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Shadows of the Trinity | Theology Matters

  • August 2016 Issue
Theology Matters
The threefold nature of the one God is certainly revealed in the New Testament, and we have glimpses that foreshadow this truth in the Old Testament. One of the first hints of the Trinity comes from the plural form of the name of the God in the creation account in Genesis 1:3. This does not prove the doctrine of the Trinity, but it does provide our first glimmer of this aspect of God’s being.

Another indication of the Trinitarian nature of God can be seen in the way that God’s Spirit works throughout the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit does what only God can do. He is the agent of creation in Genesis (Gen. 1:2). He is both omniscient and omnipresent (Ps. 139:2–10). He is also the one who speaks through the prophets (Zech. 7:12).

The Old Testament also speaks of the mysterious figure called the Angel of Jehovah (Gen. 16:7–13). This being is distinguished from Jehovah, yet has the same power and is accorded the same reverence as Jehovah. Those who saw the Angel of Jehovah testified that they had seen God (Gen. 32:30; Hosea 12:3–4). The Angel of Jehovah—whom the New Testament reveals as Jesus— can forgive sin or refuse to forgive it (Ex. 23:20–21).

The Bible’s doctrine of the Trinity is revealed progressively. What is only implicit in the Old Testament is explicit in the New Testament, where divinity is ascribed to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Old Testament does not reveal the doctrine of the Trinity through abstract propositions or theological statements but by action and ascription. The Father, Spirit, and Angel of Jehovah all do what only God can do. Each is treated with the regard that belongs to God alone.

The church began to use the term Trinity around the second century. In subsequent centuries, the church articulated more precise theology as it confronted inadequate views about Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity has implications for the church’s communal life. What the Bible reveals about the Trinity not only shows us what God is like, it also shows us who we are. Through Christ we “are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph. 2:22).

To learn more about the Trinity, read Experiencing the Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God by Joe Thorn (Crossway).

BY Dr. John Koessler, Chair and Professor of Pastoral Studies

Dr. John Koessler serves as chair and professor in the division of applied theology and church ministry at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John has written several other books and articles and serves as a contributing editor for Today in the Word.

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