Summary: Though the OT alone might not generate the doctrine of the Trinity, in the light of the NT, the Trinity is easy to see in various OT passages.
Homily for Trinity Sunday
The Old Testament Trinity
Several years ago, my wife and I were in a liberal Lutheran church on Trinity Sunday. We arrived at the end of what they billed as their traditional service, which appeared to us to be a curious mixture of men in vestments similar to what I am wearing today, sharing the altar space with a stage band containing several electric guitars, an electronic keyboard, a drum set, and a small chorus of women to sing background to the male soloist who played lead guitar. I suppose that musical set up passes for traditional nowadays, so long as the tradition isn’t allowed to go back in time more than 10 or 20 years!
The contemporary service was also oddly traditional in this new way of thinking about tradition – except it was drawing on the tradition of the standup comic on late-night television shows or nightclub acts. Whatever. It was Trinity Sunday, and so we were not surprised to find that the topic chosen by the standup comic … oh .. I mean the pastor, of course … was the Trinity. Among other things, he attempted to explain the Trinity by likening Him to an egg. When he got around to comparing the Holy Trinity to a Hostess Twinkie, I began to look for the nearest exit, just in case lightening struck.
Ever since then, I have thought that I would never try to explain the Trinity in the context of a gathering of God’s people for the purpose of worship. It’s just too risky, don’t you think? But, here we are on Trinity Sunday, and it’s meet and right to say something on the topic. And, so in the space we have today, I will do two things. I will state the doctrine of the Trinity in an abbreviated form, and then I will show that it is a thoroughly Biblical doctrine by pointing to places in the Old Testament which are adumbrations – hints and foreshadowings if you will – of the doctrine that is central to the Christian faith.
First of all, what is the doctrine of the Trinity? If you want a full statement of the doctrine of the Trinity, I refer you to what is known as the Anthanasian Creed in the Book of Common Prayer. For now, a summary of that creed boils down to this: God is a single being who exists simultaneously and eternally as three persons, revealed in the New Testament as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
To know that this single God is the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God in three persons, is a distinctly Christian doctrine. You cannot come to this doctrine without the revelation that comes with Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Apostles. Because of that, the doctrine of the Trinity has often been challenged as being in conflict with the central tenet of the faith of the Old Testament, a faith that is best summed up in what the Jews refer to as the Shema’, recorded in Deuteronomy 6:
4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
From the data of the Old Testament revelation, you cannot generate anything like the doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament, most certainly not in the terms we find in the New Testament – God is the Father, God is the Son, God is the Holy Spirit, all of them together One God. But, while we cannot find Father, Son, and Holy Spirit AS SUCH in the Old Testament, we can find in the Old Testament what theologians call “adumbrations” of the Holy Trinity, dim foreshadowings, odd things that are frankly puzzling and confusing in the Old Testament context, but when we look at them again from the New Testament perspective, we find they point to what Christians would eventually call the Holy Trinity. Let me pass a few of these Old Testament verses by you, to show you what I mean.
The earliest hint that God is somehow multi-personal comes in the very first chapter of the Bible. In Genesis 1, verses 26ff, we read this:
26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.