoke in the first person as though He were indeed to be identified as Yahweh Himself, with Hagar recognizing that in seeing this Angel, she had seen God. Others had the same experience and came to the same conclusion. The Angel of the Lord, who does not appear after the birth of Christ, is often identified as the pre-incarnate Christ.14
There are many other examples of the Angel of the LORD referred to as God. Further in Genesis 32 we find Jacob wrestling with God who is presumably the pre-incarnate Christ. Also, in Exodus 3:2, the Angel of the LORD appeared to Moses from the midst of a bush. In verse 4 God called to Moses also from the midst of the bush signifying the same person. Other examples of the Angel of the LORD include Judges 13:6, Numbers 22:22-35, Judges 6:11-23, Judges 13:17. Finally, Feinberg makes an insightful point:
Exodus 34:14 is very clear that only God is to be worshipped, not mere humans or even angels, but in neither Exodus 3 nor Judges 13 does the angel of the Lord refuse the various acts of reverence and worship. This suggests, when joined with Exodus 34:14, his divine nature….From this we can hardly deduce the doctrine of the Trinity, but these data warrant saying that while there is only one God, in some sense there is plurality in the Godhead, for the angel of the Lord is called God and yet is distinguished from God.15
Another glimpse of the deity of the Son in the Old Testament has to do with His eternity. Obviously, God is the only One who is eternal, and we find references to the Messiah in this regards. In Isaiah 9:6 the Messiah is described as Mighty God and Everlasting Father. Sproul comments that the four royal names given in the passage “express His divine and human qualities, giving assurance that He is indeed “Immanuel.”16 In Micah 5:2 the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and be “everlasting.” Likewise, in Psalm 110:1, Messiah is said to be “a priest forever.”
The Holy Spirit is God
Although not as fully referenced as the deity of Messiah, there are several instances throughout the Old Testament that suggest the Holy Spirit is God. In his book The Holy Spirit, John Walvoord makes a strong statement regarding the deity of the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit is presented in Scripture as having the same essential deity as the Father and the Son and is to be worshipped and adored, loved and obeyed in the same way as God. To regard the Holy Spirit in any other way is to make one guilty of blasphemy and unbelief.” 17
In the Old Testament that the Holy Spirit has a personality. This would infer He is a person. Walvoord comments on this by saying, “The most tangible and conclusive evidence for the personality of the Holy Spirit is found in His works.” We read about His work in creation (Gen 1:2), empowering (Zech 4:6), guidance (Isaiah 48:16), and restraint of sin (Gen 6:3, Isaiah 59:19).19
To explore further the idea that the Holy Spirit is one of three Trinitarian persons it is important to examine creation. Genesis 1:2 was already mentioned as a verse indicating the Holy Spirit was involved in creation. Another is Job 33:4 where he states, “The Spirit of God has made me.” It would be blasphemous to state that someone other than God has created a person. Yet inspired Scripture tells us in Job that the Holy Spirit was involved. Later in the New Testament the works of creation are also attributed to Christ. Thus the inference can be made that all three persons are God.
The Holy Spirit is also given the Godly attribute of omnipresence. In Psalm 139:7 we read, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?”
The Holy Spirit is distinguished as a different person than the Father and Messiah. For example, Isaiah 48:16 read, “Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; From the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord God and His Spirit Have sent Me.” All three persons are separate and distinct. Another great verse demonstrating the separateness of the persons is Isaiah 63:7-14. Furthermore, MacArthur explains, “Here is an illustration of the reality that the Holy Spirit is a Person, since only a person can be grieved.”20
Several Old Testament passages that infer the Trinitarian view have been reviewed. The Old Testament not only suggests the Trinity but it proves cohesiveness in the nature of God between the Old and New Testament. With progressive revelation, the New Testament more clearly presents deity to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, one can harmonize the doctrine of the Trinity through the whole of Scripture. This would be expected since both Old and New Testament Scripture are inspired.
Chuck Colson in his book The Faith states an obvious differentiation of the Christian faith with that of other religions by noting, “The Trinity also answers the deepest needs of the human heart, offering a depth of spirituality unknown in any other religion.”21 Colson tells the story of a Muslim apologist who contended that the Trinity was idolatry. After studying biblical support of the Trinity, as well as first century support for the death and resurrection of Christ, this apologist became a convert to Christianity.22 The support for the concept of the Trinity is so clearly seen throughout Scripture that it can even serve as a springboard for evangelism to those skeptical of the Bible’s doctrinal integrity.
1 Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: MI:Zondervan Publishing, 1994), 226.
2 Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him. The Doctrine of God. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 448.
3 Story, Dan. Defending Your Faith. (Grand Rapids, MI : Kregel Publications, 1997), 101.
4 Strong, Augustus Hopkins: Systematic Theology. (Bellingham, Wa. : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004), S 322.
5 Elwell, Walter A.; Beitzel, Barry J. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. ( Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 881.
6 Ryrie, Charles Caldwell: A Survey of Bible Doctrine. (Bellingham, Wa. : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004), no page number given>
7 Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him. The Doctrine of God. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 449.
11 Ross, Allen P; ed. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL : Victor Books, (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems: 2004), S. 1:29.
12 Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: MI:Zondervan Publishing, 1994), 227.
13 Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Hrsg.): The Pulpit Commentary: Psalms Vol. I. (Bellingham, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004), S. 351.
14 MacArthur Study Bible, annotated by John MacArthur (Dallas, TX: Word, 1997), 37.
15 Ibid, 453.
16 R. C. Sproul, The Reformation Study Bible (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 2005), 963.
17 John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit. A Comprehensive Study of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 5.
18 Ibid, 6.
20 Ibid, 1051.
21 Charles Colson and Harold Fickett, The Faith: Given Once, For All (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 104.
Charles Colson and Harold Fickett. The Faith: Given Once, For All. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.
Elwell, Walter A.; Beitzel, Barry J. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988.
Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him. The Doctrine of God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.
MacArthur, John. MacArthur Study Bible, The. Annotated by John MacArthur. Dallas, TX: Word, 1997.
Ross, Allen P; The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL : Victor Books, Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems: 2004.
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell: A Survey of Bible Doctrine. Bellingham, Wa: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004.
Spence-Jones, H. D. M. The Pulpit Commentary: Psalms Vol. I. Bellingham, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004.
Sproul, R. C. The Reformation Study Bible. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2005.
Story, Dan. Defending Your Faith. Grand Rapids, MI : Kregel Publications, 1997.
Strong, Augustus Hopkins: Systematic Theology. Bellingham, Wa: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004.
Walvoord, John F. The Holy Spirit. A Comprehensive Study of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.