My thanks to Ralph Smith, Katherine Sonderegger, Fred Sanders, Ryan Hurd, and Alastair Roberts for their responses to my “Triune Creator” essay. Their essays taught me many things and helped clarify the intentions of my own essay. Here I respond, all too briefly, to a few of their observations and criticisms.
1. Ryan Hurd says the question is whether or not the Trinity is demonstrable from the Old Testament. On that question, his answer is: While the Old Testament does not by itself demonstrate that the Trinity is, yet in the light of the New Testament the Trinity can be “expounded” from the Old Testament. That conclusion arises from a Christological reading of the Bible. Because Christ is foreshadowed in the Old, so is the Trinity, since “we apprehend the Trinity . . . insofar as we apprehend the Christ.”
I wish to highlight a couple of complicating twists. First, the Old Testament doesn’t merely say that “God is one and the Messiah is coming from him,” but already contains shadowy hints of incarnation. “My angel shall go before you,” Yahweh tells Moses (Exodus 32:34), and this angel is “sent” from Yahweh (33:2) as the presence (or “face,” panay) of Yahweh Himself (33:14). God sends God. Yahweh sends an Angel who speaks to as well as for Yahweh (Zechariah 1:12-17), a hint of inner-divine dialogue. (See Ralph Smith’s essay for more on the Angel of Yahweh.)
Second, it’s true that the “Old Testament begs for and so tips toward its own completion in Christ,” but there’s also a counter-movement, since the incarnate Son is known only through the categories, types, and anticipations of the Hebrew Bible. Son of God, Son of Man, Word, Firstborn, Christ, son of David and Abraham, new Adam; sacrifice, new exodus, atonement: Every New Testament description or title of the incarnate Son and His work is first elaborated in the Hebrew Scriptures. We can’t see precisely how the shadows foreshadow until the Son arrives in flesh, but, just as crucially, we can identify the Son and grasp what He comes to do only through the Old Testament. We can apply the same logic to the Trinity: Latent anticipations of the Trinity become patent in the New, yet the patents wouldn’t be so without the latent. Old and New are mutually illuminating.[i]
Talk of demonstration, especially in the technical sense, is somewhat beside the point in any case. My intentions are much more along the lines that Fred Sanders suggests. My reading of Genesis 1 is a “rereading” and a “co-reading” from a reader who has read the rest of the book and returns to discover the end in the beginning. Genesis 1 sets a trajectory naturally fulfilled in John 1; given my penchant for dramatic overstatement, I’m tempted to say it sets a trajectory that is only fulfilled by John 1. I’m happy to join Fred in saying the Old Testament “adumbrates” rather than reveals or teaches the Trinity, but I’d add that the adumbrations are far richer than we often credit, and that the adumbrations are necessary to see the contours of the revelation when it arrives.
One final “methodological” comment: There’s an obvious sense in which the Bible is, as Ryan says, “a creature,” yet I reject that idea that our aim is to “remove the creaturely mode that accompanies revelation.” The Bible is creaturely as Jesus is, yet we don’t find the Son who shows the Father by stripping away His creaturely form. Perhaps I’ve misconstrued what Ryan is after.
2. In response to Prof. Sonderegger, I first offer two clarifications. First: My essay has two parts, clumsily united. One is a Trinitarian reading of Genesis 1; the other argues that only the Triune God is capable of creating. The two parts are related thematically, but with a great gulf of argument and evidence standing between them. I concede the Trinitarian theology that drives the second section cannot be derived from Genesis 1, or indeed from the Old Testament as a whole. Thus I would qualify the final sentence of my essay: The choice between the living Triune God and a barren monad is “posed to us in embryonic form in the opening verses of the Bible.”
Second: The conclusion of my second argument isn’t that “Jews are mistaken when they teach that the LORD God created the heavens and the earths.” The claim is true, sincerely believed and confessed by Jews and Muslims. What merely-mono theists cannot offer, I submit, is a coherent defense of their confession. It’s a variation on an ancient Athanasian argument: If God isn’t eternally fruitful but rather becomes productive, He’s mutable and dependent, not the sovereign Creator of Genesis.
Prof. Sonderegger’s most serious concern is that my argument expresses a form of supersessionism and that my essay makes “anti-Judaic” assertions. I don’t wish to offend gratuitously, but offense is unavoidable. Jesus rebukes the Jews of His day for failing to understand their own Scriptures (John 5:39-40), as He reproves His own disciples for being slow of heart to understand what is written (Luke 24:25-26). Positively, He claims the entire Hebrew Bible is about the suffering and glory of the Christ; it doesn’t foreshadow some generic Christ-figure but specifically the life, death, and glory of Jesus who reveals the Father and so unveils the Triune being of God. Anyone who reads the Hebrew Scriptures as something other than the story of Jesus, His Father, and His Spirit is, by Jesus’ own reckoning, misreading them. A veil lies on their hearts, which is lifted by the Spirit. Insightful as Jewish readings may be, they miss the Word at the heart of the word.
3. Finally, let me address a few of Alastair’s exegetical arguments. First, I don’t agree that the New Testament discovers the Son primarily or only “in the fundamental and unitary Act of creation itself (rather than merely in the secondary sequence of creative acts of the six days).” Venerable as it is, I’m not persuaded the fundamental/secondary distinction is exegetically defensible. There shouldn’t be a caesura between Genesis 1:2 and 1:3; rather, Genesis 1:1-5 is the work of Day 1. If Genesis 1 is the root of our doctrine, creation isn’t summarized simply as “God created everything” but as “God created everything in the space of six days, and all very good.”
Even if we do make the fundamental/secondary distinction, John doesn’t discover the Son only in the primary “unitary” Act. The fact that John identifies the Second Person as “Word” indicates He is God-spoken, and God doesn’t begin to speak until the text reaches (in Alastair’s reckoning) the “secondary” sequence of days. Besides, the Word is the source of the light that shines in the darkness, a reference to the creative acts of Genesis 1:3-5.[ii] Finally, Alastair’s argument dodges a critical point. The issue isn’t whether Elohim is one God, but what kind of oneness Elohim exhibits. I submit that the oneness of Yahweh Elohim anticipates the oneness revealed in the New Testament, which knows only the diversified oneness of the God who is Father and Son, one in the communion of their Spirit (John 10:30; 17:11-24; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:4-6; 1 Timothy 2:5). From its first words, the Bible is teaching us to say, with Gregory Nazianzus: “No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one” (Orations 40.41).
Second, Alastair hasn’t persuaded me that the plural of Genesis 1:26 refers to the divine council. I don’t see that this interpretation is “nearer to hand” than one that finds divine plurality. Besides, Alastair doesn’t address the exegetical point from my original essay: Whoever the “us” is, it becomes “Elohim” and a singular “he” when the narrative moves from plan to action. Is the “Elohim” who executes the deliberations in 1:27-29 also the divine council? Alastair may be willing to press the point, arguing that the divine council acts as a single agent in creating man. But if so, his argument is in danger of proving more than he intends. Should we plug “divine council” into Genesis 1:1? To the whole of Genesis 1? I’ll accept there’s a divine council in Genesis 1:26, provided it’s recognized as the original divine council of Elohim, His Spirit, and His Word.
Peter Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute.
[i] Among other advantages, this liberates us from reliance on a handful of Trinitarian prooftexts. In the Septuagint, YHWH is rendered by the Greek kurios; when Jesus is called kurios, He’s identified as Yahweh incarnate. Yahweh is the only Savior of Israel (Isaiah 43:11); every time Jesus is called “Savior” or is said to “save,” He is being identified with Yahweh (e.g., Matthew 1:21; Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; Ephesians 5:23; Philippians 3:20). When our reading is illumined by the Old Testament, Jesus’ divinity is evident on every page of the New Testament.
[ii] This goes some way to addressing Ryan’s correct insistence that the Trinity isn’t a confession of abstract divine plurality but of the living God who is Father, Son, and Spirit. Precisely. As I argued, that God is the One introduced in Genesis 1.
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