Essay / Theology

Hearing Voices: Trinity in the Old Testament

i hear voices when i hold it like this

“The primary condition of knowledge for reading the Psalms is the ability to see as whose mouthpiece we are to regard the Psalmist as speaking, and who it is that he addresses.” So says Hilary of Poitiers at the beginning of his fourth-century Psalms commentary. And while Hilary is interested in identifying human authors and speakers, what he has in mind most of all is a theological question: which person of the Trinity is speaking in a Psalm? For Hilary, as for many other patristic writers, the Psalms are a mysterious transcript of inner-trinitarian conversation, a mystery once hidden but now openly proclaimed in the New Testament.

A few months ago I gave a lecture for Torrey Honors Institute undergrads on discerning the Trinity in the Old Testament, sharing some ideas about how to succeed at that hermeneutical task. I consider it a difficult task because I don’t think the doctrine of the Trinity was revealed before the coming of the incarnate Son and the outpoured Spirit, and I take a fairly Augustinian line on the theophanies of the old covenant (i.e. not trinitophanies –here, help yourself to a non-word for a non-thing). But I do believe that, given the revelation of the trinitarian persons through their being sent in the new covenant, they can be retroactively discerned in the text of the Old Testament.

So that’s what this lecture is about. At the end I give some reading recommendations: the Bible, Hilary of Poitiers, and if you simply must read something modern, Matthew Bates’ excellent new book The Birth of the Trinity: Jesus, God, and Spirit in New Testament and Early Christian Interpretation. About this book I will have more to say anon.






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