Chapter 14: The Trinity
A. Progressively Revealed in Scripture
This part of the chapter has two sections. The first is on the partial revelation of the Trinity in the Old Testament. The second is on the more complete revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament. Grudem acknowledges up front that the word trinity is not found in the Bible. However, he believes the idea represented by the word is found in several places.
As for the Old Testament, he says it would be surprising not to find indications of it if God indeed has existed eternally as three persons. Although it is not explicitly found, he catalogs at least 9 passages that might imply that God exists as more than one person.
- Let us make humanity in Genesis 1:26
- God distinguished from his God in Psalm 45:6-7
- The LORD said to my Lord in Psalm 110:1
- God speaking of Israel grieving his Holy Spirit in Isaiah 63:10
- The LORD speaking of the Lord coming to his temple in Malachi 3:12
- The LORD saying he will save them by the LORD in Hosea 1:7
- The servant of the LORD in Isaiah 48:16 distinguishing between the LORD and his Spirit
- Passages having to do with the angel of the LORD that glide between them being messengers and God speaking in the first person
- Possibly wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31 who stands at God's side in creation--Grudem does not actually think this one is likely (229 n.7).
- Father, Son, and Spirit present at Jesus' baptism (e.g., Matt. 3:16-17).
- The three invoked in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19
- The mention of all three in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
- The final blessing of 1 Corinthians 13:13 mentions all three.
- The mention of all three in Ephesians 4:4-6
- All three mentioned in 1 Peter 1:2
- All three mentioned in Jude 20-21
- Grudem mentions 1 John 5:7 in the King James Version, but makes it clear that it is not at all likely that this verse was in the original text of 1 John.
Grudem has done a good job of pulling together various texts from the two testaments that have played some role in the question of the Trinity and the Bible. He also demonstrates that he does not simply accept an idea because it fits with his way of thinking. For example, Proverbs 8 is almost certainly a personification of wisdom such as we find in other Jewish literature. It is not in any way thinking of wisdom as an actual being, despite how vividly it portrays her.
Similarly, 1 John 5:7 played no role in the great trinitarian debates of the 300s. This fact alone would indicate it did not exist at the time. After all, it would have been the most explicit trinitarian verse in the entire Bible if it had existed at the time. I affirm Grudem for looking at these passages objectively.
I want to affirm in strong terms his sense that the Trinity is "progressively" understood in Scripture. That is to say, the New Testament has much more to say in relation to the three persons of the Trinity than the Old Testament does. It is perhaps also significant that he says "more complete" revelation about the Trinity in the New Testament. Surely this wording is acknowledging what seems impossible to deny, namely, that the most complete understanding of the Trinity did not come until the 300s and 400s--hundreds of years after the New Testament was written.
Grudem's basic expectation of the Old Testament seems, at first glance, to be reasonable. We should expect to find hints of the different persons of the Trinity in the Old Testament. The question is whether Grudem is looking in the right way in the right places.
Here we face a fundamental issue of hermeneutics. Do we read biblical texts for what they were likely to mean to those to whom they were first written or do we read them in terms of the full blown Christian faith that was not in place until the 400s after Jesus? For Grudem, these two ways of reading will tend to be the same because he does not really know how to read biblical texts in context.
I personally believe that both are valid ways of reading the text, although the second way is more Christian. It just isn't always what the text meant originally.
For example, Psalm 45 seems to have been a wedding psalm for a king originally. The princess is ready in her chamber, dressed in gold (45:13). She is led to the king with many virgin maidens accompanying her (45:14). They enter the palace and the promise of sons and princes is mentioned (45:16).
This confirms that the psalm originally referred to a human king when it spoke of riding out in military triumph (45:4-5) and that it was indeed a theme in relation to a human king (45:1). The entire literary context thus pushes us to see the words, "your throne, O god" addressed to a human king (45:6), and the historical context tells us that earthly kings were often addressed as gods at that point in history. After all, the king is the embodiment of God on earth, God's focal representative at that time. We are not surprised, then, to find the next verse distinguish the king as god from Yahweh as God (45:7). Hebrews then takes these verses in a "fuller sense," a spiritual sense, when it reads them in relation to Christ (Heb. 1:8-9).
Suffice it to say, ancient Israel probably did not take any of these verses in the Old Testament in the way Grudem and other Christians have in the past. That does not mean that God did not intentionally plant clues for later Christians to find. It only means that all these verses probably were read differently originally, since the Trinity was not a way of reading the Old Testament until after the New Testament. Even New Testament passages like Hebrews 1:8-9 may have been more nuanced originally than Christians came to take them.
So no Israelite would have taken Genesis 1:26 in relation to a triunity within God. They would have taken the "us" in one of the other ways Grudem mentions--either a kind of plural of majesty or, perhaps more likely, as an address to other heavenly beings. There is clear evidence from the rest of the Old Testament that Yahweh could be visioned in the presence of other gods (e.g., Psalm 82; Deuteronomy 32:8 in its more likely original wording).
Psalm 110 is an uncomfortable passage in this discussion. On the one hand, like Psalm 45, it reads quite easily in relation to a human king. Since the headings of psalms and other biblical books were added to them later, they are usually not considered part of the inspired text. In that case, the LORD (Yahweh) is addressing the Lord (king) of the psalmist. It thus becomes a psalm in honor of a human king of Israel.
God promises to put the enemies of the king under his feet (110:1). God will bring triumph over enemies as the king rides out with his troops on the day of battle (110:2-3). He will be a king-priest like Melchizedek in Genesis 22, a king who also represented God spiritually (110:4). The king Lord fights at God's right hand, crushing other kings and judging nations (110:5-7).
Surely this is how those who first heard this psalm would have taken it. After the heading was added, the Israelites probably took it as David speaking of himself. This interpretation is not problematic so far.
What creates difficulty is the fact that Jesus uses this psalm in his sparring with his debaters and the early church followed suit. As part of his argument--and that of the early church--Davidic authorship is assumed. For the early Christians, including the gospel writers, we can suggest something that we often find, namely, that God inspired the biblical authors in the categories of the day, including the structure of the universe and human personality. It does not seem problematic to say that authorship was never the inspired point but rather the clothing in which the inspired point was presented, just as we do not think of there being three heavens above us to get to God (2 Cor. 12:2).
But what about Jesus (Mark 12:35-37)? Did not Jesus know who the author of Psalm 110 was, since he is God himself? We could suggest that Jesus was "gaming" them, playing on their own assumptions rather than his own. On the other hand, Jesus himself tells us he did not access his omniscience while on earth (Mark 13:32). But most would be more comfortable thinking that this only means his knowledge was partial rather than inaccurate at some point.
Grudem, in fact, would probably consider it an unintentional sin to assert the wrong authorship of a book. As a Wesleyan-Arminian, I do not. The intention to lie would not be present, and no one would be wronged inadvertently since the overall point being made was true either way. It is a sensitive enough issue that I will not take a position on it, only to say that Psalm 110:1 was not likely read to indicate more than one divine being until the time of Christ...