Trinity or Three Angels Appeared to Avraham

Posted by on Apr 2, 2023

The word “trinity” cannot be found anywhere in the Hebrew Scripture, yet the very first book in the Torah seems to suggest that YHVH appeared to Avraham in the form of three angels. Nevertheless, this apparent suggestion falls short on why there is no mention of the trinity in the Scripture. 

But it was not until the beginning of the third century that a Greek thinker named Tertullian (Carthaginian theologian (160-230) whose writing influenced early Christian theology) coined the word “trinity”, which later was adopted by the Church. This should not come as a surprise to anyone, since the Greek mind was very centered on polytheism.

The trinity triangle. "In the unity of that one Only God of the Babylonians, there were three persons, and to symbolise that doctrine of the Trinity, they employed, as the discoveries of Layard ("Babylon and Nineveh") prove, the equilateral triangle, just as it is well known the Romish Church does at this day." Rev. Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, Section I, Trinity in Unity.

The trinity triangle. “In the unity of that one Only God of the Babylonians, there were three persons, and to symbolise that doctrine of the Trinity, they employed, as the discoveries of Layard (“Babylon and Nineveh”) prove, the equilateral triangle, just as it is well known the Romish Church does at this day.” Rev. Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, Section I, Trinity in Unity.

In AD 325, the Nicene Council was summoned to condemn the heresy of Arianism which denied the “divinity” of the Messiah. At the Council of Nice, “the Melchite section” (Orthodox Christian or Uniate Christian church belonging to the patriarchate of Alexandria) held that there were three persons in the Trinity: The Father, the Virgin Mary, and Messiah their Son (as quoted by Rev. Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, first published in 1853 and greatly expanded in 1858). Later, the Roman Catholic Church changed this trinitarian formula to “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit” for obvious reasons, since the former one looked too pagan. Nevertheless, the Protestant Church protested, left the Catholicism, but adopted the same trinitarian concept from the mother-church.

We will refute this trinity doctrine of the Church in the context of the story of the appearing of the three angels to Avraham, as we will not ask the reader to substitute our judgment for his/her own but to consider what we intend to say hereafter.

The “prooftext” in Genesis

The narrative in Genesis 18 begins with the encounter of Avraham with three men while he was sitting in front of his tent in the heat of the day. Avraham looked up and saw three men standing at some distance from him. And when he saw them, he ran towards them and reverently prostrated himself. Then the narrative goes on to say that those three men were in fact angels (messengers of the Lord).

But this encounter of Avraham with the three angels is interpreted in a certain way to mean that this was a revelation of the “Holy Trinity” to the patriarch, because the very first verse of Chapter 18 begins with: “And YHVH appeared to him”… and then on the same line of thought it goes on read: “and three men stood before him (Avraham)”.

With the concept of the “Holy Trinity” already well developed and employed by the Church, this encounter and subsequently the next two chapters have been used and interpreted in the Christian theology to prove the validity of this doctrine.

But that compels us even more to consider the question: if that is the intention of the phrase, why is that not made explicit here? And how are these two verses to be reconciled? This is a rule of a correct interpretation. If two verses seem to be mutually contradictory, let them remain in their place until a third verse comes to decide between them, for it is written that every matter shall be established by two or three witnesses. And the third verse is waiting for us to recover. In fact, we have indeed a verse which testifies to the truth.

The context tells all

It is always important to remember that the division of the Scriptural text into chapter numbers and verses did not exist until the thirteenth century. The TORM reader knows that the Hebrew Scripture, the Tanak, is a free-flowing text written on scrolls without divisions, contrary to how it appears today. With that kept in mind, we now read the narrative in its proper textual context.

We have the reason to believe that Genesis 18 is a continuation of Genesis 17, which concludes with the circumcision of the patriarch and all males, born in his household or hired servants, because the Torah writes, “And Yehovah appeared to him, etc.”, without identifying to whom the Lord appeared.

And Avraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. Avraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised that same day. And all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with silver from a foreigner, were circumcised with him. And Yehovah appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, while he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. (Gen 17:24-27-Gen 18:1)

In the context as seen above, it is clearly understood that YHVH revealed Himself to Avraham after the Covenant of circumcision He made with him. In Bava Metzia 86b, it is recorded that this was the third day from Avraham’s circumcision, and the Lord came and inquired about his welfare. Despite the intense heat and pain from the circumcision, Avraham invited the three guests.

The Gemara goes on to say, “Avraham himself went out and saw the Holy One, Blessed be He, standing at the entrance to his tent. This is as it is written: ‘My Lord, if now I have found favor in your eyes, do not leave Your servant’ (Gen 18:3), i.e., God’s presence was there, and Avraham asked Him for permission to attend to the travelers”.

How should this statement be understood? If the Lord Himself appeared to Avraham and then it is written in the Torah, “and three men stood against him”, is this not an allusion to the Christian doctrine of trinity hidden in the appearance of three angels and admitted in the rabbinic sources?

And Yehovah appeared to him … and he saw three men stood against him. And when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the ground, (Gen 18:1-2)

This seems self-contradictory, for it is illogical and counter intuitive to say that the Torah establishes the contradiction of the Creator being men.

Grammar note: The phrase “stood over against him” (JPS) or “stood by him” (KJV) conveys the idea that the three men came close to Avraham who was sitting at the tent door. The word in question עליו literally means “on him”, hence, it is understood to mean “by him”. But this contrasts and contradicts what follows, for it is said that Avraham ran from the tent door to meet them. The rabbis noticed this oddity and suggested that עליו means “on his account,” i.e., for his (Avraham’s) sake. In other words, the three angels came “because of” Avraham.

Yet, commenting on the first verses of Chapter 18, one can argue that indeed the Lord appeared to Avraham for his sake in three men, and the Church did have the “proof” of its doctrine of trinity. Can we rethink this?

“My Lord” or “my lord”?

And when the three angels appeared to Avraham, he said,

My lord, if now I have found favor in your eyes, please, do not pass away from your servant. (Gen 18:3)

According to the plain meaning of the text, Avraham included all three men in his invitation saying to the senior one among them using singular, not plural: “if I have found favor in your eyes”. The assumption then is that the word אדני refers to a man, and this case it should have been vocalized as adoni, “My lord”, or “Sir”.
However, the Hebrew word in question אדני is vocalized as adonai. And wherever adonai is found in the Hebrew text, it always means “my Lord” addressing YHVH Elohim. In this case, the word Adonai refers to YHVH not to the travelers. Thus, Avraham asked YHVH to wait for him while he attended and entertained the guests (see Heb 13:1-2), even though this is written after the words “and he ran to meet them”. This interpretation suggests that Avraham was in some kind of conversation or meditation with YHVH when the three men arrived.

An alternative explanation is that Avraham addressed them as “my lords”, while speaking to the one who looks to him like the chief of them, saying, “Please do not pass your servant by”. In this explanation, the word אדני does not refer to Elohim, but it merely addresses the strangers as “Sirs”. Both these explanations of אדני are to be found in Genesis Rabbah 48:10 (see also Shevuot 35b).

Since, Avraham offered lechem, leavened bread, this encounter with the three angels must have taken place on the thirteenth day of the first month of the year, on the eve of the festival, when leavened bread was still served. This festival would later be known as the Festival of the Unleavened Bread. But when the angels arrived in Sodom in the evening (Gen 19:1-2), Lot offered them matshah, unleavened bread (see Gen 19:3), and the sin-cities Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed on the next morning (Gen 19:15).

The trinity of the three angels

But how did the Lord appear to Avraham? And who were the three angels who appeared to Avraham and why did they come “because of him” in the first place? According to Talmud, Bava Metzia 86b, the trinity of angels were Micha’el, Gavri’el, and Rapha’el. They were thus identified on account of the meanings of their names, which in return reveals their missions. The meanings of their names are as follows:

    1. Micha’el (“Who is like El[ohim]”) came to bring the good news to Sarah that she would give birth to a son, the promised son, Yitschak (Gen 17:21).
    2. Rapha’el (“Healing of El[ohim]”, who came to heal Avraham from the pain of the circumcision (Gen 17:23-27).
    3. Gavri’el (“Might of El[ohim]”), who came to destroy Sodom and the other wicked cities.

Three angels came to Avraham, but two left and arrived at Lot in Sodom. Also, according to the tradition, the two angels who came to Sodom at evening were Micha’el and Gavri’el: Micha’el to rescue Lot and Gavri’el to destroy, and the one who remained with Avraham and through whom YHVH spoke to His friend was Rapha’el.

So, the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Yehovah still stood before Avraham. (Gen 18:22)

A messenger is named after the one who has sent him. In Exo 23:21, speaking of His messenger, YHVH warned Israel to heed of him and listen to his voice for His Name was in him. The meaning of these words is that whatever this angel would say, he would say it only in His Name, i.e., his voice was the voice of YHVH. The rabbis explain why Exo 23:21 speaks about listening to his voice [of this angel] rather than listening to the words he had to say, namely, because he did not have anything of his own to say but the words YHVH had put in his mouth. Thus, the Torah wants to make clear that it was YHVH Himself who was speaking, while the angel was only the echo of His voice.

When the time for the Messiah came to appear before Israel, he was named Yehoshua after the One who sent Him (Yehovah). But to Avraham YHVH spoke through Rapha’el.

Angels as elohim

It may be a surprise for many to learn that in Hebrew there is no equivalent word to the Gentile concept of “God”. In the Gentile mind, the term “God” is used exclusively for a supernatural deity conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, in the monotheistic religions, or in polytheistic religions: any supernatural being worshipped as “god” in some part of the world or some aspect of life or who is a personification of some kind of force. In Hebrew, this word is elohim.

The Hebrew word אֱלֹהִיםelohim, plural of אֱלוֹהַּeloah, is commonly translated as either “God” specifically used with the article of the supreme Creatoror “gods” in the ordinary sense used for the pagan deities. Grammatically, the suffix ים im, in Elohim, identifies Eloah (singular form) as a masculine plural: “powers”. But it is important to note here that in Hebrew, plurals can be quantitative, i.e., more than one, or qualitative: large or great. The verb will identify whether elohim is quantitative or qualitative. If the verb is singular, then Elohim refers to the Creator, known as “royal plural”, which term is used to embody all the strengths, powers, and authorities of the King of the universe. Hence, El[ohim] means one of a strong power and authority. In Times of Reckoning Ministry (TORM), if we see the need to translate the word Elohim, we do so by using the terms “The Supernal” or “The Absolute”, not “God”.

But, if the verb associated with elohim is plural, then elohim is used inclusively to denote angels (Psa 8:5), pagan deities (1Ki 11:5, 1Ki 11:33), and even humans, i.e., judges (as seen in Exo 21:6, Exo 22:8-9, 1Sa 2:25).

The three angels as agents of the Lord

Rashbam on Genesis 18:1 says,

In what manner did G’d appear to Avraham here? Three men, who turned out to be angels came to him. There are numerous examples in Scripture where the angels or a single angel are described as “elohim”, i.e., seeing they are Elohim’s agents they are described as ה’ (HaShem, a rabbinic substitute for the Name of the Lord) even though what is meant is an agent, an angel.

Then, Rashbam goes on to give two such examples from Exo 23:21, “Be on guard before Him and obey His voice. Do not rebel against Him, for He is not going to pardon your transgression, for My Name is in Him” and Exo 3:2, “And the Messenger of Yehovah appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush”. Ibn Ezra on Genesis 18:1 further refutes the Christian claim on Genesis in the following,

Behold, a few say (perhaps referring to the Christians) that God is three men: He is one and He is three and they are inseparable. They forget that Scripture expressly states, “And the two angels came to Sodom at even” (Gen. 19:1). However, the commentaries tell us that God first appeared to Avraham in a vision after which Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw three angels. One came to bring happy tidings to Sarah (that she would have a son) and the other two went on to Sodom, one to destroy it and one to save Lot.

So, three angels came to Avraham; one of them, Rapha’el, remained with him. It was angel Rapha’el with whom Avraham negotiated the deliverance of his nephew Lot and his family, and the two who arrived at Sodom and Gomorrah to destroy them were Micha’el and Gavri’el. We read,

And the two messengers came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. (Gen 19:1)

What Rashbam and Ibn Ezra are merely saying is that the Lord first appeared to Avraham in a vision, when he was praying or meditating, after which the Lord sent three angels to Avraham to act as His agents. Let us explain.

Those who dare to argue that these three angels represented the “trinity” did not trouble themselves to read the end of the passage in which the angels appeared to Avraham as humans. Because had they read the verse that says, “And the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Avraham stood before YHVH” (Gen 18:22), they would have come to the most natural realization and conclusion that what they call “trinity” had separated, as two of the three angels departed, while one remained with Avraham. Thus, the claim that YHVH Elohim being “trinity” had been somehow identical with these three angels is completely overthrown and therefore exposed as false.

And indeed, reading these verses (Gen 18:22 and Gen 19:1) side by side leave no doubt that the three angels were separable and thus cannot possibly refer to “trinity”, much less to the Creator. Mosheh our teacher bade us to keep in our hearts and minds that YHVH our Elohim (see Deu 6:4) is one, the only one, and inseparable. The supernal essence of the Creator is exempt from divisibility, as it is falsely implied in the “trinity”, and the Oneness of the Creator only stands to exclude plurality.

The Name Yehovah describes His everlasting existence and Elohim describes the power of creating without any multiplicity, as it is written that the Lord of lords does everything by His will to the exclusion of any other cause,

Give thanks unto the Lord of lords, for His mercy endures forever. To Him who alone Who does great wonders, for His mercy endures forever. (Psa 136:3-4)

Thus, we have reached the conclusion that flies against the doctrine of trinity. The Creator is a perfect unity, Echad, without any composition, spatial properties, and bodily form at all. Hence, His unity is absolutely one without the possibility of human comprehension of His essence, but only to believe in a complete faith that Yehovah is absolutely One and Unique. Everything else is merely paganism, and we will have no more to say upon this point presently.

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May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!


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