By H.B. Mar Meelis Zaia, A.M.
Metropolitan of the Assyrian Church of the East
Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand
In the Old Testament
Throughout the ages the Christian Church has always believed in God as three in ONE, and this belief is based on the Bible. Although the main evidence for the doctrine of the trinity is to be found in the New Testament, we need to start with the Old Testament. We must never forget that the New Testament is based on the Old. No statement of belief is complete, unless it is seen within the context of the whole Bible, including the Old Testament.
When we study the Old Testament, one thing immediately stands out: the main emphasis is on the unity of God. As far as His Godhead is concerned He is alone, unique. The oneness of God is the central confession of all Christians, as we recite in the Nicene Creed of 325 AD,”We believe in One God”.
Careful reading of the Old Testament shows no indication of the trinity itself. Yet there are several remarkable aspects, which definitely have to be taken into account, if we want to see the full picture of the Old Testament understanding of God.
As we said before, in the Old Testament, the first imperative was to declare the existence of the ONE living and true God. And to this task the Old Testament is principally dedicated. And this principal is the fundamental faith of the Christian religion.
Hear, O! Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! (Deuteronomy:6:4)
Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? (Malachi 2:10)
But there are also passages where God speaks of himself in the Plural, especially in the opening pages of the Old Testament. Based on this, Christians are taught to attribute the existence and persistence of all things to a threefold source. For example, there are passages where the Lord God, his Word and his Spirit are brought together as in the narrative of the creation where God is seen to create by means of his Word and Spirit:
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, “ Let there be light“; and there was light. (Genesis 1:2-3)
Also, the next passages points in the same direction:
Then God said, “ Let us make man in our image according to Our likeness” (Genesis I :26).
Then the Lord God said, “ Behold, the man has become one of Us” (Genesis 3:22)
Other references to the same is Genesis 2:7
“Come, let Us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? (Isaiah 6:8)
The above references are a striking case of plural and singular interchanged, suggesting plurality in unity. In Genesis 18:1-17 we read “And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when
he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground… “
The above incident is a striking one and the language is too, that God should manifest himself in the form of three.
There are many other passages where God and his Word and the Spirit are brought together as co-causes of effects. In Isaiah 63:8-10 we read, “For He said, “Surely they are My people, children who will not lie. “So He became their Saviour. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them, and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled, and grieved His Holy Spirit: so He turned Himself against them as an enemy, and He fought against them”.
Here we have the three speakers, the covenant God of Israel (v.8), the angel of the presence (v.9) and the Spirit ‘grieved’ by their rebellion (v.10). both the creative activity of God and his government are, at a later stage, associated with the Word personified as “Wisdom” where St. Paul said in his first epistle to the Corinthians
“Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:24). As this verse of St Paul is derived from these verses in Proverb:
The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;
As well as with the Spirit as the Dispenser of all blessings and the source of physical strength, courage, culture and government, as we learn from Exodus:
And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.
And in Numbers he added: And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon
them, they prophesied, and did not cease.
Also, in Judges he said “And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the LORD delivered Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushanrishathaim.” (Judges 3:10)
The threefold source revealed in creation becomes still more evident in the unfolding of redemption. At an early stage there are the remarkable phenomena connected with the angel of the Lord who receives and accepts divine honour (Genesis 16:2-13) as in the story of Hagar and Ishmael. And also, in (Genesis 22:11-16) the story of Abraham’s sacrifice on the mountaintop in the land of Moriah.
In other passages the angel of the Lord not only bears the divine name, but also has divine dignity and power, dispenses divine deliverance, and accepts homage and adoration proper only to GOD. The Messiah has deity ascribed to him, even when he is regarded as a person distinct from God “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
And also in (Isaiah 9:6) “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. “
And of the Son we hear King David in his Psalms “The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool. (Psalm 110:1)
The Spirit of God is also given prominence in connection with revelation and redemption, and is assigned his office in the equipment of the Messiah for his work (Isaiah 11 :2) “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;
And in (Isaiah 42: I) Behold! My Servant, whom I uphold; My Elect, One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him: He bring forth justice to the Gentiles.
And in (Isaiah 61:1) “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me; because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;”
Thus the God who revealed himself objectively through the Angel Messenger revealed himself subjectively in and through the Spirit, the Dispenser of all blessings and gifts within the sphere of redemption. The threefold Aaronic blessing in (Numbers 6:24) must also be noted as the prototype of the New Testament apostolic blessing.
“The LORD bless you, and keep you: The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
In the New Testament:
Every Old Testament incident yields some New Testament truth.
By way of contrast it must be remembered that the Old Testament was written before the revelation of the doctrine of the Trinity was clearly given, and the New Testament after it. In the New Testament it was given particularly in the incarnation of God the Son, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But however dim the light in old dispensation; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit of the New Testament are the same as in the Old Testament.
Before the advent of Christ, the Holy Spirit came into the consciousness of God-fearing men in a degree that was not known since the close of Malachi ‘s prophetic ministry, more especially John the Baptist. He called for repentance toward God, faith in the coming Messiah, and spoke of baptism of the Holy Spirit, of which his baptism with water was a symbol (Matthew 3:11).
“ I indeed baptise you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry, He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
So where do we find the epochs of Trinitarian revelation in the New Testament?
1: The Annunciation: The agency of the Trinity in the incarnation was disclosed to Mary in the angelic annunciation that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, the power of the Most High would overshadow her and the child born of her would be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Thus the Father and the Spirit were disclosed as operating in the incarnation of the Son.
And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”
2: In the baptism of Christ: Trinity can be clearly distinguished, the Son is being baptised, the Father speaking from heaven, and the Spirit descending in the objective symbol of a dove. “And Jesus, when he was baptised, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3: 16-17)
3: The teaching of Jesus: the teaching of Jesus Christ is Trinitarian throughout. He spoke of the Father who sent him. Of himself as the One who reveals the Father, and the Spirit as the One by whom He and the Father work. We find many references to the latter in (John 14:7-9). In this indicates Christ deity, his pre-existence and the unity of the three underlying characteristic of the divine in one nature of God Almighty.
If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also: and from now on you have known Him, and have seen Him. Philip said to him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficient for us. Jesus said to him, Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father, so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father? “ Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves”
And of the Holy Spirit He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that may abide with you forever.” (John 14:15-16)
The Helper here indicates to the Holy Spirit which was poured upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost: “Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place, And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)
4: The commission of the Risen Lord . Christ instructs his disciples to go into the whole world with his message and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is significant the name “Baptism” is one but within the bounds of the one name there is three distinct persons.
The Christian Church is founded on the doctrine of the Trinity. This evident, as said before, in the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. This outpouring brought the personality of the Spirit into a greater prominence and at the same time shed light anew from the Spirit upon the Son,
Therefore, in the universal Church we find the apostolic benediction interpreting the deeper meaning of the Trinity in Christian experience “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
The doctrine of Trinity in the Christian Church is understood to refer to God to be ONE God in his essential being, but that in his being there are three Persons, yet so as not to form separate and distinct individuals. They are three modes or forms in which the divine essence exists.
‘Person’ is, however, an imperfect expression of the truth inasmuch as the term denotes to us a separate rational and moral individual. But in the being of God there are not three individuals, but three personal self distinctions within the ONE divine essence. Then again, personality in man implies independence of will, actions and feelings leading to behaviour peculiar to the person. This cannot be thought of in connection with the Trinity. In the Trinity, each person is self-conscious and self directing, yet never acting independently or in opposition.
When we say that God is a Unity we mean that, though God is in himself a threefold centre of life, his life is not split into three. He is ONE in essence, in personality and in will. When we say that God is a Trinity in Unity, we mean that there is a unity in diversity, and that the diversity manifests itself in persons, in characteristics and in operations. In them there is perfect equality in nature, honour and dignity.
Fatherhood belongs to the very essence of the first Person and it was so from all eternity. It is personal property of God ‘from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (Ephesians 3:15)
The Son is called the ‘only begotten’ to suggest uniqueness. Christ always claimed for himself a unique relationship to God as Father. (John 5:19)
“For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in himself’’
As in Genesis 18:2-17, the story suggests the Trinity of the Godhead. Here we learn that the whole Trinity is interested and exercised in seeking to bless and save man. “And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground…”
The Father loved, and sent His Son; the Son loved, and gave Himself up to the death to redeem; the Spirit loved, and came to make His abode in the believing hearts. This threefold salvation is summed up in the benediction. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
The Spirit is revealed as the One who alone knows the depths of God’s nature: For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God … no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God
(1 Corinthians 2:10).
This is saying that the Spirit is just God himself in the innermost essence of His being.
The doctrine of Trinity arose as the spontaneous expression of the Christian experience. The early Christians, knew themselves to be reconciled to God the father, and that the reconciliation was and is secured for them by atoning work of the Son, and that it was mediated to them as an experience by the Holy Spirit. Thus the Trinity was and still is a fact before it was a doctrine, but in order to preserve it in the creedal faith of the Church the doctrine had to be formulated.
It is true that Christianity speaks of the Father as the First Person, and of the Son as the Second Person, and of the Holy Spirit as the Third Person; but “first,” “second,” “third” here do not represent a time order-rather the order of necessary relationship.
From the above we learnt that God is Wise and Living. Now, he who is wise discerns because of his wisdom; and he who is living is living because he has life. This is the mystery of the Trinity, which Christians confess of that Adorable Nature, Mind, Wisdom and Life. Three co-essential properties in One, and One who is glorified in three properties. The Mind has called Father and Begetter, because He is the Cause of all, and First. The Son has called Wisdom and Begotten, because He is begotten of the Mind, and by Him everything was made and created. The Life has called, the Holy Spirit and Proceeding, because there is no other Holy Spirit but He. He who is Holy is unchangeable. Thus, these three properties are consubstantial.
Therefore, the implications of the doctrine of Trinity are vitally important not only for Christian theology, but for Christian experience and life.