The Trinity in the Old Testament
Psalm 33:1–9 (ESV) Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD. By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
Since Jesus has revealed God as Triune (“tri” = three, “une” = one), we’re now able to pick up lots of clues from the Old Testament that God has always been Triune and always will be. (There was never any debate in the Old or New Testament about God being One; see, for example, Deuteronomy 6:4 and 1 Corinthians 8:4.)
This discovery starts at the beginning (literally): “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:1-3).
Ancient Christian writers, the Lutheran reformers, and Christian theologians have recognized that the Holy Trinity is referred to in Genesis 1. First, we learn that God created the heavens and the earth. Generally speaking, in the Scriptures the term “God” refers to the Father, the First Person of the Trinity. This general observation should not give the impression that the Son and the Holy Spirit are not God (various passages do speak of the Son and Holy Spirit as “God”), or that the Persons of the Trinity work independently of each other. Their works in the world are always performed based on complete unity of will. All three Persons were active in creation and our salvation, with each performing distinct and necessary roles! However, as Dr. Luther explains in the Catechisms, it is to the Father that we generally ascribe the work of creation.
Next, we learn that the Spirit of God, the Third Person of the Trinity, was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2). Nothing more is said about what the Spirit does here, but His creative work is highlighted elsewhere in the Old Testament: “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4); “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground” (Psalm 104:30). Furthermore, in Hebrew (and Greek), the terms for “spirit” and “breath” are the same, so we see the Spirit working on Day 6 of creation with the giving of life to man: “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). The connection between the Spirit, water, and the breath of life also foreshadows Holy Baptism, where the Spirit is delivered to us by water and the Word!
So where is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, at the creation? We find the key clue in the Gospel of John. John 1:1 uses the same Greek words for “in the beginning” that the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint, or LXX) uses in Genesis 1:1. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John does this intentionally to make his readers recall the Creation account. Yet instead of saying “In the beginning God created the Word,” John writes, “In the beginning was the Word.” This means that the Word was already in existence at the time of the creation of the world. In fact, the Word was God and was the creator of all things (John 1:3).
Who is this Word? He is clearly the eternal Son of God, begotten (not created!) of the Father from eternity, who later in time “became flesh and dwelled among us” (John 1:14). Therefore, when God said, “Let there be light,” the Word was there, the eternal Son of God. Not only is He the Word, but He is the true “light of the world” who came to give His followers the “light of life” (John 8:12), that is, eternal life through faith in Him.
The Epistle to the Hebrews also emphasizes the agency of God the Son in both creation and redemption: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:1–4).
And by the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to faith in the Son, we have access to God the Father’s household and enjoy the blessed privilege of worshiping the Holy Trinity now and forever!
Prayer: Almighty God, through Your Word and Spirit You most wonderfully created all things, and through the Word made flesh You brought new life to fallen humanity. Grant that in Your mercy we may be conformed to the image of Him who shares fully in our humanity, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.