Friday, January 20, 2017

The Proto-Trinitarianism of the Old Testament: Part 1

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.
I have labored elsewhere to demonstrate the progressive nature of biblical revelation and the trinitarian conception of God within the New Testament, and the New Testament’s conception of the Old Testament.[1] Since the depiction of God within the New Testament is the supreme revelation of the nature of God, an inerrantist view of the biblical text demands that the Old Testament agree. Despite this, it is a common tactic of Oneness Pentecostal and subordinationist apologists to claim that the Old Testament, especially the many monotheistic decrees in the “Trial of the False Gods” (Isaiah 40-45),[2] precludes a trinitarian conception of God. However, a careful reading of the Old Testament text divulges robust support of the doctrine of the Trinity. The Old Testament’s theology of God is thoroughly proto-trinitarian,[3] and can only be reconciled with unitarianism by way of ignoring large portions of key narratives or an intensely eisegetical hermeneutic.
The Divine Plurality of Yahweh
Throughout the Old Testament there are appearances of an individual known as the angel of the LORD.[4] The term “angel,” either in Hebrew or Greek, refers not to a specific ontology, but rather the function of an individual.[5] Therefore the phrase “angel of the LORD” does not in and of itself communicate the nature of the messenger, but instead his relation to Yahweh. The angel of Yahweh, while personally distinct from Yahweh, is Yahweh himself. That is, the angel of Yahweh is neither a creature or a manifestation of a unitarian God, but instead a divine person who is God himself.
In order to demonstrate the above claim, I will provide a consideration of two varieties of texts. First, those passages which show the absolute deity of the angel of Yahweh will serve to demonstrate the illegitimacy of any unitarian theology that seeks to subordinate the angel of Yahweh. These texts show the deity of the angel of Yahweh by identifying him as Yahweh and by attributing to him actions and attributes that belong only to God. Second, passages which show a personal distinction between the angel of the LORD and the LORD both in communication and economy will demonstrate the presence of trinitarian relationships in the Old Testament.
The above claims may be consolidated into the following syllogism:
Premise 1: The angel of Yahweh is God Almighty.
Premise 2: The angel of Yahweh is personally distinct from another person named Yahweh.
Conclusion: There exists a relationship that is trinitarian in shape between the divine angel of Yahweh and Yahweh in the Old Testament.
Below I have outlined the biblical evidence for each of the above premises. However, before a consideration of the relevant passages, an assessment of the phrase יהוה מַלְאַךְ (mal’āk yahweh) is necessary. Traditionally the phrase mal’āk yahweh has been understood definitely (i.e., “the angel of the LORD”), thereby indicating a particular individual whose presence occurs throughout the Old Testament. However, some have argued that the phrase is better rendered indefinitely, making it indicative of a number of individuals acting as an angel of the LORD at various times. The general determiner as to whether a noun is definite is that of its modifiers. Walter and O’Connor note, “In Hebrew the definiteness of a noun and that of its modifiers are in agreement” and, “The largest class of intrinsically definite nouns is names.”[6] Lopez has noted that this rule has its exceptions, and has argued that mal’āk yahweh is one:
While ‘every proper noun is determinate per se,’ this may not always apply to nouns in construct with a proper noun. This is corroborated by Gesenius: ‘In a few instances [when] the nomen regents appears…it often is so before a proper name,’ as in …a feast of the Lord (Exod 10:9)… an abomination unto the Lord (Deut 7:29) … a virgin of Israel (Deut 22:19) … a man of Benjamin (1 Sam 4:12), etc.’ Hence, it may be correct to translate the anarthrous construct noun (מַלְאַךְ) as indefinite.[7]
The key component that distinguishes mal’āk yahweh from the indefinite phrases cited by Lopez is the consistent utilization of mal’āk yahweh throughout the Old Testament. While there are many abominations unto the Lord, there is only one angel of the LORD. This is evident due to the several Old Testament realities. First, the angel of Yahweh is explicitly identified as Yahweh himself, and this within a monotheistic context.[8] Hence, if one were to suppose that there were a multiplicity of angels of Yahweh, then one would necessarily be asserting multiple Gods. Second, there exists no place within the Old Testament wherein mal’āk yahweh occurs in plural form. The lack of a plural points toward a particular individual who is distinguished from other angels. Lastly, the angel of Yahweh is no longer mentioned upon the arrival of Jesus Christ, and the equivalent phrase in the New Testament only appears indefinitely.[9] So too, there are two implicit identifications of the Jesus as the angel within the New Testament. Jude 1:5 states,
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the Land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.
The reading “Jesus” appears in the critical editions of the Greek New Testament as it possesses superior attestation by both manuscript and versional witnesses and patristic literature. The Byzantine reading “Lord” occurs in Siniaticus, 044, and a correction of Ephraemi Rescriptus. The reading “Jesus” is present in Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, a number of important miniscules,[10]and among Coptic MS. Additionally, it is attested by Origen, Cyril, Jerome, and Bede. In observation of this, Comfort rightly notes that the critical reading is backed by “an impressive collection of witnesses.”[11]  “Jesus” is also the most difficult reading, which, ironically, is the rationale given by former members of the editorial committee of the United Bible Societies for its omission. Metzger has noted that “a majority of the Committee was of the opinion that the reading was difficult to the point of impossibility.”[12] Metzger concluded that while committee formally rejected the reading, the “Critical principles seem to require the adoption of ’Ιησούς.”[13]
In identifying the Son of God’s involvement in the exodus, the New Testament has provided an inspired identification of the angel of Yahweh’s identity. The angel of Yahweh who is credited with saving a people out of Egypt is none other than Jesus Christ, and therefore the phrase mal’āk yahweh depicts a single individual consistently.
A similar sentiment is communicated by Paul:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
(1st Corinthians 10:1-4)
Paul went further to exhort the Corinthians not to “put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents” (v. 9).[14] Clearly, Paul saw the Son of God as the God of Israel and yet distinct from the Father.[15] In light of the above, there is overwhelming evidence which supports the traditional contention that the phrase mal’āk yahweh ought to be rendered definitely.
Demonstrating the Premises
Premise 1: The angel of Yahweh is God Almighty.