Does God Talk To Himself?

November 15, 2021 - Kislev 12, 5782

Talk Amongst Yourselves

Genesis 18:17 says the following:

And the Lord said, "Shall I conceal from Abraham what I am doing?

Not long ago I had a written debate with a Christian involved in the Messianic Jewish movement about demonstrating that the Trinity is found in the Tanakh. We spoke at length about select verses in the Torah, such as Genesis 18 and 19, which he held can be used as prooftexts for the Trinity.

Once such example he provided was Genesis 19:24, which reads, "And the Lord caused to rain down upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire, from the Lord, from heaven." Many Christians interpret these two instances of the word "Lord" to refer to two Persons in the Trinity, the first instance being "the Father" and the second "the Son."

Stay tuned for the end for an explanation for the reason this verse was written in this manner.

Christians try incredibly hard to demonstrate the Trinity in the Tanakh, using arguments that rely on stretches of the imagination, and mining independent verses from disparate locations. However, it is the case that what is simpler is often what is more plainly true. If the Trinity is found in the Tanakh, why do we never see any explicit exchanges between the Persons of that Trinity? Why do we never see a discussion in the Tanakh in which the Father says something to the Son or Spirit, and the Son or Spirit explicitly respond to the Father? There is no shortage of dialogues in the Tanakh, and if the Persons of the Trinity are legitimate characters in the Biblical narrative we should expect the Tanakh to include at least some dialogues between them.

This brings me to the verse with which I began this post, Genesis 18:17-21. In those verses we see God speaking and declaring the intent to destroy Sodom, but who is He speaking with? We know that He isn't speaking to Abraham, because He says, "Shall I conceal from Abraham what I am doing?" The text simply says, "And the Lord said..." without indicating who He spoke to. God's undefined audience in Genesis 18:17 sharply contrasts Genesis 1:26 in which the Torah indicates some sort of consortium, "And God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...'" Christians understand the Torah's use of the words "us" and "our" to indicate a discussion occurring among the Persons of the Trinity.

If that is so, why doesn't the Torah say, "Shall We conceal from Abraham what We are doing? Why is the Trinity active in some places and passive and complacent in others? What both verses have in common is a declaration of intent to perform an action. Where they differ is their tense (first person singular vs. first person plural). To conclude, it seems that God is speaking to somebody else in Genesis 1:26, but simply speaking to Himself in the first person singular in Genesis 18:17. If we can't provide a good theological answer for the Trinity's fluctuation between active involvement and inactivity, we should consider the notion that God never intended for the readers of the Bible to believe in it in the first place.

The One God Speaks in the Third Person

Further, these verses repeat the phrase "And the Lord said" several times. If these verses sought to describe a discussion between the Persons of the Trinity they should have said, "The Lord said" and "the Lord responded," as occurs when two or more parties are discussing a subject. While the repeated use of "And the Lord said" may sound awkward to the modern ear, in nevertheless indicates that He is simply speaking to Himself as a unified entity and not as multiple forms of consciousness.

There are other examples of God speaking to Himself in the Tanakh in the first person singular, such as Genesis 6:3 regarding the Flood, "And the Lord said, 'Let My spirit not quarrel forever concerning man..." If God wanted to indicate speech directed at somebody else He would have simply worded it as He does in countless places in the Tanakh, such as Genesis 18:13, "And the Lord said to Abraham...'"

Related to the idea that the Torah's use of the word "God" or "Lord" repeatedly in succession indicates the Trinity doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Take Exodus 2:23-25, for example:

Now it came to pass in those many days that the king of Egypt died, and the children of Israel sighed from the labor, and they cried out, and their cry ascended to God from the labor. God heard their cry, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God saw the children of Israel, and God knew.

The word "God" is used five times in the verses above! Does this indicate that there are five Persons in the Godhead?!

Compare Exodus 2:23-25 above with Genesis 19:24 below:

"And the Lord caused to rain down upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire, from the Lord, from heaven."

Are we going to say that as long as we don't exceed three we may interpret it as the Trinity, but which we must reject as long as the number exceeds our desired value?

Rashi's Response

Rashi addresses this issue in his commentary on Genesis 19:24. According to him, the Torah often refers to people in the third person, even in statements when a person speaks about himself.

For example, in Genesis 4:23-24 Lemech refers to himself as "Lemech" and not as "me."

Now Lemech said to his wives, "Adah and Zillah, hearken to my voice; wives of Lemech, incline your ears to my words, for I have slain a man by wounding (him) and a child by bruising (him). If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, then for Lemech it shall be seventy seven fold."

Rashi as well refers to Melachim I (Kings) 1:33:

And the king said to them, "Take with you the servants of your lord, and you shall cause Solomon my son to ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon."

The words "your lord" are a reference to King David, indicating that King David was speaking about himself.

This occurs as well in Esther 8:7-8:

Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew... And you-write about the Jews as you see fit, in the name of the king, and seal [it] with the king's ring, for a writ that is written in the name of the king and sealed with the king's ring cannot be rescinded."

Achashverosh refers to himself as "the king" four times.

Conclusion

Perhaps the quintessential example of this is Genesis 1:1 and 3 in which God says, "In the beginning of God's creation of the heavens and the earth... And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light."

Note that it does not say, "In the beginning of My creation of the heavens and the earth... and I said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light." In the entire first chapter of Genesis God refers to Himself in the third person for a total of 32 times, not even once referring to Himself as "I" or "Me."  This continues into Chapter 2 with 14 references in the third person.

It seems safe to conclude that Genesis 19:24 and verses like it are simply third person references to God.

No comments: