Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Proto-Trinitarianism of the Old Testament Part II: Genesis 1:26

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  (Genesis 1:26-27 ESV)
Since the New Testament teaches that God the Father and Son of God were involved in creation,[1] and since the Holy Spirit is depicted as active in creation (Gen 1:3), it is apparent that the plural verb נַעֲשֶׂה (“Let us make”) and plural nouns בְּצַלְמֵנוּ (“in our image”) כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ (“according to our likeness”) refer to the Triune God. However, some have sought to offer an alternative to the trinitarian explanation. Hamilton cites five such explanations.[2] These are:
  1. 1. The Mythological Explanation: According to the so-called “mythological” interpretation, the “us” is said to refer to other gods. This interpretation neither coheres with the theology of Genesis or an inerrantist reading of Scripture. God alone created the heavens and the earth.[3]
  1. 2. The Heavenly Court/Angelic Host Explanation: On this view, the plural pronouns refer to a heavenly court of angelic hosts. While it is popular to explain the utilization of the plural pronouns by appealing to created angels, such an interpretation would necessarily mean that humankind was not only created in the image of God, but also other creatures, namely angels.[4] The emphasis in v. 27 itself (i.e., “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him…”),  rules out the ad hoc appeal to angels. Judging by Moses’ commentary, he clearly believed that humankind was created in God’s image alone, stating in Gen 5:1 that “when God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.”[5] Further, nowhere in Scripture is it said that God created with the cooperation of any creatures. Rather, the Father created through his Son. A case in point is the argument made within the prologue of the epistle to the Hebrews. There, the Son is identified as the one “through” (δια) whom the Father created the world. In that same pericope the writer has given a prosponic application of Psalm 102 wherein the Father says to the Son, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (v.10).[6]Therefore, God wasn't speaking to angels, but rather to his Son.
  1. 3. The Earth as Addressee Explanation: This view argues that God speaks to something he has recently created, the most likely addressee being the earth. There is nothing within the context of the creation account that affords such an interpretation. Even if, for some reason, one were to countenance this option, it is apparent that it finds no parallel within the Old Testament.
  1. 4. The “Plural of Majesty” Explanation: The literary device known as the pluralis majestatis or “plural of majesty” is a feature of nouns, adjectives,  and only certain participles, but never pronouns. The Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics states,
The pluralis majestatis appears most frequently in nouns…, but may also be used with some nominalized adjectives…[and] some participles. There are no undisputed examples of a pronoun or a verb displaying the pluralis majestatis… ‘Let us make man in our image’ (Gen 1:26), has occasionally been explained as a pluralis majestatis, but comparative Semitic and contextual factors favor other explanations.[7]
Even if one were to insist that Genesis 1:26 is an example of the plural of majesty, the existence of the cohortative plural would result in a confusing sentiment. Baker has explained:
The plural of majesty (in effect singular) would not make sense of God’s call for unanimity in the endeavor. Such a meaning on God’s part would have required a singular cohortative voice (singular in the verb even if a plural of majesty were used for the noun/pronoun) rather than a plural cohortative. Even if it were here to be understood as a singular cohortative (difficult as that would be), we then would have the problem of understanding why God was trying to psyche himself up to some great feat.[8]
Some have sought to offer examples of the plural of majesty being used with pronouns in the Old Testament. The two typical texts cited are Ezra 4:18 and Daniel 2:36. In Ezra a plural pronoun is utilized, but in Daniel a plural verb used, and both of these occurrences are better explained by a consideration of their respective context. The so-called “royal we” is simply not a feature of the Hebrew Bible, and is instead an invention of the 4th century AD.[9]
  1. 5. The Self Deliberation Explanation: According to this alternative explanation, the pronouns signify a kind of self deliberation akin the statement, “Let's see.” This option finds no linguistic parallel within the canon. According to Wenham, this option “is uncertain, for parallels to this usage are very rare.”[10] While there are Scriptures wherein speakers engage in self deliberation (e.g., Ps 42:5), plural nouns are never utilized. Moreover, if self deliberation were a viable interpretation, we would expect non-Christian Jews within antiquity to utilize the such an explanation in their response to their Christian interlocutors. Instead, Sarfati has notes that
Early Jewish Christians were using this passage [i.e., Gen 1:26] as evidence of plurality, because the establishment rabbis were already trying to get around this. E.g. the Midrash Rabbah (8.8) on Genesis tries to answer:
Rabbi Samuel Bar Hanman in the name of Rabbi Jonathan said, that at the time when Moses wrote the Torah, writing a portion of it daily, when he came to the verse which says, “And Elohim said, let us make man in our image and after our likeness,” Moses said, “Master of the universe, why do you give herewith an excuse to the sectarians?” God answered Moses, “You write and whoever wants to err, let him err.”[11]
Given these alternative interpretations, there exists good reason to accept the traditional trinitarian explanation. Wenham, however, objects on that basis that “it is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author.”[12] Consequently, he resorts to two untenable interpretations, arguing that “the choice then appears to lie between interpretations…’us’ = God and Angels or…plural of self-exhortation.”[13] The trouble with Wenham’s appeal to authorial intent is that he fails to adequately observe the prominence of the angel of Yahweh within the Pentateuch. The angel of Yahweh is a persistent presence in Genesis and is both identified as Yahweh/God and as personally distinct from Yahweh.[14] Hence, if one takes into account the mention of the Spirit within the creation account, and the heavy involvement of the divine angel within the books of Moses, there remains little basis for using authorial intent to dismiss the interpretation that is all but explicitly indicated by the New Testament.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Proto-Trinitarianism in the Book of Daniel

by Hiram R. Diaz III
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
who has sent his angel and delivered his servants…”
-Dan 3:28.
Although the Old Testament (hereafter, OT) does not explicitly lay out the relationships between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, as John in his Upper Room Discourse does,[1] it nevertheless contains the same doctrine in seminal form. We find the three persons of the Trinity in their distinct relations to one another in the historical books of the OT. For example, Moses’ writings contain numerous references to God sending his Angel to speak, execute justice, and save God’s people. This Angel is distinct from all others, is called Yahweh, and is worshiped by God’s people.[2] Likewise, many of the prophets rather clearly declare that God will send his Angel and his Spirit to accomplish his will, also using the divine name of Yahweh in reference to the one sent by Yahweh to judge and save.[3]
The abundance of evidence pointing to the Triunity of God in the OT flies in the face of claims that the OT knows nothing of a personally-plural monotheism. In actuality, the OT hints at this doctrine as early as Genesis 1, where the One True God declares: “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.”[4] Not only this, but in the next chapter it is revealed that God “formed man out of the dust of the earth,” an anthropomorphism[5] that is followed by an apparent theophany in Gen 3:8, wherein it is revealed that Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God - who is Spirit[6] - walking in the garden of Eden.
Many other examples can be gleaned from the OT, but in the following article we will limit our attention to the book of Daniel. It will be demonstrated that upon close examination the book of Daniel reveals the intratrinitarian relationships later articulated in the New Testament (hereafter, NT). The purpose of this is to establish that the doctrine of the Trinity is not derived from pagan philosophy  but the Scriptures.
§ 1. God the Father: Sending his Angel/Son to Save His Elect,
Rewarding the Son of Man With Glory and Honor and Dominion
In Daniel 3, we have the first differentiation of Divine Persons in the book. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fall under the judgment of Nebuchadnezzar, and are cast into a fiery furnace. They are saved by a fourth man whose appearance is like “the Son of God.” The ESV translation renders this as “a son of the gods,” but in keeping with Scripture it is difficult to maintain that view since Nebuchadnezzar goes on to proclaim:
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent His Angel and delivered His servants, who trusted in Him, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own.”[7]
As he did in the Exodus,[8] God sends his Angel to save His covenant people. The Angel is identified explicitly as the Son of God, indicating his sharing in the nature of God while simultaneously remaining personally distinct from God who sent him. This appears to occur again in Dan 6:22, where the prophet’s life is saved by God’s Angel. Daniel declares:
“My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.”
Thus God, once more, saves his covenant people/person by means of his angel.