The Orthodox Faith – The Holy Trinity (2)

As we have seen, the two fundamental dogmas of the Orthodox Church are the Trinity and the Incarnation. The dogma of the Trinity is that God is one in essence or substance and He is three in persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Incarnation is that Jesus Christ is true God and true man. We will look at the Incarnation later and continue our discussion of the Trinity now.

Christianity is a monotheistic religion; we believe in one God. This is a belief that we share with Judaism and Islam. However, there is a major difference between Christianity and the other two, which is the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that God is a Trinity of persons. For Jews and Moslems this belief in the Trinity is at best a grave error and at worst a blasphemy against God. However, let us remember that the dogma is not based on any kind of speculation, but rather is based on the experience of the Apostles that Jesus was the Son of God. Despite this, the Church asserts her believe in the One God.

When we look at the doctrine of the Holy Trinity we see it primarily in the New Testament. The Old Testament Jews were not in a position to see that God had a son. In the Old Testament we see the Jewish people worshipping false gods, any gods. Over the centuries God sent prophets to strengthen their faith in the one God. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity would simply have misled them.

Nevertheless, there are hints which point to the Trinity.   For example, one of the most common names for God in the Old Testament is Elohim one of its variants. We see this right at the beginning of the Bible in Genesis (Gen 1:1)

In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth.

The word Elohim, with its variant is found even in the pagan religions in the Middle Ages. However, this word originally had a plural meaning, gods. In the Old Testament the word is used with a singular meaning. Knowing that the Hebrews were tempted by false gods why should this plural word be used to apply to the one God? First, it can be a plural of majesty. For example, in the Roman Papacy and the English monarchy, popes and monarchs often used the word “we” to refer to themselves. In other words, the King or Pope man say “It is our command…” This is old fashioned but this is one explanation of Elohim in the Bible. For Christians, the use of a plural noun for a singular subject is a hint of the Trinity. In other words, it points forward to the Triune God revealed in the New Testament. The word Elohim is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to the one God.

An important example of this is in Genesis 1:26:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….

The Father teaches us that the plural Elohim used here in the creation of man shows that human beings are made in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity, which is indeed one and three.

Another such example of the Trinity of God is in Psalm 33:6

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.

In other words, God the Father is creating the world together with His Word (Jesus Christ) and His breath (the Holy Spirit). When Christians read this passage we see it pointing to the Holy Trinity.

For Christians, the Old Testament is a collection of books which have the purpose of pointing to Jesus Christ, whom we see as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. Jews did not see it that way and have other explanations of the above-mentioned words and passages. But for us, they point to Jesus who fulfilled all the hope of the Old Testament.

In the next article we will continue looking at the Trinity in the Old Testament.

Fr. John