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.

The act of sending is spoken of repeatedly in our Lord’s Trinitarian Discourse in the Upper Room just prior to his arrest and crucifixion.[9] Christ was sent to save those whom have been given to him by the Father, i.e. the elect covenant people of God.
Once the Lord Christ had completed his atoning work, God the Father
…highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[10]
This giving of glory to the Son is also found in the book of Daniel. After the Angel of the Lord is twice revealed to be the savior of God’s covenant people, sent down from heaven, descended into the fire of judgment and the pit of lions to deliver Daniel, he is then shown to be the one to whom God gives
    and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him
…an everlasting dominion,
    which shall not pass away,
[a] kingdom…
    that shall not be destroyed.[11]
Thus, Daniel reveals God the Father as saving his elect people through the sending of his Angel, his Son, who descends into the fire and pit of judgment. The book also reveals the Father as rewarding the Son of Man, i.e. the Son, with glory and honor and dominion, as Paul reveals in his epistle to the Philippians and, likewise, in 1st Cor 15:22-28.
§ 2. God the Son: Son of God, Son of Man, and the Anointed One
As has already been touched upon above, Daniel reveals the Son of God as descending from heaven to save God’s people. The prophet also reveals the Son of Man, upon finishing his salvific work, as ascending to heaven to receive his kingdom from God the Father. Thus, the Son of God is also the Son of Man, the Angel of the Lord who shares equally the divinity of the Father and the humanity of those who will occupy his eternal kingdom. That the Holy Spirit, through the prophet’s writing, intends to present Christ in his two natures as Divine and Human, moreover, is evident when consideration is given to the pattern of descending to save and ascending to receive glory from the Father found repeatedly in the NT.
On the road to Emmaus, the Lord Jesus rebukes the spiritual blindness and unbelief of his forlorn disciples. He exclaims:
“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”[12]
The apostle Peter later repeats that this structure is found throughout the OT, stating that:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.[13]
“The sufferings” is a reference to Christ’s atoning work, the task for which he came down from heaven to perform. As he tells his disciples:
“I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”[14]
That will was to die, to suffer for God’s elect people in order to redeem them from the fires of hell, and the pit of eternal destruction.
This teaching is elaborated upon in Daniel 9:24-26a, where the ministry of “the Anointed One” is given in dense, but very exact, details. The Anointed One will
finish transgression, put an end to sin, atone for iniquity, bring in everlasting righteousness, seal both the vision and prophet, and anoint a most holy place.
In his descent, foretold in the above prophecy, the Lord Jesus will save his people from their sins. Whereas Dan 3 portrays this typologically in the descent of the Angel who enters the fires of judgment to save his elect, Dan 9 reveals propositionally that the Lord will save his people from not only the consequences of their sins but their sins as well, by bringing in everlasting righteousness. And if this is not clear enough, the prophet Daniel is later told that these prophecies were not intended for him but for those in the end time, thus following Peter’s declaration in precise detail. As we read in Dan 12:8-10:
I heard, but I did not understand. Then I said, “O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.”[15]
This descent/ascent language is used, moreover, by the Lord himself when he rebukes Nicodemus for not knowing the Scriptural teaching regarding the Son of God, saying:
“Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[16]
Paul the apostle repeats that Christ is he who descended from heaven, as well as ascended to heaven from whence he came, writing:
…the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).  But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.[17]
Christ is the Son of God who “was manifested in the flesh,” Paul says elsewhere, and “taken up in glory.”[18] Once again, he repeats the descending to save/ascending to receive glory that is present in the book of Daniel.
§ 3. God the Holy Spirit: Giver of Wisdom & Understanding
Daniel does not make much mention of the Holy Spirit, but what he does mention is significant. Translations, perhaps under the assumption that pagans would not speak of the Spirit of the Holy God typically translate the Hebrew phrase as “the spirit of the holy gods.” Thus, the phrase, appearing in Dan 4:8, 9, 18 & 5:11, is understood to be a reference to the spirit (sing.) of the pagan deities (pl.), and not the Holy Spirit. Given that those who are speaking this way of Daniel are pagans, it seems likely that they were looking at Daniel through their overriding religious presupposition (viz. polytheism).
However, it could also be the case that, as Gill suggests, they were “speaking in the dialect of the Jews, [meaning] the one true God who is holy, and from whom alone is the spirit of prophecy or of foretelling things to come.”[19] Evidence that the Gill’s suggestion is very likely the case, moreover, can be gathered from the instances in which the word holy appears in Daniel. The word is elsewhere used with reference to Yahweh’s angels and saints,[20] making its application to foreign deities, in this text, an anomaly. Additionally, while Yahweh is understood to be one deity among many, the pagans in Daniel recognize that he is distinct from them all. Thus, king Nebuchadnezzar tells Daniel:
“Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.”[21]
Likewise, upon seeing that God rescued Daniel from the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar even more clearly identifies Yahweh as the “Most High God,”[22] and declares:
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.[23]
Yahweh had already been identified as absolutely distinct from all of the other deities for being “a revealer of mysteries.”[24] He now is identified as absolutely distinct for his unique ability to save rescue his people.
Consequently, given that the Lord is recognized as being unique among the gods (i.e. as holy) for his ability to reveal mysteries and exercise Sovereign control over creation, it seems much more likely that the phrase “spirit of the holy gods” is incorrect. Grammatically, such a translation is possible; however, the context of Daniel - in which holiness is solely ascribed to God, his angels, and his people - the Spirit of the Holy God is much more fitting.
This, in conjunction with the aforementioned implicit Christology of the book of Daniel, then, reveals the Holy Spirit’s relationship to the Father and the Son. The Spirit of the Holy God takes up residence in Daniel, illuminating his understanding in general, granting him wisdom in general, revealing the person and work of the Son of God/Son of Man, as well as revealing the relationship between the Father (as sender of the Son) and the Son (as Savior, exalted King, and Judge). Not only this, but by means of the law of transitivity we can deduce the deity of the Spirit of God from the book of Daniel.
  1. 1. The God of heaven is the revealer of mysteries.[25]
  2. 2. The revealer of mysteries is the Spirit of the Holy God.[26]
  3. 3. Therefore, the Spirit of the Holy God is the God of heaven.

The book of Daniel contains a Proto-Trinitarianism whose exact details are later fleshed out by the Lord Jesus Christ in his Upper Room Discourse. In Daniel, God sends his Son/Angel to enter the fire of judgment and save the elect. He later rewards the Son of Man, who is equally divine,[27] after the Son has fulfilled his role and ascended to the heavenly throne. The Son of God/Son of Man is fully God and fully Man, the Anointed One who comes down from heaven to save God’s people by entering into the fires of judgment and the stone-enclosed pit,[28] and who ascends back to the throne of God to receive honor, glory, power, and majesty to the glory of him who sent him. These truths, finally, are revealed by the Spirit of the Holy God who indwells God’s elect (spec. Daniel), setting him apart from the world, gifting him with true wisdom and not the falsehoods of the world.[29]

[1] cf. John 14-16.
[2] For more on the Angel of the Lord see Burgos, Michael R. “The Proto-Trinitarianism of the Old Testament: Part 1,” Biblical Trinitarian,, accessed 01/28/2017.
[3] cf. Isa 6:8, 42:1, 48:16; Zech 2:7-11; et al.
[4] Gen 1:26a.
[5] cf. Gen 2:7.
[6] John 4:24.
[7] Dan 3:28.
[8] cf. Ex 3:2; Num 20:16;  Jud 2:1.
[9] cf. John 14:26; 15:26; 17:3, 8, 18, 20-23, & 25.
[10] Phil 2:9-10.
[11] Dan 7:14.
[12] Luke 24:25-26.
[13] 1st Pet 1:10-11. (emphasis added)
[14] John 6:38.
[15] Note that the apostle Paul, referring specifically to the knowledge of Christ revealed by the Spirit to the righteous, explains:
…the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach[b] to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
-1st Cor 1:18-25.
[16] John 3:10-12. (emphasis added)
[17] Rom 10:6-9. (emphasis added)
[18] 1st Tim 3:16.
[19] Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, Daniel 4:8.
[20] Angels: 4:13, 17 & 23.
   Saints: 7:18, 21, 22, 25 & 27.
[21] Dan 2:47. (emphasis added)
[22] Dan 3:26. (emphasis added)
[23] Dan 3:28-29. (emphasis added)
[24] Dan 2:47.
[25] Dan 2:28.
[26] Dan 4:8-9.
[27] cf. Dan 7:13-14 & 6:25-26.
[28] See Dan 6:17.
[29] cf. 1st Cor 3:16-22.