Have We Minimized Christ and the Trinity?
Are you startled by the title of this article? Can this possibly be true? I trust as you read this short biblical treatise on the subject of the Tri-unity of God and the Deity of the Messiah that it will bring to your attention some fresh biblical material on this doctrine from the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) and expose a glaring weakness in the Church today as it relates to the doctrine of Christ as well as challenging believers in being able to share the Gospel of Christ with Jewish people. After being raised in fundamental Bible churches I am very appreciative for the Biblical teaching that I received in past years. However, after careful study I see areas of great weakness in this doctrine.
The information in this article comes from my new book Discovering the Mystery of the Unity of God. It is not possible in this article for me to write a complete and comprehensive defense of the Trinity and Deity of Christ from the Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh). During the past 10 years I have found myself falling in love with the Scriptures and the Author of them and have just begun to understand the awesomeness and incomprehensibility of our God. I can’t begin to wrap my mind around His greatness. So how have we, as fundamentalists, depressed the Doctrines of God and Christ?
The IFCA doctrinal statement on Christology says: “We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became man, without ceasing to be God, having been conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, in order that he might reveal God and redeem sinful men.” This statement is fine. However, how we handle it in practice is not always the same because I believe we have made three errors in the application of our own doctrinal statement.
· First, the Bible is a Jewish book which was written by Jewish men from a Hebrew/Jewish cultural and theological context and background, not Greek or western mind set. The Lord Jesus Christ was the prophesied Messiah, He was born a Jew, circumcised the 8th day. He observed all the Laws of Moses and the Feasts of Israel in His earthly ministry. However, the Church historically has systematically removed the Jewishness of Jesus and the Jewish context out of the Bible, to our loss by Gentilizing it.
· Second, our Bible colleges and seminaries have done a great job in teaching the Scriptures. However, by not grasping the first point, they teach the two testaments as if they are divorced from each other. The Hebrew Scriptures are Law and the New Testament are Grace, and a division is made. It is true that Law and Grace do not mix, but there is far more in the Hebrew Scriptures then law. There is the revealing of the nature of God, His covenants and dispensations, His program and purpose for Israel and the foundation of God’s redemption of Israel, for believing Jew and Gentile. In the fundamental church we largely preach from the New Testament without understanding or tying together the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures gave it birth. We have failed to tie in the continuity of both testaments. We have not connected the dots, so to speak, especially as it relates to the Doctrines of God and Christ.
· Third, in practice we present Jesus Christ, as we know Him from the New Testament as if He began His ministry in Bethlehem. We know all the prophecies of His first coming but usually don’t grasp His personal activity in the Hebrews Scriptures. We see the Tanakh as the ministry of the Father as He interacted with Israel. Yet in reality, if we actually use the literal method of interpretation, it is God the Son who is interacting with Israel in the pages of Scripture in tandem with God the Father. We know the Second Person of the God-head is Jesus Christ, sent by the Father, not just at the incarnation at Bethlehem but He is seen throughout the Hebrew text as the Angel (Messenger) of the LORD, the Shechinah, the Captain of the LORD’s host, and as the LORD Himself. Jesus is the visible representation of the Father which corresponds with passages in John 1:18; 14:7-11; Matt 23:37. He is the Sent One of the Father as Jesus Himself repeats 44 times in the Gospel of John which corresponds with Isaiah 48:16. Consider Isaiah 48:16. Who is the Sent One in that passage? According to verses 12-13, it is the One who called Israel, the first and the last and the Creator. He is the One sent by the Father and the Holy Spirit in verse 16. As the visible representative of the Father He is the One who walked with Adam in the Garden, talked with Enoch and with Noah and met with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He met with Moses on Mt. Sinai and spoke to Israel from the Mountain and led them through the wilderness to the Promise Land (Judges 2:1). He met with Joshua and Gideon and others as seen throughout the Hebrew text. I challenge you to do a personal study of Who was speaking and appearing in the Hebrew Scriptures because by Jesus own words it was He Himself as stated in John 5:37 and by the apostle John in 1:18.
The net result is a Church that looks at Jesus as the God of Love (New Testament perspective) which He is but not at the expense of His other attributes of holiness, righteousness and justice. The Church today has inflated one aspect of His character while deflating His other attributes which are so clearly taught in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Church views Jesus as all love and doesn’t consider that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the visible manifestation of God in the Tanakh. The Church has lost the awe, respect and fear of the Almighty God as we know Him from the New Testament in the person of Jesus the Messiah.
As fundamentalists it would be absurd to say we don’t understand who Jesus really is. Yet we often have an inadequate understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures as to the treasures of rich biblical teaching that our people need to apply to their daily lives. Is it possible that we are not “rightly divided the word of truth” completely and have unconsciously cheated ourselves and our flocks out of the riches that are rarely mined for our edification and that of our people?
How do we as fundamentalists interpret the Hebrew word Elohim? Some people look at it simply as a grammatical plural, a plural of deliberation or as a plural of majesty. I believe that many people are insulting God by saying, in essence, God, you are not clear on how you gave your Word to us, so we must help you. God is the author of language and grammar and I, for one, believe in verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture, and He doesn’t need my help. God chose to use precise words to reveal Himself to us and to draw our attention to His essence, character and attributes. God is completely able to reveal Himself to man, by His written Word, without the intervention of man’s intellect or unbelief through some intellectual gymnastics.
Let me illustrate. If God was an absolute one and not a plural unity of one, then why did God use the plural word Elohim for Himself when He had the availability of two (and later a third) singular words (El, Eloah and Elah) to present Himself as an absolute one? Why did God break grammar that He Himself created? In both Hebrew and English, when there is a plural (or singular) noun, it is followed by a plural (or singular) verb. So when God uses the plural noun “Elohim” and follows it up with a singular verb “create”, as in Genesis 1:1, the question should be asked, Why is He purposely breaking grammar? He is making a theological statement about His own Person, a plural God (Elohim) who is one (singular)! What many scholars have done is yield to the liberal doctrine of higher criticism, which is nothing but pagan unbelief in the Scripture cloaked in Christianity.
The Angel of the LORD and the Shechinah of God
In our Christian theology we view a theophany as the pre-incarnate Christ. The Hebrew Scripture introduces Him to us as the Messenger of the LORD. Consider the activities of Jesus as the Angel of the Lord found in Exodus 3:2-15; 23:20-23, Judges 2:1 of the Hebrew Scriptures.
In Exodus 3:2-15 Moses uses clear wording as to who spoke to him at the burning bush. In verse 2 he references “the angel of the LORD.” This passage and other passages clearly show that the messenger of the LORD speaks as God, but yet He is distinct from God. In verse 4 Moses references Him as LORD, the personal name that God later told Israel to call Him. Also in verse 4 Moses refers to Him as God, Elohim. In verse 5 He tells Moses to remove his shoes because he is standing on holy ground. Verse 6 confirms that the messenger of the LORD is the One who interacted with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the past. This is the Second Person of the Godhead who we know as Jesus after His incarnation, not God the Father but God the Son.
In Exodus 23:20-23 God is going to send His Messenger, but notice what God says about Him in verse 21: Beware of Him, and obey His voice, provoke Him not: for He will not pardon your transgressions: for My Name is in Him – YHVH. This Messenger has the ability to forgive sin and God’s Name is in Him. No man or angelic being has that power, nor are they ever said to have God’s Name – YHVH – in them.
In Judges 2:1 the Messenger of the LORD meets with Israel but again notice His words, “I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers, and I said, I will never break my covenant with you.” This passage says He led them from Egypt to the Promise Land to fulfill the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Who made the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 15:1 and 4? It is the “word of the LORD,” the pre-incarnate Christ (John 1:1-2).
In Isaiah 50 the LORD is different from the Father. The speaker is the LORD, yet in verse 4 the speaker (LORD) refers to the Lord God (Father) as giving Him something. Here are two persons of the Godhead. Notice that the Son speaks as the LORD. We know this by looking at the rest of verses 4-6. The only member of the Godhead who experienced what is recorded here was God the Son.
The Shema of Judaism (Deut 6:4) is the call to worship of one (echad) God, yet it also demonstrates the plurality of God, not absolute oneness. Moses used the word 382 times. They all fall into 3 basic categories or usages:
1. A compound unity is seen in Genesis 1:5, 2:24, Exodus 24:3, and Judges 20:3 where two or more things are one.
2. Moses and Israel battle with the Amalekites in Exodus 17:2. Aaron puts a stone under one (echad) arm and Hurr puts a stone under the other (echad) arm. Moses has two arms showing the plural context again.
3. In Leviticus God instructs the people to take a lamb, goat, bullock, etc. to
offer unto Him. A lamb comes from the flock. A flock is a plural situation out of which one is picked. It is not the only lamb but is one of many. Elsewhere another usage says that on the first day of the week or first month of the year, do such and such. The first day or month is designated because there are other days and months in a week or year, again plural context.
If Moses wanted to show absolute oneness, without a hint of plurality, he had the word “yachid” available to use which means one alone, the only one, one standing completely by itself. Even the great Shema, contrary to Judaism demonstrates the plurality of God.
In respect to creation we may generally think of John 1:1 or Colossian 1:15-18 to show that Messiah is the creator. But 500 to 700 years before John or Paul made their statements, Isaiah and Zechariah spoke to the issue as found in Isaiah 48:12-16, Zechariah 12:1, 10, and even Solomon in Ecclesiastics 12:1 used the plural form for “creator.”
First Person Pronouns
On four different occasions God chose to use first person plural pronouns in Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7 and Isaiah 6:8. Did God slip up? Is it a remnant of polytheism or is it angels? It simply points to the plurality of persons in the Godhead. Did the Church invent the doctrine of the Trinity in the 4th century? If so, someone forgot to tell the writers of the New Testament who clearly understood it even though they only had the Hebrew Scriptures.
In John 1:1 we have the Logos. Is John talking about Greek philosophy? Greek Logos was a pagan belief system that went back to the Greek gods. Where did John get this concept? It came from the Hebrew Scriptures that speak of the memra (Aramaic) and davar (Hebrew), the Word. Genesis 15:1, 4 “the Word of the LORD” makes the covenant with Abraham (1 Samuel 3:21, 1 Kings 19:9-10 and Psalm 33:6). John did not invent this out of Greek paganism but it came out of the Hebrew Scriptures. A fascinating study would be to see how the Jewish Targums (Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew Scriptures) used the term. The Word was personified as a person separate and yet equal to God.
Paul the Apostle consistently quotes and references the only source book he had, the Hebrew Scriptures. In Ephesians he spoke of the riches in Christ (Messiah). We have tried to untap the riches of the Bible largely from the New Testament without the Hebrew Scriptures, and the pre-incarnate Messiah is largely ignored.
I want to challenge you to study the activity of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, from the Hebrew Scripture. But get ready for a biblical geyser to blow and shower you with great truths in relation to Jesus Christ. In referencing the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus in John 5:39 states that they are referencing Him, and in verse 46 He stated that Moses wrote of Him. The two men on the Emmaus Road heard Jesus teach concerning Himself from the Law, the Prophets and the Writings, the whole of Hebrew Scripture. Jesus was asked by Philip (John 14:8-10) to show them the Father. He answered Philip by saying simply that if he (Philip) had seen Jesus he has seen the Father. He is the visible representation of the Father! A study from the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the riches of Christ your Saviour will overwhelm you with the activity and person of your Saviour. Let me quote one final verse and think upon these words found in Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”
As we study the written Word may we in a fresh new way see the Living Word and equip our people in all the Scriptures about the majesty and glory or the Lamb of God Who is the great I AM.
John B. Metzger
Missionary/Educator with Ariel Ministries
IFCA member since 1974