ISAIAH 48:16 AS SUPPORT FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRIUNITY OF GOD: A Response to Unitarian Challenges

ISAIAH 48:16 AS SUPPORT FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRIUNITY OF GOD: A Response to Unitarian Challenges

© 2020, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

The doctrine of the Triunity of God, that the one true God exists eternally as three Personae – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is fully revealed in the New Testament, but there were certainly hints given of it in the Old Testament, particularly in the form of indications of plurality within the Godhead.  Therefore, when it was fully revealed, people could look back into the Old Testament (per Acts 17:11) and see that this doctrine was, in fact, consistent with the OT revelation of God.

One such passage in the OT is Isaiah 48:16, which reads:

“Come near to Me, hear this:
I have not spoken in secret from the beginning;
From the time that it was, I was there.
And now the Lord God has sent Me and His Spirit
.”

Challenges

Jews for Judaism is an “anti-missionary” group, founded in 1985 “as a response to religious coercion targeting Jews for conversion.[1]  A significant part of what such anti-missionary groups do is to challenge the Christian understanding of messianic prophecies, insisting that they do not point to Jesus of Nazareth.

For example, one Gerald Sigal has posted an article on the Jews for Judaism website, in which he argues that the Isaiah 48:16 is not an indication of the Trinity[2].

First, Sigal asserts that

Christian commentators who are looking for trinitarian allusions in the Jewish Scriptures translate part of Isaiah 48:16 as, “The Lord God and His Spirit have sent me.”  However, a proper rendering of the verse reads:  “And now the Lord God has sent me, and His spirit.”

This is a moot point, however, as either way the passage does point to the Trinity, and, in fact, Sigal’s translation may actually make it more clear.

The crux, of course, though, is who is the speaker, i.e, who is the “me” in Isaiah 48:16.  While Christians maintain it is the divine Messiah, Sigal offers this:

There is no mention of the third member of the Trinity doctrine.  Instead, Isaiah affirms that God, who has placed within him the power of prophecy, sent him.

Responses to the Challenges

So who is correct?  If we look at Isaiah 48:16 in isolation, then either view can fit.  However, Isaiah 48:16 is part of a continuous text, as we quoted above. [indeed, the Bible did not originally come with chapter and verse divisions.]  And when we read the verse in its context, it becomes clear that Sigal’s suggestion is impossible.  Isaiah 48:12-17 reads (bolding and underlining added):

12 Listen to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called:  I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. 13 Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and My right hand has stretched out the heavens; When I call to them, they stand up together.  14 All of you, assemble yourselves, and hear!  Who among them has declared these things?  The Lord loves him; He shall do His pleasure on Babylon, and His arm shall be against the Chaldeans. 15 I, even I, have spoken; Yes, I have called him, I have brought him, and his way will prosper. 16 Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord God has sent Me and His Spirit.” 17 Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, Who teaches you to profit, Who leads you by the way you should go.

Clearly, then, the speaker is the Lord throughout the passage, not Isaiah.  Isaiah is not the First nor the Last; his hand did not lay the foundation of the earth, nor did his right hand stretch out the heavens.  Isaiah was not there “from the beginning; from the time that it was,” nor is he “the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.”  So the idea that among all that, one embedded sentence, “now the lord GOD has sent Me and His Spirit,” is spectacularly impossible.

It seems obvious that there is no rational reason for making such a suggestion, in fact – except to avoid facing the reality that the Triunity of God is indeed indicated in this passage.  For that is exactly what the passage indicates; the speaker, who is the Lord God, is telling us that the Lord God has sent Him and His Spirit – and who could send the Lord, except for the Lord Himself?  So, clearly, we see plurality within the Godhead here, as God sends God.  That is all we can learn here, but it is enough; when the New Testament makes it clear that God the Father is sending God the Son (e.g. John 5:23, 5:37, 6:38-40), we can and must accept it.  And we see the same sort of phenomenon in other passages in the Old Testament (e.g. Zechariah 2:8-11, Psalm 45:6-7).

Interestingly, as we noted, Sigal insists that this sentence should be translated not as “The Lord God and His Spirit have sent me” but as “the Lord God has sent me, and His spirit,” and that dovetails even more closely with what the New Testament teaches, viz. that God the Father sends God the Son and then He sends God the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).

Sigal’s second line of argument is trivial; he asks

If this spirit referred to the third member of a coequal tri-unity god, how could it be ordered about at the discretion of the other members of this group?[3]

First, we note that being “sent” and being “ordered” are not the same thing.  Second, we point out that, as the New Testament reveals, there is a “divine economy” within the Triune Godhead; the three Personae carry out different roles and functions, but that does not impact their ontological equality.

Sigal’s final line of argument is to quote Numbers 1:17, 25, 29 – “Thus God says to Moses, ‘And I will take of the spirit which is upon you, and I will put it upon them. . . .  And He took of the spirit which was upon him, and He put it upon the seventy men, the elders, and it came to pass, when the spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied. . . .  And Moses said . . . ‘would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His spirit upon them’” – and asserts that

Such a condition makes it obviously impossible to consider the spirit as being an associate of God, let alone coequal with Him.[4]

This argument, however, is a nonstarter, given that the New Testament, which clearly teaches the Triunity of God and the Personhood of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Acts 13:2-3) also speaks of the Holy Spirit resting on us (1 Peter 4:14), put on us (Matthew 12:18) and poured out on us (Acts 2:17, 2:18, 10:45).  So, contra Sigal’s final argument, the language in Numbers 1 is not inconsistent with the Personhood of the Holy Spirit.

There is not much left for those who do not wish to accept what Isaiah 48:16 clearly teaches.  A website whose purpose clearly seems to be to teach and defend the theology of the unitarian Jehovah’s Witnesses calls this a “Trinitarian ‘speaker confusion’ trick,[5] claiming that

The answer to such “proof” is obvious: “speaker confusion.” Isaiah, like most other Bible writers, often interspersed the conversation of one person with statements by others and often doesn’t identify the new speakers. Very often they appear to be comments by Isaiah himself.

The writer desperately appeals to “the Preface to Young’s Analytical Concordance [which] tells us, for example: ‘7. The language of the MESSENGER frequently glides into that of the SENDER, e..g. [sic] Gen. 16:10; … Zech. 2:8-11.’ – p. iv, Eerdmans Publ., 1978.[6]  Now, it is an open question whether this is true or not[7], but even if it is, the burden of proof remains on the person who asserts that a sentence embedded in a continuous text has changed from the speaker immediately before and after, as in Isaiah 48:16.

Neither Sigal nor the writer who appeals to a “‘speaker confusion’ trick” makes any attempt to support his claim that the speaker here has suddenly switched from God to Isaiah.  All the latter offers is that “this is very likely the case here” as shown by context[8].  Yet, as we have shown from the very context, the argument that the context supports the idea that Isaiah 48:16 is said by Isaiah rather than God is ridiculous; the context clearly shows that the speaker is indeed God.

Conclusions

In conclusion, it is clear that Isaiah 48:16 indicates plurality within the Godhead and therefore indicates the Triunity of God.  Attempts by unitarians of whatever stripe to deny this are utter failures.


Footnotes

[1] https://jewsforjudaism.org/about-jews-for-judaism

[2] Sigal, Gerald. “Does the word ‘spirit’ refer to what Christians call the ‘third member of the trinity?” Posted at https://jewsforjudaism.org/knowledge/articles/does-the-word-qspiritq-refer-to-what-christians-call-the-qthird-member-of-the-trinityq/.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] “Isa. 48:16; Trinitarian ‘speaker confusion’ trick,” posted at https://searchforbibletruths.blogspot.com/2010/02/isa-4816-trinitarian-speaker-confusion.html

[6] ibid.

[7] A site called http://www.orthodox.cn/patristics/apostolicfathers/bibtips1.htm lists “Bible Tips 1-9.”  Number 7 is “7. The language of the messenger frequently glides into that of the sender” and lists examples from Genesis 16:10 to Zechariah 2:8-11,” so it seems highly likely that this is the list from Young – and most of the examples are strangely put together and not one of them actually shows the alleged phenomenon of “the language of the messenger … glid[ing] into that of the sender.”

[8] The writer also appeals to the fact that some Bibles, including the NIV, the RSV, the NAB (none of which Truth In My Days recommends), put closing quotation marks before “And now the Lord GOD has sent Me and His Spirit,” indicating that God finished His speech and did not say “And now the Lord GOD has sent Me and His Spirit.”  That may be, but quotation marks are not in the original Hebrew text, and, as we have shown, there is no warrant for putting them there.  These translations are mistaken, unlike the NKJV and the NASB.

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