Friday, 14 August 2009

Trinity in the Old Testament 1.

Before I start, the picture (right) is for me as much as anyone else! I am no expert :-)

One simple way in which trinity is obfuscated in the Old Testament is due to translation. Anyone who has studied a foreign language to a significant level, will know that it's impossible to transport the whole meaning of a text, with all its allusions and nuances from one language into another. Something is always lost on the way. How much is lost, depends on the quality of the translation process.

Take the word elohim. Literally, this word means gods. (Before anyone shoots me for being irreverent, there are no such things as capital letters in Hebrew ;-) The -im ending in Hebrew is the same as adding -s in English.

Elohim appears 2247 times in the Old Testament. When it refers to the false gods of the surrounding nations, (e.g. Judges 2:3) it's translated as it should be: gods. However, when, as in the majority of cases, it refers to the triune God of the Bible, (e.g. Genesis 1:1) it is rendered God.

The justification for this is something called the majestic plural hypothesis. Now if the word elohim was the only clue in the OT that God is triune, the M.P. hypothesis could be convincing, and you would be forgiven for thinking that God is a singular entity, but given the overwhelming number of other evidences (which I will cover here in subsequent blogs) the argument doesn't hold weight.

Of course, it's fine to translate elohim as "God." The problem comes when off the back of that we then jump to the conclusion that God is a singular entity and not a collective tri-unity.

The word elohim functions like any collective noun, that is, many parts acting as one. For example:

Today the nation votes in a new government.

Nation refers to many persons united under the identity of a common nationality. A singular form of the verb vote is used because the many people of the nation are uniting together in a common purpose to bring in a new government. (Other biblical examples here.)

Back to the Hebrew in Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

So also, elohim, when referring to the God of the Bible, refers to three persons united under the identity of a common deity. A singular form of the verb created is used because the three persons who are God (perhaps Godhead is a better way to translate elohim in this case, given the unitarian baggage that has sprung up with the term God, but I won't press that :-) are uniting together in a common purpose to bring about the creation of the universe.

And so it is all through the Bible, and through history. The God who is a Godhead, a collective unity, a trinity of persons, accomplishes all his [their?] purpose.

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