The Trinity In the Old Testament I

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The Doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important pieces of orthodox Christian theology, having been with the Church since its earliest days. The first known use of the Greek word "trias" was by Theophilus of Antioch in the late second century, and the first use of the Latin word "trinitas" was by Tertullian in the early third century, each translating to the English "trinity." The word is used to describe the concept of the essential nature of God as One God in Three Persons-- the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Although one could easily write hundreds of pages on the Trinity and never come close to exhausting all there is to say about it, I will here focus on how far back the idea can be traced, rather than what it entails.

Any Christian who has ever had a discussion with a Jehovah's Witness knows that the Trinity is one major concept that divides them from Orthodox Christianity. The Witnesses deny the status of Jesus Christ as God and relegate him instead to the status of a divine servant of God. Since all thoughtful sides can agree that the Trinity is nowhere explicitly mentioned in the Bible, the disagreement usually comes down to the translation of certain New Testament verses and what can be inferred from those verses. Since a majority of our readership are mainstream Christians who already hold to the Doctrine of the Trinity, I will refrain from making an argument for the Trinity, as well as Jesus' status as God, from the New Testament. Instead, I will focus on the concept of the Trinity in the Old Testament, specifically in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. If there is any interest on a discussion of the Trinity from the New Testament, or the consequences of such a belief, please email us or comment below.

The discussion of the Trinity in Genesis 1 focuses on two points: the correct translation of verse 2, and the reason for the plural "us" and "our" in Genesis verse 26. In this post, I will give attention to the former, and in a future post, to the latter.

Hovering Over The Waters?

The Book of Genesis begins with the following: "In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. The earth was without form and was void, and darkness was over the face of the deep." What immediately follows is of interest. There are three possibile translations:

1. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
2. And the wind of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
3. And the breath of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Gordon Wenham argues for the second translation, agreeing with Beauchamp that the Hebrew word מרחפת ("rachaph" or "hovering) best describes the motion of wind. This, he argues, aptly expresses "the presence of God moving mysteriously over the face of the waters."1 C. John Collins, on the other hand, holds to the first option, arguing that the other options over look the contextual factors such as: "the fact that we are not considering the meaning of ורוח ("ruwach" or "wind"/"Spirit") by itself, [...] but the composite expression ורוח אלהים, whose consistent Old Testament usage "Spirit of God;" the verb מרחפת ("rachaph" or "hovering"/"moving") more properly takes "Spirit" as its subject than "wind," and the association of the Spirit and the dove [...] in Matthew 3:26."2

I tend to agree with Collins here for a few reasons. First, if the wind is "express[ing] the presence of God," then I'm not sure how that is significantly different than the "Spirit of God." Secondly, I find Collins' point about usage of the words ורוח אלהים together in the Old Testament convincing.

I will continue this discussion in the future by explaining the various ways in which "us" and "our" can be viewed in Genesis 1:26.


1. Wenham, 1987
2. Collins, 2006
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