portraits of the Trinity

Let’s say I have a really beautiful snapshot of a rock. You might say, “Wow, that is a really interesting rock.” Yet you would not know where the snapshot was taken, why it was of a rock or for whom it was for. You come to find out that the snapshot of the rock is a part of a larger photo book cataloging pictures of similar rocks. When the snapshot is zoomed out to a panoramic you can see clearly that the rocks are placed in the panorama of the Grand Canyon.

In a similar fashion, God gave revelation to His people in snapshots [aka: progressive revelation]. Progressive revelation simply means that when Adam and Eve were in the Garden, God did not give them a completed Scripture. Likewise, Abraham did not know as much as Moses or David, Isaiah or Jeremiah, even Peter or Paul about redemption. He knew some components, but very few details.

Progressive revelation is closely related to the historical nature of Scripture and God revealing Himself, His purposes to His people. It can be very simply defined as God’s revealing His will in successive snapshots, each founded upon and making clearer the previous snapshots.

God’s redemptive acts were progressive, preparing the way for Christ who should come in the fullness of time [Gal.4:4]. Christ is the panoramic picture of the Bible. He is the rock and the Grand Canyon. God graciously unfolded the snapshots of His redemptive plan and His revelation in ways that fit His people’s ability to receive them.

When it comes to interpretation it is important to have the panorama in view. Each snapshot of revelation builds and defines the previous one. For example, Exodus builds on Genesis, Kings builds on Judges, and Hebrews builds on the OT. We must study in a way that builds on what was revealed by God in progressive snapshots to see the panorama more clearly. As we study the Trinity from Genesis to Revelation we must have the category of progressive revelation in mind.

SNAPSHOT #1: The OT on the Trinity’s Plurality

We find hints of the Trinity in Genesis. However, a good question to ask is: did the Old Testament Jews believe in a triune God? Did they understand the complexity of the Trinity as we do today? Not completely. The OT Jews were not as clear about the nature of God in the way that we are clear with the incarnation and the teaching about the Holy Spirit that comes with Jesus. However, you be careful not to deny that they believed in the triune God because they believed in the God of the Messiah [Jesus Christ].

In Genesis 1:26-27 [cf. 3:22; 11:5-7], there is a hint from the beginning that the Jews believed in a God with plurality. There are many ways to look at the pronoun for God here, but one cannot escape the interesting tidbit—God is spoken of in the plural. There are many allusions to the God’s plurality [Ps.45:6-7; 110:1; Is. 6:8; 11:1-2; 44:6; 48:16; 61:1; Jer. 23:5-6; Dan. 7:13-14; Mal.3:1].

The OT is animate about the fact that the Spirit of God was real, and that the Messiah who was to come is no ordinary man. Therefore I tend to lean towards the fact that the OT Jews did believe in the triune God. However, they did not have a complete panorama that He was a triune God.

SNAPSHOT #2: The OT on the Trinity’s Oneness

Discovering references to the oneness to God in the OT is not as complicated as studying the Trinity’s plurality. Jews had grown up in Sabbath School learning to prayerfully memorize the Shema [Deuteronomy 6:4] declaring God Oneness I the midst of a world of polytheist pagans. God’s oneness in the OT is quite common. In fact God’s uniqueness is a repeated pattern seen through the OT: “Who is like God?” or “There is none like God” [Ex.8:10; Ps.35:10; 71:19; Is.43:10; 45:5; Jer.10:6-7; Micah 7:18; Zech. 14:9].

SNAPSHOT #3: Jesus on the Trinity

Jesus’ favorite song must have been Psalm 110:1. He quoted it a lot. The question I have is whose son is the Messiah? And whose Lord is the Messiah?  I just don’t think it was a catchy tune stuck in His head, rather it was meaningful in relating Himself to the God as more than a mere man. Jesus compares Himself to the Trinity’s oneness by quoting the Hebrew Shema [Mark 12:28-29] and plurality [Mt.3:16-17; 28:19; Lk.1:30-35; 11:13; Jn.6:27, 57; 10:30; 14:16-26; 15:26; 17:11, 21-23]. In overabundance Jesus Christ is affirming Himself as God and being One with God.

SNAPSHOT #4: The NT on the Trinity

The are numerous places in the NT following the Gospels of Christ that describe God’s Oneness [Rom.3:30; 10:12; 1 Cor. 8:4; 1 Tim. 1:17; 2:5; Js. 2:19] and Plurality [Acts 5:3-4; Rom.1:1-4; 9:5; 1 Cor. 2:10-11; Eph. 1:3-14; Gal. 4:6; 2 Thess.2:13-14; 1 Pt.1:2-3]. As the revelation of God unfolds through history we gain a clearer and more complete picture of God. God is complex, but He graciously and patiently reveals Himself to His people over a long period of time.

When you pull the snapshots of God together from OT to NT you have a true portrait of the Trinity as seen from the whole panorama of Scripture. Today we are blessed to have a completed Canon of Scripture that gives us a wonderful and beautiful picture of God’s character and His story of redemption. Let us behold Him in all His glory—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—three in One.

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