what did peter know about the trinity?

I’ve started reading a book about Simon Peter written by Ted Donnelly – Peter: Eyewitness of his Majesty (Banner of Truth 1998), and it’s just reminded me of something which I was going to write a long time ago – about the nature of the faith that believers had in the Old Testament (already mentioned here).

A couple of paragraphs in Chapter 3 of this book are devoted to demonstrating how thoroughly and dogmatically the Jews were monotheistic. Then comes this paragraph:

“Peter shares this faith of his fathers. But he and his friends have come to believe also that Jesus of Nazareth is related to the living God in a unique and intimate way. We cannot be sure how much he understood when he called Jesus ‘the Son of God.’ What did he know of the Trinity? Had he been taught about the eternal Son, creator of the universe?”

What did Peter know about the Trinity? Quite a lot, actually, simply from being familiar with the Old Testament scriptures. He would of course have known about the First Person of the Godhead (this presumably doesn’t need to be elaborated on). But he would also have known about a divine person called the Spirit of the Lord, who inspired the prophets (2 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 3) and enabled them to work miracles (Judges 13-15) and whose presence was necessary for spiritual life (Psalm 51); and thirdly he would have known about another divine person, the Son of God (Psalm 2). By reading the scriptures, any Jew of his era should have known that there is one God, and that he is one (Deuteronomy 6), and yet that there are three persons in the Godhead. This truth was clearly available in the Old Testament for the OT believers to lay hold of (for further examples, take Isaiah 11 where there is the rod of Jesse, the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord; in Isaiah 59 there is the Redeemer, the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord; and in Isaiah 61 there is the anointed one, the Spirit of the Lord God, and the Lord).

By calling Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter was identifying the man he was speaking to with the promised Messiah – and there was nothing vague about the characteristics that would identify the Messiah when he came. From the very start of the Old Testament Scriptures, the Saviour who was promised is not only really human (the seed of the woman) but also more than human (with power to bruise the head of the serpent).

  • the seed of Abraham in whom all the nations of the world would be blessed
  • a kingly priest after the order of Melchizedek
  • the New Testament Joseph going ahead of his brethren and out of his overflowing storehouses sustaining them in life (I’m reading in Genesis just now)
  • a prophet who was like Moses but greater than Moses
  • a priest greater than Aaron
  • a leader and commander to the people, greater than Joshua
  • David’s son and David’s Lord
  • a greater than Solomon, wiser and richer
  • the fulfilment of all the sacrifices of the tabernacle and the temple
  • the suffering servant
  • the victorious conqueror
  • the child who would be born and the Son who would be given, the Mighty God (Isaiah 6)
  • the man who is God’s fellow (Zech 13)

Of course, many of the clearest revelations of the three distinct persons in the Godhead come from the prophecies which were written later in history, ie as the details of the salvation God was providing were enlarged on and added to. If the question had been about someone who’d lived earlier in history than Peter, ie before the Old Testament scriptures were complete, they wouldn’t have had the same amount of knowledge as this. Someone who had lived and died without witnessing the unprecedented splendour of Solomon’s times, for example, wouldn’t have been able to point to all that grandeur and say, The Messiah is greater than all this.

But would they have known the Trinity? Yes, they would still have known the essentials – the bare facts which at the end of the day are both as much and as little as believers know in the New Testament – there is one God, and there are three Persons in the Godhead, and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. And would they have known the Eternal Son? Yes, that believer would still have known that the Messiah was going to be of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, and was going to be equipped by God with the power to bruise the head of the serpent: and their faith in that promise would have saved them, just as surely as a person today is saved by faith in the same promises now fulfilled.

Now I’m going to put this behind me and see how the rest of the book pans out – hopefully this will be my only quibble with it.

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2 thoughts on “what did peter know about the trinity?

  1. Wonderful! I like drawing attention to John 5 where even the unbelieving Jews say “He’s calling God his Father, making himself equal with God.”

    Even the nasty Christ-killers know that Father and Son are equal within the divine unity.

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  2. Yes absolutely. The only problem the Jews had at the time of Christ was identifying him as the Messiah, ie not that they disputed that there was more than one divine person, but that they didn’t want to recognise the man Jesus of Nazareth as anything other than a mere man.

    Interesting too how prominent the Holy Spirit is around the time when Christ was to be born. He is named both to Elizabeth and Mary as a person who they needed no introduction to.

    The entire system of the ceremonial law is another immensely rich seam of knowledge which was available to the OT Church specifically for the purpose of displaying perhaps mainly Christ’s work but also his person.

    A Scottish theologian called Robert Gordon wrote 5 volumes titled ‘Christ in the Old Testament’. (Which I haven’t read, but which have been recommended.) George Smeaton on The Holy Spirit has an extremely valuable essay on the biblical testimony to the person and work of the Holy Spirit which takes in the OT evidence in a most detailed, thorough, and enlightening way. Then of course there’s Patrick Fairbairn on typology (not that I’ve read that either unfortunately, but it’s a bit of a classic in its own way)

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