Posted By MSH on April 27, 2011
Many of you know I have a longstanding interest in what scholars call Jewish binitarian monotheism. My site on the two powers in heaven is an introduction to that topic. With that backdrop, I am at times asked about Jewish trinitarian thinking prior to Christianity.† There was such a mindset within Judaism before the Christian era. I recently got my hands on a copy of a class work in New Testament study by one of my favorite New Testament scholars, J. C. O’Neill. I love his work because he thinks outside the box in a number of articles, going beyond the normative academic parroting. He was no evangelical (a good thing in many respects) but he had no problem with pointing out logical and methodological inconsistencies in the way scholars think and present their views. (No surprise I like him, I guess). In his scholarly book, Who Did Jesus Think He Was? (Brill, 1995) he has a fascinating chapter entitled, “The Trinity and the Incarnation as Jewish Doctrines.”
Keep in mind as you read that, while the Jewish thinking might seem strange and convoluted to us, and might not reflect exegetical methods we’d use, that isn’t the issue. The issue is this: Jews before Jesus were thinking in trinitarian terms — that the one God of Israel was also three — and that God would become human and die for sin as messiah. So much for the notion that such doctrines depend on post-first century scribal fiddling. Any scholar familiar with binitarian Jewish monotheism (even apart from O’Neill’s essay) isn’t going to be saying such things (I know this puts Bart Ehrman in the cross-hairs, but he is not the only one guilty of this thinking or this oversight).
O’Neill’s chapter and others are accessible through the title’s page Google Books; that’s how I made the PDF.