Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity 2: The One God Is Jehovah
The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity, Part II: The One God is Jehovah, the Lord
A. This one God is known in the OT as Jehovah or Yahweh (“the LORD”)
1. Texts where Jehovah is said to be elohim or el: Deut. 4:35, 39; Josh. 22:34; 1 Kings 8:60; 18:21, 39; Ps. 100:3; 118:27; etc.
2. Texts where the compound name “Jehovah God” (Yahweh Elohim) is used: Gen. 2:4-9, 15-22; 3:1, 8-9, 13-14, 21-23; 24:3; Ex. 9:30; Ps. 72:18; 84:11; Jonah 4:6
3. Only one Yahweh/Jehovah: Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:29
4. The Bible never speaks of “the gods” as a group that includes Yahweh; nor is creation ever credited to “gods”; nor does it ever enjoin the worship of “gods”; nor does it speak in any other way that would imply that Yahweh was one of a group of deities. In fact the Bible explicitly rejects these types of statements (e.g., Deut. 5:6-10; 6:4-5, 13; Is. 43:10; 44:6-8, 24).
5. Conclusion: Jehovah is the only God, the only El or Elohim
B. This one God, the LORD, is one single divine being
1. The Bible always refers to the LORD or God in the third person singular (he, his, him), never as they, and speakers in the Bible addressing God/the LORD always do so in the second person singular (you singular). Citing texts is really unnecessary because there are far too many occurrences, but see, for example, Gen. 1:5, 10; Ex. 3:6, 12-14; 20:7; Deut. 32:39; 1 Kings 18:39; Ps. 23:2-3.
2. Whenever in the Bible the LORD or God speaks to human beings or other creatures, he always speaks of himself in the first person singular (I, andmy/mine, not us/we and our/ours). Of the obviously numerous examples, see the especially famous examples in Ex. 3:14; Ex. 20:2; Deut. 5:6. He says “I am the LORD” or “I am the LORD your/their God” some 164 times in the OT (especially in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Isaiah, and Ezekiel).
3. This conclusion cannot be circumvented by saying that there is one “Godhead” consisting of a plurality of divine beings. The word “Godhead” is equivalent to the word “Godhood” (-head is an old English suffix meaning the state or status of something, as in maidenhead, the state of being a maiden or virgin). In the English Bible it is used to translate three closely related words: theion (“divine being,” Acts 17:29), theiotês (“divine nature,” Rom. 1:20), and theotês (“deity,” Col. 2:9). In none of these texts does “Godhead” refer to more than one divine being. The use of “Godhead” as a term for the Trinity is not found in the Bible; it is not inaccurate per se, but it must be understood as a term for a single divine being, not a group of gods.
C. However, the Bible never says that God is “one person.”
1. Heb. 1:3 KJV speaks of God’s “person,” but the word used here, hupostasis, is translated “substance” in Heb. 11:1 KJV; also in Heb. 1:3 “God” refers specifically to the Father.
2. Gal. 3:20 speaks of God as one party in the covenant between God and man, not as one person.
3. Job 13:8 KJV speaks of God’s “person,” but ironically the Hebrew literally means “his faces.”
D. The use of plural pronouns by God in Genesis 1-11
1. As already noted, the Bible always refers to God in the singular, and he always speaks of himself with singular pronouns (I, me, mine, my) when addressing creatures. These singular forms do not disprove that God exists as three “persons” as long as these persons are not separate beings.
2. At least three times God speaks of or to himself using plural pronouns (Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7), and nontrinitarian interpretations cannot account for these occurrences.
a. A plural reference to God and the angels is not likely in these texts. In 1:26 “our image” is explained by the parallel in 1:27, “in God’s image.” In 3:22 “like one of us” refers back to 3:5, “like God.” In 11:7 “let us go down and there confuse their language” is explained immediately in 11:8-9, “So the LORD [Yahweh] scattered them abroad from there … The LORD confused the language of the whole earth.” Angels were evidently present when God created human beings (cf. Job 38:4-7), but the Bible never includes them as participants in creating human beings. Nor does the Bible ever speak of humans as being in the image of angels.
b. That the plural is in some way literal is evident from 3:22 (“like one of us”) and from 11:7 (“Come, let us go down”), which parallels the people’s statements “Come, let us …” (11:3, 4).
c. The “literary plural” (possibly, though never clearly, attested in Paul) is irrelevant to OT texts in which God is speaking, not writing.
d. The “plural of deliberation” or “cohortative plural” (as in “Let’s see now …”) with reference to a single person is apparently unattested in biblical writings, and clearly cannot explain the plural in Gen. 3:22 (“like one of us”).
e. The “plural of amplitude” or of “fullness” (which probably does explain the use of the plural form elohim in the singular sense of “God”) is irrelevant to the use of plural pronouns, and again cannot explain Gen. 3:22 and 11:7.
f. The “plural of majesty” (the royal “we”) is possibly attested in 1 Kings 12:9; 2 Chron. 10:9; more likely Ezra 4:18; but none of these is a certain use of that idiom; and again, it cannot explain Gen. 3:22 and 11:7.
3. There are two factors that may explain why these intradivine plural pronouns occur only in Genesis 1-11.
a. These plural pronouns express communication among the divine persons, rather than communication from God to human beings or angelic creatures.
b. It may be significant that the use of these plural forms is reported only in Genesis 1-11, prior to the revelations to Abraham, when the focus of biblical revelation became the fostering of a monotheistic faith. The history of the OT is a history of the struggle to establish Israel as a community committed to belief in one God. In that context it would have been confusing to have referred overtly to the three divine persons of the triune God. This also explains why there is no overt revelation of the three persons in the OT.
E. The uniqueness of God should prepare us for the possibility that the one divine Being exists uniquely as a plurality of persons
1. Only one God, thus unique: see I.A
2. None are even like God: see I.B
3. God cannot be fully comprehended: Is. 40:18, 25; 1 Cor. 8:2-3
4. God can be known only insofar as the Son reveals Him: Matt. 11:25-27; John 1:18
5. Analogical language needed to describe God: Ezek. 1:26-28; Rev. 1:13-16
6. God is transcendent, entirely distinct from and different than the universe, as the carpenter is distinct from the bench
a. Separate from the world: Is. 40:22; Acts 17:24
b. Contrasted with the world: Ps. 102:25-27; 1 John 2:15-17
c. Created the world: Gen. 1:1; Ps. 33:6; 102:25; Is. 42:5; 44:24; John 1:3; Rom. 11:36; Heb. 1:2; 11:3