It is through Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, that God is revealed as Trinity. The Old Testament did not reveal God as Trinity, preoccupied as it was with the overwhelming task of instilling monotheism securely within the heart of Israel. To have proclaimed God as three would have impeded this pedagogical task. The urgent need to teach Israel the truth of monotheism superseded all else. The revelation of God as Trinity would have to wait until this prior foundation had been laid.
The revelation of God as Trinity began with the revelation of the man Jesus as having divine authority and status. Modern Orthodox might begin with the assumption of his divinity, since we routinely refer to him as “Christ our true God.” A reading of the New Testament must start at the other end, with the assumption that Jesus (“Yeshua barYosef” to his contemporaries), was a man like them (in later Chalcedonian parlance, “homoousios with us as regards his manhood”). That is why St. Paul referred to him almost reflexively as “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Like other men in Israel, Jesus referred to the Father as his God (John 20:17), and like other men, as a child He grew in size as well as favour with God, learning Torah and pleasing him by his life (Luke 2:52).
It was this man who said and did things no other man ever said or did. It was not only that He manifested serene authority over the untameable sea, over demons, and even over death and corruption itself –things that only God could do (Mark 4:39–41, 5:1–15; John 11:38–44). It was also the extraordinary claims He made for Himself—claims that would have sounded bizarre if made by anyone else.
For example, Jesus claimed the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:5–12)—an authority that everyone knew that only God possessed. Given that God had said He would never share his glory with another (Isa 42:8), Jesus’ authority to forgive sins argues strongly for his divine status.
Jesus also claimed that at the end of the age He would be seated on a throne and that everyone in the world would be gathered before him, and that He personally would determine their eternal destiny—and that on the basis of their responses to him! He further claimed that it was He alone that would open or close the door into the Kingdom of God on the Day of Judgment (Matt 25:31– 46, 8:21–23).
He claimed that He was the Lord of the sabbath with authority to determine what could be done on the sabbath day, and that shared his Father’s exemption from resting on the sabbath (Mark 2:28; John 5:17). This was especially scandalous in Jewish eyes, given the supreme importance of the Sabbath, and constituted a claim to be equal with God—as his foes instantly recognized (see John 5:18).
Such claims of equality with God, though scandalous and regarded as blasphemy, were routinely made by Jesus, and in explicit terms. When He declared, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and the Jews responded by taking up stones to stone him for blasphemy, Jesus did not back down, or explain that they had misunderstood him. Instead, He justified it with an a fortiori argument from the Psalms: if the unbreakable Scriptures had described Israelite judges as “gods” (Psalm 82:6), how much more did He have the right to the title of “Son of God” since the Father had consecrated him for his work and sent him into the world? (John 5:31–36).
Indeed, on another occasion Jesus claimed, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day,” and when his hearers balked at the notion that He could be somehow old enough to have seen Abraham, He replied, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am!” (in Greek, ego eimi).
This last utterance included use of the divine Name which Yahweh used when He revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush. When Moses asked Yahweh to tell him his Name, Yahweh replied, “I am who I am. Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I Am’ has sent me to you’” (Ex 3:13–14). In the Septuagint, the divine name “I am who I am” is rendered, ego eimi ho on. Jesus was here laying claim to the divine Name of “I Am” by which Yahweh identified Himself to Moses. It was a clear assertion of equality and identity with Yahweh. Jesus’ hearers immediately understood this and picked up stones to stone him for blasphemy (John 8:56–59).
As was once pointed out,1 anyone making such claims could only be liar, a lunatic—or perhaps the Lord. Jesus’ adversaries opted for a combination of the first two, declaring that He was “a Samaritan” and “had a demon” (John 8:48). Jesus’ disciples opted for the latter and acknowledged his claims to divinity. John’s Gospel opens with a bold assertion of his divinity, with the words, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”2 (John 1:1), and it climaxes with the confession of Thomas to Jesus “My Lord and my God!”3 (John 20:28). John was in no doubt that the man Yeshua bar-Yosef was also Israel’s God in the flesh.
The apostolic conviction of the divinity of Jesus is found throughout the epistles of the New Testament. St. Paul, for example, spoke of the pre-incarnate Word as being “in the form of God” and as “not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptying Himself, taking the form of a servant, and being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2:6–7).
In his letter to the Colossians, he described Jesus in these terms,
He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation [i.e., having the privilege of primogeniture, the heir of all things]; for in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together… For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell (Col 1:15–19).
Indeed, Paul did not hesitate to describe Jesus as “our great God and Saviour” in Titus 2:13.4
In the centuries to come theologians would struggle to express these Christological affirmations in a consistent way, using the more precise terms of Hellenistic philosophy, along the way drafting their own unique technical vocabulary with such terms as “hypostasis”, “physia”, and “ousia”. But even here in the New Testament all the basic ingredients for the final Christological product may be found—the declaration that the man Jesus of Nazareth, a man in every way like us, is also the true God of Israel in the flesh.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 2012), chapter 3. ↩
Greek: θεος ην ο λογος (theos en ho logos). The entire verse could also be translated, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the Divine One, and the Word was divine.” ↩
Greek: ο κυριος μου και ο θεος μου (ho kurios mou kai ho theos mou)—the definite article for God indicating full divinity—the God. ↩
The point stands even if the Epistle to Titus was not written by St. Paul. ↩