Page IV

The Triune God in
Hebrew Thought?

Many will argue that the Jewish background of Christianity knew nothing of any three identities in God. While it is true that they did not think in those terms, but embraced the unity of God, it is not true that they did not understand God to emendate into reality in such a way that he appeared in three distinct emanations. It might be possible to understand the Greek terminology thorough Jewish concepts. This is a move most Messianic Jews are making, it is a very interesting development coming so long after the creeds.

I. Trinity: Greek Terminology For Hebrew Concepts

A. Doctrinal Confussion.

It is often mocked by Skeptics, and asserted by even many Christians to be a mere 'add on' doctrine, something that was simply made up. That is in a sense true, but the belittling tone is ignorant of the work of theologians. In coming to the doctrine, the church councils merely acted as good theologians. They realized that they had a problem. None of the alternatives solved that problem without creating more problems. The basic difficulty was that Jesus was worshipped and had been for some time, and yet there is only to be one God according to he scriptures. This could only be understood if Jesus were somehow a manifestation of that God. Three "Persona," not Three Gods Many skeptics think that the doctrine creates three Gods or that it is illogical to say that three things can be one thing. But this is mere ignorance. The Church "fathers" used the term "persona" in speaking of the three persons of the Trinity. This view is based on the Greek notions of essence which were current in Jesus' day. The actual doctrine says there are three persona in one essence. The word "persona" was used of the masks Greek actors wore in their plays. So the "persona" are identities and the essence is that of the divine.

Therefore the Trinity is one God; three identities belonging to one essence of deity. This is not three Gods; one God, one essence, one being, three identities. Beyond that, there are much more complex issues between the eastern church (which emphasizes Christ's deity) and the Western (which emphasizes his humanity--but not at the expense of his deity). We'll delve into these later. Deity of Christ The Trinity actually began as an attempt to explain Jesus' deity.

The need for that explanation is found in the Gospels, in the statements above where Jesus states himself that he is divine, that he and the Father are one, and so on. Also the claims of the Gospel authors such as John 1:1 "in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. The same was also with in the beginning, through him were all things made and without him was not anything made." John was Jewish and it will be seen that his notion of Christ's deity is rooted in Judaism. The notion of Messiah in Jesus' day was that he would be the divine son of God. (see Jesus Christ King Messiah page). But this concept was that of a pre-mundane divine being, although one created separately at a point in time, not the Trinity of the Christians. Yet, Alfred Edersheim finds hints in the OT which indicate that the Hebrew notion of God could be related to trinity in a sense.

B. Logos of John linked to Hebrew concept of "memra."

"In the beginning was the word, [logos] and the word was with God and the word was God. v14 "The word became flesh and dwelt among us" (ha sarx egenatau skeouodomein--in the Greek).

1) Memra linked to Wisdom.

The Wisdom figure in Proverbs is translated with memra, but in Ben Sirach (an apocryphal work of 180s BC) Logos and Memra are both used interchangeably of this wisdom figure, which tells us that the Jews of that period thought of Logos as a term for Memra, God's presence. The Greek literally says "the logos became (transformed, turned into) flesh and pitched his tent among us." This refers to the tabernacle of God the dwelling place of God with humanity, and to the Greek conceptions of the soul, that the soul is in the body as a person dwells in a tent. The connection being, that the divine Logos became a human person, Jesus Christ. The context of the passages removed all doubt that it is Jesus under discussion. In v18 "one has ever seen God, but God the Only begotten son has revealed him to us." This is a literal rendering of the Greek. "God the Son." So here the Logos is linked to the Tabernacle, to God's presence among humanity, which will be crucial in examining the word Memra. Though logos is not related linguistically to sophia (wisdom) the associations between the Johanine Logos and the Sophia of proverbs is clear. "through him [Logos] were all things made, and without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:1, "let us make man in our own image). Prov. 8:27"...I was there when he set the heavens in place...then I was the craftsman at his side." Sophia began as the goddess of pagan religion, and naturalized and turned into a literary device, it became again the goddess of the Gnostic mythos, one of their abstract nouns used as a proper name.

Several New Testament scholars recognize a link between the wisdom of proverbs and the logos of John. (see Alice Laffey, An Introduction to The Old Testament: A Feminist Inerpretation). The logos of John is, then, used in direct opposition to the docetic Gnositicizing Sophia.Helmut Koester argues that John's purpose is to write a Bibliography of wisdom. He concludes the anti-docetic aspects in saying "the word became flesh." The heavenly Sophia cannot have a biography, the flesh and blood Jesus can, and as such, God's wisdom is the subject of this biography.[see Ancient Christian Gospels 1991, by Helmut Koester].

2) Memra used as special name for God.

Haderech:The Way, Moses, and Memra

By The Late Rev. Sam Stern*Note: For easier reading, Bible references are at the first indent. Translations are at the second indent. Names of translators are underlined.

"Onkeles Targum, which is a translation of the Bible from Hebrew into Aramaic, uses the word memra in place of the Hebrew word dabar to denote the Word of God and also God Himself. Other translators, Rabbi Jonathan ben Uzziel and Targum Yerushalmi, also translate the "word of God," "God," and "me" and other words as memra; thereby they indicate that they believe memra to be not just an ordinary word, but a special name of God."

"The interpretation of the meaning of the words logos and memra shows that Judaism and Christianity hold some of the same theological tenets. The following study, although brief, bears out the fact that both persuasions have followers who believe that these two words mean the Word of God who is a Person. Although the Greek word logos, which originated as a concept of the Stoics, can have different meanings, when John uses it in his gospel and epistles it takes on a distinct spiritual meaning, as in the following: In the beginning was the word [logos] and the word was with God, and the word was God [John 1:1].In this opening verse of the Gospel of John, logos is shown as both eternal and pre-existent. It is at the same time introduced as one with God the Father—"was God"—and also distinct from God the Father—"with God."John also uses the word logos in his first epistle as follows: That which was with us from the beginning … of the Word of life [1 John 1:1].…the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost … [1 John 5:7].Logos in the above two verses of the New Testament [B’rit Hadasheh] has the same meaning as it has in John 1:1 when context is considered."

This source has diappeared from the net. I can no longer find references to it. Let us turn for suppport to the Jewish

Kaufmann Kohler

"The Word," in the sense of the creative or directive word or speech of God manifesting His power in the world of matter or mind; a term used especially in the Targum as a substitute for "the Lord" when an anthropomorphic expression is to be avoided.

—Biblical Data:
In Scripture "the word of the Lord" commonly denotes the speech addressed to patriarch or prophet (Gen. xv. 1; Num. xii. 6, xxiii. 5; I Sam. iii. 21; Amos v. 1-8); but frequently it denotes also the creative word: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made" (Ps. xxxiii. 6; comp. "For He spake, and it was done"; "He sendeth his word, and melteth them [the ice]"; "Fire and hail; snow, and vapors; stormy wind fulfilling his word"; Ps. xxxiii. 9, cxlvii. 18, cxlviii. 8). In this sense it is said, "For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven" (Ps. cxix. 89). "The Word," heard and announced by the prophet, often became, in the conception of the seer, an efficacious power apart from God, as was the angel or messenger of God: "The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel" (Isa. ix. 7 [A. V. 8], lv. 11); "He sent his word, and healed them" (Ps. cvii. 20); and comp. "his word runneth very swiftly" (Ps. cxlvii. 15).

Personification of the Word.

—In Apocryphal and Rabbinical Literature:

While in the Book of Jubilees, xii. 22, the word of God is sent through the angel to Abraham, in other cases it becomes more and more a personified agency: "By the word of God exist His works" (Ecclus. [Sirach] xlii. 15); "The Holy One, blessed be He, created the world by the 'Ma'amar'" (Mek., Beshallaḥ, 10, with reference to Ps. xxxiii. 6). Quite frequent is the expression, especially in the liturgy, "Thou who hast made the universe with Thy word and ordained man through Thy wisdom to rule over the creatures made by Thee" (Wisdom ix. 1; comp. "Who by Thy words causest the evenings to bring darkness, who openest the gates of the sky by Thy wisdom"; . . . "who by His speech created the heavens, and by the breath of His mouth all their hosts"; through whose "words all things were created"; see Singer's "Daily Prayer-Book," pp. 96, 290, 292). So also in IV Esdras vi. 38 ("Lord, Thou spakest on the first day of Creation: 'Let there be heaven and earth,' and Thy word hath accomplished the work"). "Thy word, O Lord, healeth all things" (Wisdom xvi. 12); "Thy word preserveth them that put their trust in Thee" (l.c. xvi. 26). Especially strong is the personification of the word in Wisdom xviii. 15: "Thine Almighty Word leaped down from heaven out of Thy royal throne as a fierce man of war." The Mishnah, with reference to the ten passages in Genesis (ch. i.) beginning with "And God said," speaks of the ten "ma'amarot" (= "speeches") by which the world was created (Abot v. 1; comp. Gen. R. iv. 2: "The upper heavens are held in suspense by the creative Ma'amar"). Out of every speech ["dibbur"] which emanated from God an angel was created (Ḥag. 14a). "The Word ["dibbur"] called none but Moses" (Lev. R. i. 4, 5). "The Word ["dibbur"] went forth from the right hand of God and made a circuit around the camp of Israel" (Cant. R. i. 13).

3) Link Logos to Memra.

Logos is a Greek translation of the Aramaic word Memra [God's revealed will and wisdom] in the Targum [second century Aramaic translation of Hebrew Scriptures]. In his brilliant work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim lists hundreds of verses from the Targum Onkelos,in which Memra is used of God's presence itself!. In the same usage it also means The revelation of God. Now these are entstances in which the writers of the Targumim (translations into Aramaic for use in worship services) translate other words into the word "memra." But these writers were Rabbis and they did understand their tradition and the Hebrew language far better than most Christian scholars ever will. ST. John applies to the Logos What the Targum understands of Memra. (Edersheim, 660-62). Some groups, such as House of Yahweh, and Christadelphians, who deny the Trinity, try to argue that Logos merely means "plan." That Christ was merely merged with the divine plan. It's easy to see where they get the idea. From the meanings above where it means thought or reason. But this doesn't work because a plan is something formulated and set out, while logos means reason or thought more in the way that a thought is a message, or a spontaneous ongoing deliberation or reflection, logic itself. That's why I say that "Revelation" would not be a bad translation as in "message."

Returning to the notion of God's Wisdom, The Apocrypha is even more serious about the seeming divinity of Sophia (wisdom).

"wisdom will praise herself...I came forth from the mouth of the Most High...I dwelt in the high places and my throne was in a pillar of cloud {Shekiena?}...Alone I have made the circuit of the vault of heaven." Widson of Ben Syrac (186 BC), 24:1-6

Obviously we see a connection between Wisdom and God in a sense that implies an emendation theory. Logos linked to Presence of God: Memra. Edersheim tells us that:

"Logos has this meaning in Philo, and in Targumim as presence of God, logos occurs equally in rabbinic theology. Though there it is probably derived from a different source. Indeed we regard this as explaining the marked and striking avoidance of all anthropomorphism's in the Targumim. It also accounts for the designation of God by two classes of terms, of which in our view, the first expresses the idea of God as revealed, the other that of God revealing Himself; or, to put it otherwise, which indicate a state other than an act on the part of God. The first of these Classes of designations embraces the two terms: Yeqara, the excellent glory, and Shekhinah...the abiding Presence. On the other God, as in the act of revealing himself is described by the term Memra, the Logos, The Word, a distinction of ideas also obtains between the terms Yeqara, and Shekianah, the former indicates as we think the inward and upward, the latter outward and downward, aspect of the revealed God.

This distinction will appear by comparing the use of the two words in the Targum, and even by the consideration of passages in which the two are placed side by side (as for example in Targum Onkelos on Ex. 17:16, and Nu 4:14 in Pesudo-Johnathan Gen 16: 13,14 ....[several other examples] All three words are applied by John (12:40) to Christ. Thus also the allusion in 2 Peter 1:17 to "the voice from the excellent glory " must have been to the Yeqara. The varied use of the terms Yeqara and Shekinah and then Memra in the Targum of Is. 6 is very remarkable.

In v 1 it is the Yeqara and its train--the heavenward glory--which fills the heavenly temple. In ver. 3 we hear the Trishagion in connecton with the dwelling of His Shekinah while the splendor (Ziv) of His Yeqara fills the earth--as it were, flows down to it. In vr5 the prophet dreads, because he had seen the Yeqara of the Shekinah, while in ver. 5 the coal is taken from before the Shekinah (which is upon the thorne of the Yeqara (a remarkable expression, which occurs often; so especially in Ex 17; 16). Finally, in ver 8 the prophet hears the voice of the Memra of Jehovah speaking the words of vv 9,10. It is intensely interesting to notice that in ST. John 12: 40 these words are prophetically applied in connection with Christ. Thus John applies to the Logos what the Targum understands of Memra."(Ibid.)

But, theologically, by far the most interesting and important point, which reference not only the Logos of Philo, but to the term Logos as employed in the Fourth Gospel, is to ascertain the precise import of the equivalent expression Memra in the Targum. As stated in the text of this book (Vol. I p.47) the term Memra as applied to God occurs 176 times in the Targum Onkelos, 99 times in the Jerusalem Targum, 321 times in Targum Pseudo Johanthan. Role for Messiah in Creation Edershiem makes an even more interesting discovery about the Targum Onkeles: "instead of the rendering 'underneither as the everlasting arms' Onkelos has it and by his Memra was the world made exactly as in ST. John 1:10 (on Deut. 33:27). He states that this divergence from the Hebrew text is totally unaccounted for and no one has explained it. Perhaps John knew of that reading and had that very passage in mind when he wrote. In any case, even the notion of Logos was known to the Jews of Jesus' day and linked to God. Edersheim states: "That a superhuman character attached to, if not the personality of the Messiah than at least the mission of the Messiah appears from three passages in which the expression 'the Spirit of the Lord moved on the face of the deep' is thus paraphrased 'this is the Spirit of the King Messiah.'" (178)

Kohler links memra to Greek Logos and Philo:

Kohler must repair from the notion of Trinity in Hebrew thought so he has to overephamize the Greeks aspects through Philo, but he admits we don't know the percentages on influences:

The Logos. It is difficult to say how far the rabbinical concept of the Memra, which is used now as a parallel to the divine Wisdom and again as a parallel to the Shekinah, had come under the influence of the Greek term "Logos," which denotes both word and reason, and, perhaps owing to Egyptian mythological notions, assumed in the philosophical system of Heraclitos, of Plato, and of the Stoa the metaphysical meaning of world-constructive and world-permeating intelligence (see Reizenstein, "Zwei Religionsgeschichtliche Fragen," 1901, pp. 83-111; comp. Aall, "Der Logos," and the Logos literature given by Schürer, "Gesch." i. 3, 542-544). The Memra as a cosmic power furnished Philo the corner-stone upon which he built his peculiar semi-Jewish philosophy. Philo's "divine thought," "the image" and "first-born son" of God, "the archpriest," "intercessor," and "paraclete" of humanity, the "arch type of man" (see Philo), paved the way for the Christian conceptions of the Incarnation ("the Word become flesh") and the Trinity. The Word which "the unoriginated Father created in His own likeness as a manifestation of His own power" appears in the Gnostic system of Marcus (Irenæus, "Adversus Hæreses," i. 14). In the ancient Church liturgy, adopted from the Synagogue, it is especially interesting to notice how often the term "Logos," in the sense of "the Word by which God made the world, or made His Law or Himself known to man," was changed into "Christ" (see "Apostolic Constitutions," vii. 25-26, 34-38, et al.). Possibly on account of the Christian dogma, rabbinic theology, outside of the Targum literature, made little use of the term "Memra." See Logos.

Edersheim shows that Logos is not more greek because Philo used it, Philo is more Jewish because he used Memra.

II.Hebrew Emanations embedded in Trinity.

A. Hebrew view of God is emanation theory.

This concept is more often found in the Kabala, where it is more explicit, but it can be seen in the Torah and in Rabbinical writings too. In the Intertestamental period, Philo the Jewish philosopher uses the term Logos (as Edersheim documents, op. cit) to refer to the emanation of God's presence in the world. The notion of memra is used in that way as well. Emanation is like light from the sun, or form a light bulb, the light is emanating out in continuous manifestations. We cannot go into the origins of Kabalism here, but even though the actual Kabala was written in the middle ages, the ideas contained in it, and the basic style of mysticism, go back to intertestamental times. Many, both Jews and Gentiles are suspicious of it, because it is basically the Jewish occult. But one of the oldest if not the earliest Kbalaistic works, Yetsirah, shows us something of the use of this term Memra. Kabalism contains influences of Hellenization through Platonism mixed with Hebrew mysticism. The basic question here is, according to Edersheim, God's connection with his creation. That connection is an emanation. God is emanating through the Sephiroth, realms which make up the world.

"These 10 Sephiroth occur everywhere and the sacred number 10 is that of perfection. Each of these Sephiroth flows from its predecessor and in this manner the divine gradually evolves. This emanation of the 10 Sephiroth then constitutes the substance of the world; we may add it constitutes everything else. In God in the world everywhere we meet these 10 Sephiroth at the head of which is God manifest or the Memra "(Logos or Word). From the Book of Yetsirah Edersheim quotes Mishnah 5: "The Sephiroth Belimah--their appearance like the sheen of lighteing (reference here to Ez. 1:14) and their outgoing (goal) that they have no end, His Word is in them (The Logos Manifest in the Sephiroth), in running and in returning and at his word like storm wind they peruse and before his throne they bend in worship." [p.693]

Note: This is not to say that the Jews thought of these things as a "Trinity." If one says Memra, to a Jew, he/she does not say "ah, yes the second person of the Jewish Trinity." There is no Jewish Trinity. To a Rabbi this is just a word for God's presence. But the Messianic Rabbis do take a similar approach to my own in their understanding of Trinity. After all, This self revealing presence of God is what John was driving at in his use of the term "logos" just as a Word reveals, so is the Logos the revelation of God.

B. Hebrew Emanations at the root of Trinity.

Hebrew emanation theories influence upon the Trinitarian doctrine. The doctrine of the Trinity is too complex to cover in full here, but it can be sufficed to say that in seeking meaning within the Pagan world, early Christian theologians borrowed from Middle Platonism which committed them to a view of three persons in one essence. However, even this view borrows from emanations views already within Platonism, and earlier Jewish notions. "Middle Plantonism can be described as emmanationist, predominately Binartarian, and possibly subordinationist. Not much needs to be said about the middle platonist preference for emanation theory in its theology of origin, partly because such imagery remains just as much at home in the Christian binartarian and Trinitarian theology..."(article on "Trinity" Westminster's Dictionary of Christian Theology p582). According to this same article there may also be some influence from Philo's Middle Platonism directly upon Christian thinkers.

The first Christian theologian to coin the term "Trinity" was Tertullian, and the analogy he used was that the sun, it's rays dappled and visible as three separate shafts but all of the same substance and emanating form the same source Classified list of passages in which the term Memra occurs in the Targum Pseuo-Johanthan on the Pentateuch

C. Edersheim's List of uses of Memra.

Edersheim complied an amazing list of several hundred instances of the use of Memra in Targimum translations:

(From Edersheim, p 663--partial list) Gen. 2: 8, 3: 8, 10, 24, ; 4: 26; 5: 2; 7: 16, 9:12, 13, 15, 16,17; 11:8; 12:17; 15:1; 17: 2, 7,10, 11; 18: 5; 19: 24;20: 6, 18;21:20, 22, 23, 33, 22: 1; 24: 1,3; 26: 3, 24,28; 27: 28,31; 28: 10,15,20; 29: 12; 31: 3,50; 35: 3, 9; 39: 2,3, 21,23; 41: 1, 46:4; 48: 8,21; 49: 25, 1,20;

Exodus 1: 21; 2: 5, 3:12; 7: 25; Lev. 1:1; 6: 2; 8: 35...

Examples: Gen 2:8 "Now The Lord God had planted a Garden in the East and there he put the man he had formed." (presumably Lord God is Memra).

Gen. 7:16 "And the animals going in were 2 of every kind as the Lord God had comanded."

(The original list is 16 rows long) The Notions on Memra and especially on the Kabala are very complex. Edersheim goes into it in much more detail. We do not have the space to follow this in that sort of detail. But I urge anyone who understands Hebrew and is familiar with Hebrew writings to get Edersheim's Book and read this section and contemplate it deeply. In fact I urge them to read and contemplate the whole book deeply.

The Point of all of this:

1) John uses as the Greek for Memra.

Through looking at the way in which the Targumim translate certain words for God's presence as "memra," and the interchangeability of Memra and logos, we can understand the way that John used Logos in his Gospel; he used it in the way that the Targums use Memra. In other words, the logos is an emanation of God's presence.

2) Memra is the presence of God connected to emmination theories.

3)We can see the persona of the Trinity as emminations of Memra.

The emanation theories and the use of the term memra suggests an emanation theory of the Trinty. That is to say, we can translate the doctrine back into Hebrew terminology and connect it to the emanations of God. God manifests himself in stable eternal emanations which are roughly equivalent to the "persons" of the Trinty. We can see that clearly in the way the OT speaks of the Holy Spirit. Why speak of it? Why separate God form the Spirit of God so consistently? In passages like "I will pour out my Spirit" (Joel 2) there is clearly a distinction. We can also see as emanations notions such as the Shekinah glory which led Israel as a pillar of cloud by day and Pillar of fire by night and which rested upon the Ark of the covenant; the envelope of light surrounding God which shown as his glory. And in Memra, the downward revealing presence of God.

More Memra

The Religious A priori