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Exploration of the Trinity – Part 3 – Divine Agency, Visible YHWH and The Two Powers

Last week we dealt with the first proposition in our Trinity septad:

  • “God is one”.

 

To that end, we unpacked the meaning of ancient Jewish Monotheism.

  • We saw that its main feature was the uniqueness of YHWH.
  • This uniqueness was highlighted by comparisons to other “elohim” – other gods.

 

And importantly, we noted that:

  • Ancient Jewish monotheism as a concept did not affirm or deny that YHWH’s nature was singular.

 

The significance of this is that it is part of our efforts to…

  • Lay out the Biblical landscape that is relevant to an affirmation of the Trinity.

 

Today we continue to build on this Biblical landscape with more weird, wild stuff.

  • Specifically, Divine Agency, Visible/Invisible YHWH, and Two Powers.
  • All of these expand on what the uniqueness of YHWH can accommodate.

 

 

Divine Agency:

Divine Agency is an idea prevalent throughout the OT and 2nd temple Judaism.

  • It is “the fundamental idea that God might have a chief agent prominent over all other servants of God and associated with him particularly closely” – Larry Hurtado.
  • This chief agent “stood far above all other servants of God” – Larry Hurtado.
  • This agent was “associated with God in a unique capacity in the manifestation of his sovereignty” – Larry Hurtado.

 

Some examples of OT divine agents are.

  • God’s Wisdom
  • The Angel of YHWH
  • Cloud Rider Son of Man

 

Wisdom:

Proverbs is full of references to a personified Wisdom seen as a divine agent of YHWH.

  • Proverbs 8:22–31 (ESV) — 22 “The Lord possessed me [Wisdom] at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. 23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, 26 before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. 27 When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.

 

Angel of YHWH:

Exodus 23 contains one of many well know examples of the Angel of YHWH.

  • Exodus 23:20–21 (ESV) — 20 “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. 21 Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.

 

About this text, Larry Hurtado says:

“Given the enormous significance of the name of God in ancient Jewish tradition, the description of [the angel] as indwelt by God’s name suggests that this figure has been given exceptional status in God’s hierarchy, perhaps superior to all but God himself” – Larry Hurtado.

 

Cloud Rider Son of Man:

  • Daniel 7:9–14 (ESV) — 9 “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. 10 A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. 11 “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

 

Notice here that more than one throne is in view – presumably two.

  • One is obviously for the “Ancient of Days” since he “took his seat”.
  • Is the other for the cloud rider who appeared to be a “son of man”?
  • It seems rather odd to be “given dominion and glory and a kingdom” and not given a throne.

 

And about this text, Larry Hurtado says:

“The description of this figure supplies us with evidence that ancient Jews of the time of Daniel were comfortable with picturing God as exalting some figure to the position of chief agent, with no threat to the uniqueness of God” – Larry Hurtado.

 

We have only skimmed the surface of divine agency in ancient Judaism.

  • There are many more examples to be found both in the OT and in 2nd Temple Jewish literature.

 

But from this very brief survey, it should rather obvious that:

  • Divine agency provides us with yet another important piece of the Biblical landscape relevant to the Trinity.
  • There will be more on this when we get to the “Jesus is God” premise of our septad.

 

 

Visible and Invisible YHWH:

In the OT there exists a distinction between YHWH in visible and in invisible form.

“The startling reality is that long before Jesus and the New Testament, careful readers of the Old Testament would not have been troubled by the notion of, essentially, two Yahwehs — one invisible and in heaven, the other manifest on earth in a variety of visible forms, including that of a man” – Michael Heiser.

 

The Angel of YHWH (which we have seen is also cast as a divine agent) is the most intriguing example.

  • Exodus 3:1–6 (ESV) — 1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

 

Look what Stephen says in Acts 7:

  • Acts 7:30–32 (ESV) — 30 “Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 32I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.

 

As is demonstrated in the above verses:

  • The OT constantly blurs the lines between the visible YHWH – the Angel of YHWH – and the invisible YHWH.

 

Who was speaking?

  • Who was visible?
  • If it was only the heavenly YHWH, why the appearance of the Angel of YHWH?

 

Another great example of this is when the OT talks about who led the Israelites out of Egypt.

  • Deuteronomy 4:34–37 (ESV) — 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. 36 Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. 37 And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power,

 

Who or what is the presence of YHWH from verse 37 above?

  • Judges 2:1 (ESV) — 1 Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you,
  • Once again, the OT blurs the lines between the two.

 

One more example of blurring the lines between the visible Angel and the invisible God is Genesis 48.

  • Genesis 48:15–16 (ESV) — 15 And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”

 

This passage connects “The God” and “the angel” textually in parallel.

  • Does doing so mean God is a mere angel or is the angel God?

 

Michael Heiser answers the question this way:

“The parallel position of elohim and mal’ak is unmistakable. Since the Bible very clearly teaches that God is eternal and existed before all things, and that angels are created beings, the point of this explicit parallel is not to say that God is an angel. On the other hand, it affirms that this angel is God. But the most striking feature is the verb (“may he bless”). In Hebrew, the verb “bless” in this passage is not grammatically plural, which would indicate two different persons are being asked to bless the boys. Rather, it is singular, thereby telegraphing a tight fusion of the two divine beings on the part of the author. In other words, the writer had a clear opportunity to distinguish the God of Israel from the angel, but instead merges their identities” – Michael Heiser.

 

This visible/invisible YHWH stuff is yet another crucial piece of the Biblical landscape relevant to the Trinity.

 

And, we also need to note something else fairly significant.

  • These Jewish beliefs about divine agents and the visible/invisible YWHW were held BEFORE Jesus came on the scene.
  • In other words, we are not reading something into the text that isn’t there just to suit our purposes.

 

 

Two Powers:

There is one more feature of ancient Judaism that is relevant to our construction of a Trinitarian Biblical landscape.

  • It is called Two Powers.
  • And it does have overlap with divine agency and the visible/invisible YHWH.

 

What is Two Powers?

  • It is “interpreting scripture to say that a principal angelic or hypostatic [embodied] manifestation in heaven was equivalent to God” – Alan Segal.
  • And that this angelic or personal manifestation was equal in authority to God.

 

Alan Segal tells us that:

  • “The early biblical theophanies which picture God as a man or confuse YWHW with an angel are the basis of the tradition” – Alan Segal.

 

Our knowledge of this tradition comes from 2nd Temple Judaism and Hellenistic Jews like Philo.

  • Philo was born before Christ in 25 BC in Alexandria, Egypt.

 

But even more interesting is what we learn from the Jewish rabbis of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries.

  • They characterized Two Powers as a heresy.
  • One that jeopardized their monotheism.

 

The rabbis acknowledged “that God manifested Himself in two ways” – Alan Segal.

  • They rejected two authorities.

 

And like divine agency and the visible/invisible YHWH traditions:

The “two powers in heaven was a very early category of heresy, earlier than Jesus” – Alan Segal.

 

Two Powers Examples:

Daniel 7 provides us with our first example.

  • We just saw it as an example of divine agency.
  • But it also serves as an example of two powers.

 

We only need to look at verse 9.

  • Daniel 7:9–14 (ESV) — 9 “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.

 

Alan Segal simply says this:

  • This passage “may easily be describing two separate, divine figures” – Alan Segal.
  • Why? Two thrones.
  • Thrones represent authority.
  • And this text gives us two seats of authority.

 

Daniel 7 gave the rabbis such headaches that one, Rabbi Akiba (mid 2nd century), opted for the idea that:

“Both figures in heaven were seen to be divine, one God in two hypostases [embodiments]” rather than allow for the “Son of Man” to be the Messiah – Alan Segal.

  • In other words when faced with two powers or Messiah – he oddly went with two powers.

 

Some other examples where two powers were believed to be present:

  • Exodus 15:3 (ESV) — 3 The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name.
  • Exodus 24:9–10 (ESV) — 9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.
  • Exodus 24:1 (ESV) — 1 Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar.

 

Deuteronomy 32:39 gives us a peculiar one.

  • Deuteronomy 32:39 (ESV) — 39 “ ‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
  • The two “I’s” were seen as two powers of YHWH.

 

Interestingly, the LXX changed this verse.

  • It changed the two “I’s” to two “sees”.
  • It reads, “See, See that I am, and there is no god except me”.
  • Alan Segal says such a change implies “an early [two powers] sensitivity to the verse” – Segal.

 

Joshua 24:19 also gives us an interesting example.

  • Joshua 24:19 (ESV) — 19 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.

 

“Holy” here is plural whereas “jealous” is singular.

  • In other words – it can be read as “they is/are a holy God”.

 

 

Philo and The Two Power Tradition:

Philo has a very interesting version of the two power tradition:

  • He believed in “…a second, principal, divine creature, whom he calls a ‘second God,’ who nevertheless is only the visible emanation of the High, ever-existing God” – Alan Segal.

 

Philo’s two power beliefs centered around a hypostasized (embodied) logos.

  • The logos was “a separate, second divine hypostasis [embodiment]” – Alan Segal.
  • Logos was Philo’s explanation for “all the angelic and human manifestations of the divine in the OT” – Alan Segal.
  • The Angel of YHWH was the logos, for example.

 

Philo believed that:

  • “The logos becomes the actual figure of God, who appears ‘like a man’ in order that men may know His presence” – Alan Segal.
  • “…God is able to reach into the transient world, act in it, fill it, as well as transcend material existence, without implying a change in His essence” – Alan Segal.

 

Another interesting tidbit about Philo and logos:

  • “Philo maintains that the logos was God’s partner in creation…he calls the logos, ‘The Beginning,’ ‘The Ruler of the Angels,’ and significantly, ‘the Name of God.’” – Alan Segal.

 

 

Place Where God Stands = Logos:

Philo saw any text that spoke of “place” in reference to God’s presence as the manifestation of the second power – the logos.

  • Yes…this overlaps with our visible/invisible YHWH discussion.

 

Some examples of this are found in the following passages (LXX):

  • Exodus 24:10 (LXX) – “And they perceived the place where God stands…
    • Philo read this as “they perceived the logos”.
  • Genesis 31:13 (LXX) – “I am the God who appeared to you in the place of God…
    • Philo read this as “appeared to you as logos”.

 

Philo says that these two power passages:

  • Demonstrate that God assumes the “likeness of man”.
  • “Thus God can actually appear to men as a man or angel” – Alan Segal.

 

Rabbis judged all of these views as heresy.

  • Such views seemed to advocate two equal powers and authorities with YHWH.
  • Something they soundly rejected.

 

 

Conclusion:

Over the past two weeks, we have surveyed the Biblical landscape as it pertains to the Trinity.

  • We have seen nothing that would render a Trinitarian view as unreasonable.
  • Over the coming weeks, we will look at Jesus in light of this Biblical landscape.