Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Trinity in Second Isaiah

I normally try to avoid writing posts that sound too academic, I am not sure that I will be able to do that today but I will try my best. Not so long ago I wrote a review of Anthony Bartlett’s book Seven Stories – How to Study and Teach theNonviolent Bible. It was and is an incredible book that opened me up to so many new ideas. For today specifically though I want to share something from Second Isaiah which he brought to my attention. If referring to a second book of Isaiah looked like an error on my behalf, it was not, I know that there is only one book called Isaiah in the Bible but Isaiah is actually three separate books. First Isaiah is chapters 1-39, Second Isaiah chapters 40-55 and Third Isaiah 56-66. There are many reasons for believing this and it is well known in theological; circles but let’s not get side tracked and just play along with me here.
What I want to share today is that the tone of Second Isaiah is very different from First Isaiah, it reveals God as gentle and compassionate while the message is one of consolation to the people. But there is something else as well which is incredible and quite unique to this portion of scripture in that God often uses two first-person pronouns and one third-person pronoun when speaking. One would think that the One True God would speak using first person singular pronouns but He does not. Instead of saying “I”, He says, “I, Myself, He” or  “Me, Myself, He”. We don’t pick it up in our Bibles because our translations have changed the literal Hebrew words to more comprehensible and readable phrases. So “I, Myself” becomes “I AM” and “I, Myself, Myself” becomes “I, I am he” (see Exodus 3:13-14 for example). Before getting to my main point let me share some examples.

Who has performed and done it, Calling the generations from the beginning?
‘I, the Lord, am the first; And with the last I am He.’”– Isaiah 41:4

You may notice in your Bible that the word ‘am’ here is in italics because it has been added, a literal translation of the verse here would read , “The last, I, He, who has worked and done it, calling the generations from the beginning, I, the Lord, the first.”

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.- Isaiah 43:25

In Hebrew here the phrase should read, “He, Myself, Myself” and the wording is ‘anoki, anoki’.

“Listen to Me, O Jacob, And Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. – Isaiah 48:12

The Hebrew here is literally, “I, He, I, the First, I and the Last”.

“Listen to Me, O Jacob, And Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. – Isaiah 51:12

This is literally “Myself, Myself, He who comforts you” (anoki, anoki, hu).

The only other place in the Bible where this language is repeated is in Deuteronomy 32:39 (I, myself am He which literally says “I, I, He” (ani, ani, hu))

These verse might look strange but what makes them worth mentioning? As Anthony Bartlett notes in his book, “The tripled pronouns become the name God gives himself. They signify a deeply personal address. The same style of address is repeated several times”. What I personally find interesting in these phrases though is how they link to the teaching of the Trinity. Bartlett notes these texts and highlights how the repeated pronouns emphasize the statements made. In this particular context, it is that God’s compassion is intensely personal. He states on page 136, “It is like the very heart of God is a relationship, his very identity”. I could not agree more with his statement but I would like to take it one step further. I believe that the very heart of God is relational because He Himself exists as the community of the Father, Son and Spirit. Before anything was spoken into being, God was love and God was relational because the reality of it was already being lived out within the Godhead. As my friend Mako Nagasawa has pointed out, Allah cannot claim love or relationship to be at the heart of his being because before creation, there would not have being anything to love. This is not so with the God of Christianity in whom love and relationship have always existed. I find the language of Second Isaiah interesting not only because I believe that the tripled pronouns point us to a triune God (I don’t think the repetition is necessarily only for emphasis) but also because a triune God and a gospel centered on union with Him in Christ invites us into that community grounded in love, relationship and more.  

The focus of many of my future posts will be on union (as opposed to substitutionary atonement) and on how an understanding of the Trinity enlightens all areas of theology. I hope that you will find them as meaningful as I am finding them as they have begun to shape my own thinking.

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