In high school I bought a case of cassettes of Rabbi Tovia Singer, who leads Outreach Judaism, a Jewish “counter-missionary” organization. On the cassettes, Singer gives lectures arguing that Jesus cannot be the Messiah, criticizing the New Testament, and responding to Christian interpretations of Old Testament “messianic” texts such as Psalm 110, Isaiah 9, Isaiah 53, Daniel 9, etc. I learned a lot from listening to the lectures and thinking about how to respond. Singer is a very articulate advocate of the Orthodox Jewish viewpoint.
Sometimes when I am listening to a pastor or theologian being interviewed, I like to pause the interview after each question and think through how I’d answer each question. Its a humbling exercise which reminds me of how challenging doing effective Q and A is. But it also helps me grow in my ability to think on my feet. This debate between Singer and William Lane Craig is fascinating. I like it more than the similar Larry King debate because there is less interrupting in this one, although its great to watch David Brickner and Al Mohler in that one. As I listened to this one, I thought of how I would respond to the Rabbi’s points. I thought William Lane Craig did fine on his own, but after thinking about this all day yesterday, here is the response I would give to one of Singer’s major points, made several times throughout this interview.
“Why don’t we have any clear text anywhere in the Hebrew Bible that gives us the Nicene Creed, the very clear statement of a Triune doctrine? Its found nowhere in the Hebrew Bible. Our salvation depends on worshiping God in truth.” [from 2:45-3:00] And later: [Craig’s position] means that for 2,000 years, the Jews (you concede) knew nothing about a Trinity, God warned the Jews throughout all these centuries, “worship me in truth,” you admit that they would have no knowledge of what that truth is … how was Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David saved, without the Trinity?” [from 4:00-4:40]
First of all, the Nicene Creed was formulated in response to the witness of Christ and the New Testament. To expect that degree of clarity in Trinitarian understanding in the Hebrew Bible flattens the progressive, incremental nature of biblical revelation, which all Jews and Christians must acknowledge. That is like expecting Abraham to have a full knowledge of the Torah (law). God does not dump the knowledge of Himself wholesale onto humanity at one point in history, but reveals his nature and work incrementally throughout the course of history. One might as well ask, “how was Abraham saved, when he didn’t have the Torah?” Or: “how was Moses saved, when he didn’t know about the Davidic covenant?” Or: “how was David saved, when he didn’t know what the post-exilic prophets knew?” As Craig points out, people are saved as they respond to what is revealed to them at that time in history.
Furthermore, the Trinity is not a contradiction of prior revelation about God’s nature, as Singer portrays it, but a clarification and expansion and elucidation of what came before. The Trinitarian can happily affirm the unity of God, as taught in passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4. The word echad (one) does not entail strict unity – it is used, for example, to describe how a man and woman become “one flesh” in marriage (Genesis 2:23). The tri-personal nature of the Christian God does not contradict his unity any more than a married couple cannot be “one flesh” while remaining two distinct people.
Moreover, within the Old Testament (and here I differ in my approach from Craig), the seeds of Trinitarianism are already evident. Its not clear enough that you could derive the Trinity from the Hebrew Bible, but its clear enough that once you have the Trinity, the Hebrew Bible makes much more sense. For example, in Psalm 110 David appeals to “(his) lord” (adonai) who receives communication and authority from “the Lord” (YHWH). In Isaiah 9:6, the Davidic King is said to be El Gibbur (“Mighty God”). In Zechariah 12:10, the Lord says, “you will look upon me (the Lord), the one you have pierced.” In Micah 7:9 the prophet says he will bear the Lord’s indignation until “He (the Lord) pleads my case for me.” (To whom would the Lord plead, in Jewish monotheism?) In Psalm 45:6-7 God is said to have an eternal throne, and then is said to be annointed by … God. (How does God annoint God?) And on we could go – all of this is leaving aside the plural pronouns in Genesis 1 and 11, the enigmatic figure of “the angel of the Lord” throughout the Old Testament (who is frequently worshiped), Abram’s 3 visitors in Genesis 18 (addressed as “Lord”), and other passages which make the Old Testament very difficult to understand apart from the revelation of God’s triune nature.