Old Testament, Pre-Christian Jewish and Apostolic Evidence
By Keith Thompson
In their book Jesus: Prophet of Islam Muhammad Ata Ur-Rahim and Ahmad Thomson claim it was because of Paul “Jesus was deified” (Muhammad Ata ur-Rahim, Ahmad Thomson, Jesus: Prophet of Islam, [TTQ, INC., 2003], p. 72). However, the teaching of Jesus being God, or God being multipersonal, is affirmed in the Old Testament, in pre-Christian Jewish literature, and by Jesus and His disciples prior to Paul.
Old Testament Evidence
In regards to the Old Testament, in Proverbs 30:3-4 we read about a Father and Son who are called the “Holy Ones” – persons who are incomprehensible in their nature. The text says,
“3I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy Ones. 4Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name? Surely you know!” (Proverbs 30:3-4).
All the deeds listed in this passage are applied to Christ in the Bible. For example, Jesus ascended to heaven and comes down (John 3:13; Romans 10:6-7; Ephesians 4:7-10). Jesus gathered the winds in his fist and wrapped up the waters in a garment (Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 14:22-33). Jesus established the ends of the earth (John 1:3, 10; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:8a, 10-12). So this “Son” is Jesus Christ. Moreover, when the author asks what His and His Son’s name is, this is very important. God’s “name” in the Old Testament signified His divine presence, essence or nature (Exodus 23:21; Deuteronomy 12:5, 11; 1 Kings 8:29 cited in Walter Keiser, Exodus, ed. Frank E. Gaebelin, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, [Zondervan, 1990], p. 446). Hence, when this biblical writer asks what the names of these two persons are, he is affirming he (as well as humanity) is incapable of fully comprehending the presence, essence or nature of these two Holy Ones - God and his Son.
Old Testament scholar Alan P. Ross notes various Midrash writings prove ancient Jews understood this “Son” of Proverbs 30:3-4 to be a divine figure alongside God called the “logos,” (Alan P. Ross, Proverbs, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, [Zondervan, 1991], p. 1119) which is who Christ is identified as in the New Testament (John 1:1-3, 14; 1 John 1:1-2; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2).
Another Old Testament text is Isaiah 9:6 where mention is made of a “Son” who would be given, which presupposes he existed before his birth, and who is called “the Mighty God,” or el-gibbowr in the Hebrew. This is the same Hebrew word applied to God Himself in the next chapter, namely Isaiah 10:21. So there is no question this Son is divine according to Isaiah’s use of the Hebrew language. The ancient Jewish Targum of Isaiah affirms this text is about the Messiah, as does Targum Jonathan and Midrash Rabbah Deuteronomy (The Targum of Isaiah, J.F. Stenning, Editor and Translator [Oxford: Clarendon], p. 32; Midrash Rabbah Deuteronomy, Rabbi H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, Editors; Rev. Dr. J. Rabbinowitz, Translator [London: Soncino Press], I.20, p. 20).
Next, we read in Daniel 7:13-14:
“13I 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. 14And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should worship him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
Jesus applied this text to Himself in the gospels (e.g. Mark 13:26; 14:62). In fact James R. Edwards notes, “Dan. 7:13f is never understood in early Judaism as a collective expression for ‘people of the Holy One’ . . . but always as the individual Messiah” (James R. Edwards, Mark, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002], p. 403 n. 44).
That this “Son of man” of Daniel 7 is deity is proved by his coming “with the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13) which is always what God does in the Old Testament (e.g. Exodus 14:20; Numbers 10:34; Isaiah 19:1; Psalm 68:4; Psalm 104:1-3). Also, the fact this Son of man is worshiped by all peoples proves He is deity. The word for “worship” here in the original Aramaic (the language that Daniel 7 was written in) is pelach. Old Testament scholar Stephan R. Miller notes that “… in every other instance where the verb פְּלַח (‘worship’; ‘serve,’ NRSV) occurs in biblical Aramaic (nine times), it has reference to service (worship) rendered a deity (Dan 3:12, 12, 17-18, 28; 6:16, 20; 7:14; Ezra 7:24)” (Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, New American Commentary, [B&H Publishing Group, 1994], p. 217). Thus, Jesus receives worship rendered deity. Lexical analysis likewise proves this is what pelach means (Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, A Hebrew and English lexicon of the Old Testament,, trans. Edward Robinson, [Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1888], p. 847; Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, The Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, [Clarendon Press, 1906], p. 2718). So you have two distinct persons who are God in Daniel: the Ancient of Days (the Father) and the Son of Man, Jesus.
Another Old Testament text is Isaiah 48:16 where YHWH is said to send YHWH and His Spirit. This is the Trinity in the Old Testament. Two persons are YHWH and you have the divine Holy Spirit.
Moreover, in Isaiah 63:8-10 there are three distinct persons: the messenger or “Angel,” the sender of the Angel who is God, and the Spirit. In this text God sends His Messenger and the Messenger and His Holy Spirit then save God’s people. The Messenger is said to be the “Messenger of His face” (v. 9) which was a Hebrew idiom meaning this messenger is God’s face, i.e., He is the expression of God’s self-revealing presence (Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, Vol. 2, [T. & T. Clark, 1873], pp. 454-455).
This brings us to the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. On the one hand we’re told this Angel is a distinct person from God (Judges 13:8; 2 Samuel 24:15-16), and yet He is described as God or divine. For example, Hagar identifies the Angel as God Himself after He appeared to her (Genesis 16:13). In fact, here the Angel claims He would multiply her descendants (Genesis 16:10) which is what God himself always says (e.g. Genesis 26:2-4). The Angel also appears in a burning bush to Moses and when he speaks he is said to be God speaking (Exodus 3:2, 4, 14). Then in Exodus 4:5 we’re told it was actually God himself who appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Moreover, God’s name is said to be in the Angel of the Lord (Exodus 23:21). Again, the name of God is God’s divine nature (Exodus 23:21; Deuteronomy 12:5, 11; 1 Kings 8:29 cited in Walter Keiser, Exodus, ed. Frank E. Gaebelin, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, [Zondervan, 1990], p. 446). The Angel appears to Gideon and he makes a sacrifice to this Angel. In fact, he fears he would die after seeing this divine being (Judges 6:19-23). Gideon thought this because the Jews believed if you saw God face to face you would die (Exodus 33:20; Genesis 32:30). Thus, the Angel is deity. The reason Gideon survived was because although the Angel is God, He is not the same person as the Father. Lastly, the Angel appeared to Manoah and his wife and then Manoah offered a sacrifice to Him (Judges 13:19-20).
Now, what did the pre-Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews shortly after the time of Jesus think about such issues as the Angel of the Lord and God being multipersonal? Well modern non-Christian Jewish scholars such as Daniel Boyarin and Alan F. Segal have proven in their books that pre-Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews shortly after the New Testament affirmed that the one God was comprised of multiple persons, just as Christianity teaches. This proves Paul or later Christians did not invent this idea as Muslims falsely claim.
For example, Boyarin’s conclusion of his research into this matter was that such ancient Jews “believed that God had a divine deputy or emissary or even son, exalted above all the angels, who functioned as an intermediary between God and the world in creation, revelation, and redemption” (Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels, [The New Press, 2012], p. 5).
Likewise Alan F. Segal’s findings are summarized as follows:
“The ancient Israelite knew two Yahwehs—one invisible, a spirit, the other visible, often in human form. The two Yahwehs at times appear together in the text, at times being distinguished, at other times not. Early Judaism understood this portrayal and its rationale. There was no sense of a violation of monotheism since either figure was indeed Yahweh. There was no second distinct god running the affairs of the cosmos. During the Second Temple period, Jewish theologians and writers speculated on an identity for the second Yahweh. Guesses ranged from divinized humans from the stories of the Hebrew Bible to exalted angels. These speculations were not considered unorthodox. That acceptance changed when certain Jews, the early Christians, connected Jesus with this orthodox Jewish idea. This explains why these Jews, the first converts to following Jesus the Christ, could simultaneously worship the God of Israel and Jesus, and yet refuse to acknowledge any other god. Jesus was the incarnate second Yahweh. In response, as Segal’s work demonstrated, Judaism pronounced the two powers teaching a heresy sometime in the second century A.D.” (Michael S. Heiser, Two Powers in Heaven, drmsh.com/the-naked-bible/two-powers-in-heaven).
We will now provide some of the early evidence these Jewish scholars have put forth in their works to prove this.
At the time of the book of Daniel, an extrabiblical Alexandrian Jew named Ezekiel the Tragedian affirmed the presence of a second divine figure on God’s throne (Howard Jacobson, The Exagoge of Ezekiel, [Cambridge University Press, 1983], p. 55).
In the first century Jewish Book of Enoch, the Messiah is described as pre-existing and being worshiped by humanity (I Enoch, 48, 3-5). Then in the same Book of Enoch 70-71 the Messiah is expressly identified as God and “not counted among them [i.e., humans]."
In the first century Jewish book Fourth Ezra mention is made of a divine man who conquers evil armies at the end of the age and is then presented with offerings by the saints (Fourth Ezra 13, 2-13). Fourth Ezra got this idea from Isaiah 66:20 which says the offerings will be brought to God. Thus, this second figure is also God.
Now, a mid second century tradition (Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, [Brill Academic, 2002], p. 54) preserved in the Mekhilita Midrash on the book of Exodus (Bahodesh, 5, Shirta 4) combats an earlier Jewish view of God which said He was multipersonal according to various Old Testament texts, i.e., that there were two Yahweh’s making up the one God.
Philo, an Alexandrian Jew in the first century, affirmed God would appear to people as the Angel of the Lord in visions. For him the Angel was a manifestation of God appearing in that form (Philo, Som. I 234-237). In regards to Philo’s view of the logos, Segal notes, “Philo maintains that the logos was God’s partner in creation. To this effect, he calls the logos, ‘The Beginning,’ ‘Ruler of the Angels,’ and significantly, ‘the Name of God.’ But because the logos is an emanation of God, Philo can also talk about him as God’s offspring, or the first-born son of God. As such he is a kind of immortal, heavenly man or the true father of men” (Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, [Brill Academic, 2002], p. 173 quoting Leg. All. Iii, 96; Conf. 146; Agr. 51; Fug. 72, etc.). As noted, similar beliefs were condemned by second century rabbis (Bahodesh, 5, Shirta 4; Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, [Brill Academic, 2002], p. 173) showing their existence in the Second Temple and Tannaitic period. We will cover some such writings.
The first century Jewish historian Josephus combated the Jewish belief current in his day that God had assistants in creation (Josephus, Against Apion, II, 92) which shows such a belief existed in his day.
The late first century Jewish book Apocalypse of Abraham presents a figure named Yahoel as the second power in heaven who has God’s name in Him (Apoc. Abr. 10.). Having God’s name in you, again, refers to God’s divine presence or essence. Thus, Exodus 23:21 says the Angel of the Lord has God’s name in Him, the same name of God (i.e., presence or essence) which resided in the Temple (Deuteronomy 12:5, 11; 1 Kings 8:29 cited in Walter Keiser, Exodus, ed. Frank E. Gaebelin, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, [Zondervan, 1990], p. 446). Hence, when the Apocalypse of Abraham affirms this second power in heaven, Yahoel, had God’s name in Him, it affirms he is divine.
In a portion of the first century Jewish text known as Prayer of Joseph, preserved for us by Origen, both the Prophet Jacob and an angel named Uriel claim ascendancy as the pre-existent second Yahweh or divine Angel of the Lord who appeared to men in the Old Testament (The Prayer of Joseph, quoted in Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, [Brill Academic, 2002], pp. 199-200).
This is the religious milieu in which Jesus appeared. The earliest Christians rightly identified Jesus as this pre-existent second divine Yahweh of the Old Testament who assisted the Father in creation and appeared to men on behalf of the Father (John 1:1-3, 10; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:8a, 10-12).
Now, in his work Who did Jesus think He Was?, the New Testament scholar J. C. O'Neill has also shown Trinitarian belief among pre-Christian Jews as well as non-Christian Jews shortly after the time of Christ, which further proves Paul or later Christians did not invent such ideas. In concluding his research O'Neill wrote, “There is no doubt there were Jews before Christ who recognized that although God was one, he was also three” (J. C. O'Neill, Who Did Jesus Think He Was?, [Brill, 1995], p. 94). We will cover a few of his findings.
Commenting on Genesis 18:2 where Abraham saw three divine men, Philo reports a Jewish tradition affirming these three are God. He said, “it is reasonable for one to be three and for three to be one” (Philo, De Abrahamo 199-122, trans. Younge [1854-1855, Vol. 2, pp. 420-421]). Hence, such ancient Jews viewed Genesis 18:2 as referring to God being three and yet one.
Also, the pre-Christian Jewish book 1 Baruch contains a Trinitarian formula: “For I have set hope for your salvation on the Eternal One; and joy has come to me from the Holy One at the mercy which will soon be present for you from your Eternal Savior” (1 Baruch, 4.22). Three divine persons are clearly seen.
Moreover, 1 Enoch 62:1-2 contains a Trinitarian formula mentioning the Lord and the Spirit being poured on a Chosen One who is the pre-existent divine Son of Man from I Enoch, 48, 3-5; 70-71.
The Romance of Joseph and Aseneth, composed in the first century or sometime shortly before, says there is God the Father, that Joseph represented the Son of God who looks like Archangel Michael (6.2,6; 14:9), and that when Joseph kissed Aseneth he bestowed on her the Spirit of Truth (19.11). This is Trinitarian.
Jesus and Apostolic Evidence
Now, the primitive Christians writing in the first century viewed Jesus as this second Yahweh in heaven these Jewish sources spoke of. In the following texts Jesus is presented as this pre-existent second Yahweh who assisted God in creation (John 1:3, 10; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:8a, 10-12). Because the earliest Christians correctly viewed Jesus this way, we see the following kinds of texts in the New Testament.
Firstly, Jesus applied numerous Old Testament texts about God to Himself thus proving He is God. In Isaiah 43:2-3 God tells His people not to be afraid when they pass through the waters for He is the Lord their God. Well, in Matthew 14:24-27 the disciples were afraid because the waters were beating against their boat. Then Jesus said “Take heart. I Am. Do not be afraid” (v. 27).This shows Jesus believed He was God.
Moreover, in Malachi 3:1 and 4:5 a messenger, that is, a voice crying in the wilderness, is said to precede Yahweh’s coming to His people. In Matthew 11:10, however, Jesus applies this text to John the Baptist and Himself, meaning John the Baptist makes the way for Jesus who is Yahweh who comes to His people. In fact here in Matthew 11:10 Jesus paraphrases Malachi 3:1 as saying “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” By saying the messenger is sent before your [i.e., Jesus’] face, when Malachi 3:1 is actually about the messenger being sent before God’s face, Jesus was calling Himself God. As R. T. France explains, “. . . the first person of Mal 3:1 (‘prepare the way before me’) has become a second person (‘before you’), thus allowing the possibility of taking the forerunner as preceding someone other than God himself” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, ed. Joel B. Green, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2007], p. 428).
Jesus’ disciples likewise applied to Him Old Testament texts about God.
In Isaiah 8:12-13 Isaiah calls men to sanctify Yahweh in their heart. Peter applies this to Jesus and exhorts men to sanctify Christ in their heart (1 Peter 3:15).
In Zechariah 12:10 Yahweh is the pierced one upon whom men would look and mourn. However, the Apostle John applies this text to Jesus at his crucifixion (John 19:36-38).
Peter, referring to Jesus, says there is no name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). This is because, as the background text proves, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10).
In Deuteronomy 10:17 Yahweh is the “King of Kings.” And in Isaiah 44:6 Yahweh is the “First and the Last.” However in Revelation 17:14 and 19:16 Jesus is “King of Kings,” and in Revelation 2:8 and 22:12-13 Jesus is “First and Last.”
In John 20:28 Thomas calls Jesus his Lord and God. In Acts 20:28 we’re told God purchased His church with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
Moreover, according to the New Testament Jesus shares the same essential, incommunicable attributes of God, proving He is one in essence with the Father.
For example, while the Old Testament says God is omnipresent (1 Kings 8:27), in Matthew 18:20 Jesus says when two or more gather in His name He will be present. This means Jesus could be at more than one place at once and is thus omnipresent. In 1 Kings 8:39 we’re told God knows all things including the hearts of all men. However, in Mark 2:6-8 Jesus knew the scribes were questioning in their heart, and in John 16:30 the disciples say the following to Jesus: “Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you. . .” (John 16:30). In Job 42:2 Yahweh is said to be able to do all things thereby affirming his omnipotence. Yet, in John 5:19 Jesus says he can do whatever the father does. In Isaiah 40:18 we learn that Yahweh is incomprehensible. However, Matthew 11:27 teaches Jesus is incomprehensible too since there Jesus says no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son. Moreover, while Psalms 90:2 says Yahweh is eternal – or from everlasting to everlasting, the New Testament teaches Jesus pre-existed and is eternal in numerous places (Matthew 20:28; Mark 2:17; Luke 4:43; John 1:1-3; 8:56-59; 17:5; Colossians 1:16-17). For example, in Luke 4:43 Jesus teaches he was sent to earth, and in John 8:58-59 Jesus taught He is the “I Am” who existed before Abraham which led to the Jews picking up stones to stone Him for blasphemy.
Thus, the idea Jesus’ deity or God being multi-personal was invented by the blessed Apostle Paul has been shown to be a view which cannot be sustained by the evidence.