Table of Contents
Part V: The Trinity in the Old Testament
The Use of the Term "Lord"
for the Trinity in the Old Testament
IT HAS often
been pointed out that although the baptismal formula as given
by our Lord in His parting conversation with the disciples made
it clear that believers were to be baptized "in the name
of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19),
the disciples did not, in fact, always use this formula. At least,
I think it would be truer to say that it is not always stated
that they used this formula. Sometimes men were baptized
simply "in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:48). A number
of different explanations for this departure from an instruction
which had the peculiar authority of coming under the category
of a man's "last words," have been suggested. One of
these is that the Greek text of Acts 10:48 is at fault, and that
the words "Jesus Christ" should be added -- an emendation
undertaken in the Revised Standard Version, although this hardly
resolves the apparent contradiction. Sometimes I think that God
deliberately introduces into Scripture apparent contradictions
in order to challenge the more serious student that he may, in
resolving it, thereby learn some deeper and more wonderful truths.
Such truths are not learned, however, by emendations of the text
in order to create the kind of uniformity we have come to mistake
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I think there is another explanation.
The fact is that in Scripture all three Persons of the Godhead
are called Lord. The Father is called Lord, the Son is called
Lord, and the Holy Spirit is called Lord. And this is done not
merely in the New Testament, but also in the Old. In the latter,
the distinction is made by a literary artifice, the recognition
of which sheds a wonderful new light on a very large number of
us consider the New Testament first in order to establish certain
principles of interpretation which can then be applied to the
Old. For example, consider the statement of Jesus in John 5:43,
"I am come in my Father's Name"; and the statement
made by the rejoicing throng in Matthew 21:9 where it is written,
"And the multitudes that went before, and that followed,
cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: blessed is he that
cometh in the name of the Lord," where it is quite clear
that the term Lord must refer to the Father. In Psalm 118:26,
27 from which the worshippers were consciously or unconsciously
quoting, the One in whose Name He came is further identified.
Verse 26 has, "Blessed be he that cometh in the Name of
the LORD," and verse 27 has, "God
is the LORD."
This identification is explicitly
made in Matthew 11:25 where Jesus said, "I thank thee, O
Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these
things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto
babes": O Father -- Lord of heaven and earth.
The principle of using the New
Testament to elucidate the Old is very clearly illustrated by
placing Acts 4:26 and Revelation 11:15 beside Psalm 2:2. In Revelation
11:15 it is written, "And the seventh angel sounded; and
there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this
world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ;
and he shall reign for ever and ever." In reading this casually
one would be inclined to assume that the phrase "our Lord"
refers to Jesus Christ, whereas in fact it refers to the Father.
This is clear enough from the structure of the verse and is reinforced
in Acts 4:26 where Peter says, "The kings of the earth stood
up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and
against his Christ." This is, of course, a direct quotation
from Psalm 2:2 where it is written, "The kings of the earth
set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against
the LORD, and against his anointed."
And verse 3 of this psalm tells the form which their resolution
took: "Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their
cords from us," from which we may gather that there are
at least two Persons involved in the Godhead in this psalm. This
conclusion is reinforced by the well-known words of Psalm 110:1
where it is written, "The LORD said
unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies
thy footstool." Such, then, is the kind of evidence that
a careful reader of Scripture will run across continuously; but
it does require careful reading.
It is a remarkable thing that God
has thus frequently introduced apparent contradictions into Scripture.
The casual or skeptical
reader will stumble at
these and in certain circumstances his unbelief will be confirmed
by what he reads in such an attitude. But the reader who is greatly
concerned will often be led by his efforts to resolve the contradiction
by further study, to make wonderful new discoveries which will
completely justify his confidence so that he goes on his way
rejoicing. Consider the use of the title " Lord" for
the Holy Spirit, another application which is easily missed unless
the text is read very carefully. For example, 2 Thessalonians
3:5, a very familiar passage, "And the Lord direct your
hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for
Christ." Now if the word "Lord" referred to God
the Father in this instance, the sentence would surely have read,
"And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of himself,
and into the patient waiting for Christ." On the other hand,
if the word "Lord" was referring to Christ, the sentence
would surely have read, "And the Lord direct your hearts
into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for himself."
As it stands, it seems that the "Lord" must refer to
the Holy Spirit, and the role of the Holy Spirit in directing
us is explicitly stated in many places. Moreover, in Romans 5:5
it is the Holy Spirit who sheds abroad in our hearts this love
of God. In 2 Corinthians 3:17 it is clearly revealed that "the
Lord is that Spirit."
Not only is the Holy Spirit given
the title "Lord," but also the title "God."
This is quite clear in Acts 5:3, 4 where it is written, "But
Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie
to the Holy Ghost . . . thou hast not lied unto men but unto
God." And in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 it is written,
Now God himself, and our Father,
and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.
And the Lord make you to increase
and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men,
even as we do toward you:
To the end he may stablish your
hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at
the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
carefully at these verses it is evident. from verse 12 that the
Lord who is to make us abound in love toward one another is,
in verse 13, to establish us as holy before God the Father when
the Lord Jesus Christ returns. The structure of this sentence
shows that in this instance, the Lord is the Holy Spirit: and
this same Lord in verse 11 is referred to as "God himself."
In the Authorized Version there is no comma after the word "himself,"
which seems to indicate that in making the translation the translators
had not fully grasped the significance of verses 12 and 13, in
which the three Persons of the
Godhead are clearly involved.
In our rendering above we have restored this comma because I
believe that the words "God himself" refer to the Lord,
the Holy Spirit.
From these passages and many others
in which both the Father and Jesus Christ are called Lord, it
is evident that both terms, "God" and "Lord,"
are applied to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This
may not seem a very profound observation, though it may be new
to a few who are just beginning the wonderful adventure of studying
Scripture, but the implications for the Old Testament are quite
remarkable as we shall try to show.
What it means in effect is that
"God" is a term applied generically to each Person
of the Trinity individually, but also to the whole of the Trinity
as a Governing Body. In the same way, the word "Lord"
is applied as the Name of the whole Godhead, but also to each
Individual. There are, therefore, occasions when either of these
two words may refer to one Person within the Godhead or to the
whole Godhead acting in concert. And the wonderful thing is that
in the Old Testament God took care to provide means whereby the
careful reader could discern in what sense the two terms, the
Title or the Name, were being used in any particular passage.
But this is done in a veiled manner, so that those of the Hebrew
people who were not believers, but who read Scripture as a kind
of duty, would not be led into a subtle form of polytheism, whereas
those who were true believers could rejoice in the knowledge
of the truth. It may therefore be that because the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Spirit together are called the Lord, the instructions
to baptize in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
as given so explicitly in Matthew 28:19, could quite properly
be fulfilled by merely baptizing in the Name of the Lord (Acts
10:48) where it is written, "And Peter commanded them to
be baptized in the name of the Lord."
Let us make one point clear, namely,
the difference between a Name and a Title -- in this case the
difference between the word "Lord" and the word "God."
It may help a little bit to think in terms of an analogy. At
the present moment [this was written in 1959] in our country
we have a Conservative Government. The Government with a capital
G is the title; Conservative with a capital C is the name. Anyone
who speaks authoritatively may speak in the name of the Conservatives
as a Conservative, or for the Government as a ruler. If the Conservative
Government should be replaced, only the name would be changed,
the new body of rulers would retain the title of Government.
The title, therefore, has a slightly different significance;
the name is, in one sense, more personal. In this particular
illustration the name
can be changed while the title remains. Thus Conservative could
become Liberal, but Government would remain Government. So by
analogy, the word "Lord" is the name applied to the
divine Governing Body which receives the title "God."
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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Now it follows from all this that
within the Godhead there may be differences of responsibility,
as it were, self-appointed distinctions; and therefore we may
find one Person in the Godhead acting in a special way as its
Mediator in dealing with man -- and things. And on the other
hand, we may find One who is the Spokesman or Voice of the Godhead.
And so it comes about that there is One who habitually assumes
the title, "The Messenger of the Godhead," in which
the word "Messenger" is usually rendered in our translations
as "Angel." This is none other than the Lord Jesus
Christ. At the same time, the Holy Spirit is found to act upon
occasion as the Voice of the Godhead. We may go one step further.
In view of what has been said above regarding the overall use
of the name "Lord" and the title "God," it
is quite reasonable that in one single passage He who is referred
to in one place as the Angel of the Lord may in the next instance
be referred to as the Lord or as God. In the same way He who
is referred to in a particular passage as the Voice of the Lord
may a moment later be referred to as the Lord or as God. This
will become a little clearer when we examine some very specific
passages of Scripture in which the actual identity of the Persons
involved is provided by the New Testament.
This may seem a little complex
but it is not really so. In the Old Testament the Lord Jesus
Christ may come to speak with man on behalf of the Godhead. He
is announced, or announces Himself, as the Angel (Messenger)
of the Lord; and having done this, He thereafter speaks directly
either as the Lord or as God. I have not yet studied sufficiently
to be able to discern to my own satisfaction under what circumstances
any Member of the Godhead is spoken of by His title, "God,"
as opposed to His name, "Lord." But, as we shall see,
there is a method by which one may discover in many instances
whether the speaker is the Lord Jesus Christ or the Lord the
Father or the Lord the Holy Spirit, and there is a method whereby
one may also discover whether the Speaker is God the Father,
God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit.