It is to be noted that this article does not merely present proof from Scripture in support of the doctrine of the Trinity. This is plain from the opening statement of Article IX: “All this we know, as well from the testimonies of holy writ, as from their operations, and chiefly by those we feel in ourselves.” Hence, the evidence of which the article speaks is two-fold: proof from Holy Scripture and evidence from experience.
Undoubtedly this is to be connected with the later statement of this same article: “In all which places we are fully taught, that there are three persons in only one divine essence. And although this doctrine far surpasses all human understanding, nevertheless, we now believe it by means the Word of God, but expect hereafter to enjoy the perfect knowledge and benefit thereof in Heaven.” The article therefore emphasizes that this doctrine is a deep mystery: it far surpasses our comprehension. We must remember, of course, that a mystery is not something that is absurd. It is not a contradiction. There are no absurdities and no contradictions in the Christian faith, even as there-is only perfect knowledge and wisdom and harmony in God Himself. The Christian faith does not and cannot accept two diametrically opposite propositions. For example, it could never accept the proposition that God is one and that He is three in the same sense. Nor does the doctrine of the Trinity require this. Although it is indeed a mystery, it involves no contradiction. A mystery can be known and accepted; two members of a contradiction can be recognized, but never accepted. As soon as you recognize a contradiction, you must needs reject one member or the other. Never do the Scriptures, therefore, require the believer to believe that which is self-contradictory. But often is the Christian confronted by the mystery in Holy Scripture, that is, by that which can be known only by revelation, and by that which, while it may be known, is unfathomably deep,—in fact, is known exactly as that which is unfathomably deep. Especially is this true when God Himself, in His Being and nature, is revealed to us. Indeed, we may know Him, because He reveals Himself to us. And we also live in the hope that hereafter we shall know God perfectly and enjoy Him forever. For then we shall enter fully into the fellowship of the triune, covenant God. But neither now do we, nor then shall we ever be able to comprehend the infinite God, or probe the depths of the unfathomably deep mystery of God as the Triune One.
But we live by faith. And that means that we live by the Word of the Scriptures, also in respect to the truth of the Holy Trinity. Moreover, that faith is not merely the cold acceptance of objective facts set forth in Scripture. It is a living faith. Its knowledge is not merely a knowledge about God, and a knowledge that God is Triune. It is the knowledge of God Himself, the living, spiritual knowledge of fellowship and experience. Hence, the truth that is objectively set forth in the Holy Scriptures concerning the Trinity is also subjectively known and experienced from the operations of the Triune God, and, therefore, as our Confession has it, chiefly by those we feel in ourselves.
The peculiar emphasis of the opening statement of this article, therefore, is quite in harmony with the fact that our Confession is a confession of faith, which must certainly be emphasized in connection with the mystery of the Trinity.
Proof from the Old Testament
When furnishing Scriptural proof for the doctrine of the Trinity, our Confession calls attention to the fact that it is not so necessary to enumerate as to choose out with discretion and judgment those places in the Old Testament which teach us to believe this Holy Trinity. And while it is true, as is stated later in the article, that “that which appears to us somewhat obscure in the Old Testament, is very plain in the New,” nevertheless this same rule of discretion and judgment must also be followed in choosing the New Testament passages that teach us to believe the Holy Trinity. For while it is true that the doctrine of the Trinity is a profound mystery, which can be hewn only from the revelation of the Triune God in Scripture, this does not mean that you will find a ready-made doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible. Directly the Scriptures do not speak of the Trinity, or of the Three Persons in the one Essence, or of the mutual relation of the Three Persons to one another. Scripture is no textbook of systematic doctrine from which you can simply quote literally to prove this dogma. It is revelation. In Scripture you have God Himself condescending to speak to us on our own level, in our own language, of Himself. And when God so speaks to us, He always stands revealed before us as the God Who is One, and also Three, who through His threeness is made known as the one, only, simple, and spiritual Being whom we call God, the Triune Jehovah. By the same token, therefore, we should be able to demonstrate this truth clearly from Holy Scripture. And the passages which we must look for and choose with “discretion and judgment” are not only those passages which show a plurality of Persons, and specifically a threeness of Persons, in God, but also passages which show the unity of the Godhead.
Our Confession immediately cites a classic passage from the book of Genesis which is a striking proof for two reasons. In the first place, this proof is taken from the opening chapter of Holy Writ. And, in the second place, it is a passage which contains at once both of the elements mentioned above, the unity and plurality. The entire passage of Genesis 1:26and 27 reads: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” To this the Confession adds, without further comment, the text from Genesis 3:22: “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil . . . ” A brief word of interpretation is given by the Confession, as follows: “From this saying, let us make man in our image, it appears that there are more persons than one in the Godhead; and when he saith, God created, he signifies the unity. It is true he doth not say how many persons there are . . .” In further consideration of this passage and its interpretation, we may note the following:
1. God is in these words revealed as addressing Himself. That this is true is plain from the simple fact that this speech of God concerns the work of creation; and no one but God Himself could have any part in this creative act. Creation is exclusively the work of God.
2. Yet it is the one God Who is presented in the text as speaking and as creating. The objection is sometimes raised that the Hebrew word for “God” is in the plural form, Elohim, and that this implies a plurality of gods. This objection, of course, does not arise from faith, but from the critical, unbelieving, evolutionistic view of the Scriptures which tries to find a progress from polytheism (many gods) to monotheism (belief in one god) in the Old Testament. As far as the fact of the objection is concerned, namely, that the noun Elohim is plural in form, we may concede it. As far as the validity of the argument based on the fact is concerned, however, we deny it. And that denial is based on the text. If the meaning of Elohim were plural (gods), then the verbs “said” and “created” would also be plural. But the verbs are singular, which means that the subject, “God,” is also singular. And this is the common form of speech throughout the Old Testament in the Hebrew. Hence it is, according to the text, the one God speaking and creating.
3. At the same time, however, it is evident from this passage that there is a plurality in that one God. This is indicated by the words “us” and “our.” God is one. His creative act is one. His image and likeness are one. And yet He is more than one in such a way that He is able to speak to Himself. This therefore indicates a plurality of Persons in the one divine Essence. It may even be said that this speech of God to Himself indicates a fellowship, or communion, of Persons.
The above is the only proof from the Old Testament which our Confession adduces. At this point Article IX makes the observation that what appears to us somewhat obscure in the Old Testament is very plain in the New. And with that remark it immediately turns to the New Testament and cites a few proofs, to which we shall presently give our attention.
First of all, however, we may ask and answer the question: why is the threeness of Persons in God more obscure in the Old Testament? Our answer is, in general, that this lies in the very character of the old dispensation in comparison with the New. In the first place, we must remember that God’s people in the old dispensation lived in a world that was filled with the polytheism of the heathen. The main temptation, and the besetting sin, of Israel in the old dispensation was that of idolatry, and with it, polytheism, the belief in and worship of many gods. And therefore, while the plurality of Persons in the Godhead is by no means missing in the Old Testament, there is a very strong emphasis on the oneness of God throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. In the second place, we must remember that there was a tremendous change with the fullness of time. In the new dispensation the Father sends the Son into the flesh. And on Pentecost Day the Spirit is poured out upon all flesh. And from this viewpoint it is to be expected that both in the New Testament Scriptures and in the experience of the saints of the new dispensation the Trinity is much more clearly revealed than in the old dispensation. There is from that point of view progress in revelation.
Nevertheless, in the second place, we must certainly not have the idea that the truth of the Trinity is no further revealed in the Old Testament than in the passage cited by our Confession. For there are many more passages. The truth of the unity of God is so strongly and frequently emphasized that we need not take the time to cite many passages. Let us merely mention the well-known words of Deuteronomy 6:4, 5: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” But this plurality of Persons in God is referred to in numerous passages. First of all, there are many passages which speak of the Angel of Jehovah in the Old Testament. And we must remember that this Angel of Jehovah, while He is distinct from God, is at the same time Himself God. As such He speaks to Hagar in the wilderness, and Hagar recognizes Him as God too. Genesis 16:10: “And the angel of the Lord said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.” And again, in vs. 11: “And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the Lord hath heard thy affliction.” Note that here the angel of the Lord is distinct from the Lord who heard Hagars’ action. And notice that the deity of this angel of the Lord is confirmed in vs. 13 of the same chapter: “And she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?”
(to be continued)