Trinity in the Hebrew Bible?

If the Hebrew Bible is trinitarian, then it is of course news to the Jewish faith. However, there is a way in which it can be regarded as trinitarian. Here it is:

God is wisdom

This, in the Wisdom literature, can be said to have personality, particularly female, coming from and yet dependent on God, and set into creation.

God is Word

This is where people can read, understand and enter into discourse. God confronts people, guiding and judging and describing the way to salvation. This is coming from and yet dependent on God, through human hands, and at the heart of language and who we are as library-depositing beings.

God is Spirit

The Spirit is the agent of God. It is present and it is powerful in that it is felt and moves. It is the activity. It also makes things new, and so would bring about the Kingdom of God. It must also guide the human Messiah.

There is textual evidence for these assertions (New Revised Standard Version), which shows their nature before the argument continues:

God as Wisdom

Proverbs 1: 20 - 23
20 Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 "How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
23 Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you."

Proverbs 9: 1 - 6
1 Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars.
2 She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table.
3 She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town,
4 "You that are simple, turn in here!" To those without sense she says,
5 "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6 Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight."

Job 28
1 "Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold to be refined.
2 Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from ore.
3 Miners put an end to darkness, and search out to the farthest bound the ore in gloom and deep darkness.
4 They open shafts in a valley away from human habitation; they are forgotten by travelers, they sway suspended, remote from people.
5 As for the earth, out of it comes bread; but underneath it is turned up as by fire.
6 Its stones are the place of sapphires, and its dust contains gold.
7 "That path no bird of prey knows, and the falcon's eye has not seen it.
8 The proud wild animals have not trodden it; the lion has not passed over it.
9 They put their hand to the flinty rock, and overturn mountains by the roots.
10 They cut out channels in the rocks, and their eyes see every precious thing.
11 The sources of the rivers they probe; hidden things they bring to light.
12 "But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?"
13 Mortals do not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living.
14 The deep says, "It is not in me," and the sea says, "It is not with me."
15 It cannot be got for gold, and silver cannot be weighed out as its price.
16 It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire.
17 Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold.
18 No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; the price of wisdom is above pearls.
19 The chrysolite of Ethiopia cannot compare with it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.
20 "Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding?"
21 It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air.
22 Abaddon and Death say, "We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.
23 "God understands the way to it, and he knows its place."
24 For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens.
25 When he gave to the wind its weight, and apportioned out the waters by measure;
26 when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt;
27 then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out.
28 And he said to humankind, "Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding."

Ecclesiastes 1:12 - 18 and 2
1:12 I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem,
13 applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with.
14 I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.
16 I said to myself, "I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge."
17 And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind.
18 For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.
2:1 I said to myself, "Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself." But again, this also was vanity.
2 I said of laughter, "It is mad", and of pleasure, "What use is it?"
3 I searched with my mind how to cheer my body with wine - my mind still guiding me with wisdom - and how to lay hold on folly, until I might see what was good for mortals to do under heaven during the few days of their life.
4 I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself;
5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.
6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees.
7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house; I also had great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem.
8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and delights of the flesh, and many concubines.
9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me.
10 Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.
11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly; for what can the one do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done.
13 Then I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness.
14 The wise have eyes in their head, but fools walk in darkness. Yet I perceived that the same fate befalls all of them.
15 Then I said to myself, "What happens to the fool will happen to me also; why then have I been so very wise?" And I said to myself that this also is vanity.
16 For there is no enduring remembrance of the wise or of fools, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How can the wise die just like fools?
17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.
18 I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me
19 - and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.
20 So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labours under the sun,
21 because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.
22 What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?
23 For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
24 There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God;
25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
26 For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.

God as Word

Psalms 119: 89
89 The Lord exists forever; your word is firmly fixed in heaven.

Psalms 147: 15 - 20
15 He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.
16 He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.
17 He hurls down hail like crumbs— who can stand before his cold?
18 He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
19 He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the Lord!

Isaiah 55: 10 - 11
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

God as Spirit

Isaiah 42: 1 - 3
1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

Ezekiel 36: 26
26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 37: 1 - 14
1 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.
2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.
3 He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord God, you know."
4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.
5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord."
7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.
8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: F148 Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, F149 and breathe upon these slain, that they may live."
10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11 Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely."
12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13
13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.
14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord."

However, there is an immediate problem here, that although there are apparent personalities and divisions into themes, they are the wrong ones to connect with the Christian Trinity.

The interpretation of God as wisdom does not equate well with God as Father. It might equate with God as Mother, but the functions are different. In Christian theology, the female aspect is transferred into the Spirit.

In the interpretation of God as Word, the Trinity should include the Bible itself. John of course shifts this, so that Christ is the Word, but obviously the words do not all follow from him, and so Christians also refer to the words of God in the Bible, as if Christ is not the Word there. There is consequent muddle, in other words.

The God as Spirit seems consistent, and this is because the use of Spirit follows and develops from the Hebrew Bible use.

In all these three selected Hebrew Bible uses, wisdom, word and spirit, there is no division of God in any sense. They are an in-depth understanding of the activity of God. They strike people as distinct, but not at the source. They do of course represent different times and places of understanding: it may be wrong to take these as a whole - though the text, the word aspect, builds up and is a library for reference. All the Jewish prophets, including Jesus, referred to the growing library, when they had the books available.

It is interesting that, as for the Christian Bible, the Trinity is a too overstated, over-described, and over-distinctive term for what is being claimed. Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14 are not the doctrine of the Trinity but activities of baptism and prayer in the context of doing salvation. On the other hand, a unitarian theological language is not enough for the task of salvation and prayer in the early Christian communities. It seems to be somewhere between Unitarian (Christian) and Arian. The situation seems have a parallel, that is for different reasons, in the Hebrew Bible, that there are various impacts of the work of God within the developing traditions.

And this is the problem. It is too convenient to look back and say, here in the Hebrew Bible is a proto-Trinity, when all that is being experienced and claimed are the multiple impacts of God which we, as cultural discerning beings, as authors and readers, can classify conveniently at least as wisdom, word and spirit. Perhaps it would have been more consistent if the Christian Trinity, if needed, had become God the Wise, God the Word and God the Spirit.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful

Worked from a posting sent to on 3 October 2004

McGrath, A. E. (1997), Christian Theology: An Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell, second edition, 293-294.

On the Trinity in the Hebrew Bible
On the Trinity in the Christian New Testament
On Christ's Divinity in the Christian New Testament