“The world may never know.” That’s how the classic Tootsie Roll Pop commercial ended. It was a heart-breaking answer. A boy obviously caught up in the existential dread that is unknowing, runs to a turtle and asks him, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?” The turtle, beaten down by years and failures, confesses his failure. He may start out licking, but in the end the temptation is too great. He bites down. He suggests the boy asks the owl. The boy, hopeful that his unknowing will be turned into knowing, runs to the wise owl and asks him. The owl takes the Tootsie Roll Pop and says, “Let’s see.” And with that he begins to lick, “One, two, three. . . .” But on the third lick, he bites down. Hence, the reason we may never know. No one has the patience required. That is not completely true, several times since this commercial ran (it started in the 60’s), various schools have tried to provide an answer. Using a licking machine, Purdue University determined that it would take 364 licks. The University of Michigan used real tongues and said that the feat required a minimum of 411 licks. Bellarmine University concluded that approximately 175 licks are needed to reach the center of a randomly selected Tootsie Roll Pop by a typical college student. It seems that, in the race to find the minimum, only uncertainty reigns for sure.
We are looking at Genesis 1:26 (where God says, “Let us make humanity in our image. . . .”) by using Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler’s book, The Bible With and Without Jesus, as a sounding board. Here’s the big question: Is there evidence for the Trinity in Genesis 1:26? In the last blog, we outlined the seven options and said that Levine and Brettler believe that God is speaking to the heavenly court (a divine council of lesser gods that is presided over by the God of Israel). Christians, traditionally, have seen the “us” as a sign of the Trinity. Who is right and how do we know?
Now, this whole conversation wouldn’t be nearly as complicated if the New Testament clearly came out and said, “Behold, the Trinity. It’s in Genesis 1!” But unfortunately, there is no such statement. As a result, many believe that the issue is simply a “he said; she said” or “Jews say; we say” debate. But that is not quite true. There are hints that suggest that God is speaking within the Godhead here. But are the hints convincing? And that raises all sorts of questions. If all we have are ‘hints,’ how many hints do we need to convince us that our reading is correct? In other words, what is the minimum amount of evidence that will move us from confused to convinced? Do we need proof beyond a reasonable doubt? Do we need mathematical certainty? Do we need to eliminate all the other possible answers? What is necessary before we are willing to say, this is the answer? Now, to help us sort that out, let’s look at four hints that suggest that God is talking within the Trinity in Genesis 1:26.
Hint number 1: The New Testament clearly speaks of the Trinity. In speaking about Jesus, John 1:1-2 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” And in speaking about the Spirit, Jesus says (Jn 14:25-26), “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Given the truth of the Trinity, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to believe that the whole Godhead was active in the creation account. This belief that God is comprised of three distinct persons (one God, three persons) has led Christian translators of Genesis to translate the Hebrew word “ru’ach” in Genesis 1:2 as Spirit (“and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”), even though it could also be translated with equal conviction as “wind” or “breath” (The Orthodox Jewish Bible translates it “And the Ruach Elohim was hovering upon the face of the waters” or “A great wind was blowing over the waters.”). And in Genesis 1:26, we see the “Let us” as a definite indicator of the presence of the Trinity. Bottom line: If someone already believes in the Trinity, the hints in Genesis 1 may be more than enough to convince them that the “us” is God speaking within the Godhead. After all, if God is three-in-one, and then, God says, “Let us,” doesn’t it have to be the Trinity?
Hint number 2: The New Testament speaks (a lot) about the “mystery.” We see this in 1 Corinthians 2:6-9: “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’ — the things God has prepared for those who love him. . . .” We see this again in Ephesians 3:8-9: “Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.” Paul’s point here is rather important for our discussion. There is a mystery here. The Old Testament is not cut-and-dried with everything out in the open. There are things in the Old Testament that are only properly understood by the revelation of the New Testament. The Trinity is one of these mysteries, hidden in the Old Testament, but made clear in the New. If this is the case, it means that there will be questions and puzzles and perplexing items in the Old Testament that will frustrate us until we read those items in light of the New Testament. To put it more positively: the New Testament gives us permission to see things in the Old that the original audience would have missed.
Hint number 3: Throughout the New Testament, we read several passages that tell us Jesus was active in creation. For instance, Colossians 1:15-16 we find this strong statement: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Since this is true, it should not be too surprising to find hints of his presence in Genesis 1, as in verse 26. And yet, where do we draw the line? For example, if we are going to see the “ru’ach” as the Holy Spirit and the “us” as evidence of the Trinity, should we see “the light” in Genesis 1:3 (“And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light”), as a hint of Jesus since Jesus will say in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world?” And if we do, then when do we stop seeing the Trinity in the Old Testament?” Or is that not a problem? It seems to me that we can make too many connections and start seeing things that the original author never saw.
Hint number 4: John 1 is clearly an elaboration of Genesis 1. Given that fact, John 1 puts Jesus in the center of the creation story. John writes (Jn. 1;1-5): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The evidence here is pretty strong. Premise 1: Jesus was with God in the beginning when God created. Premise 2: Jesus was God. Premise 3: It was through Jesus that all things were made. Premise 4: Humanity was one of those things that were made through Jesus. Therefore, it would be logical to see that the “us” in Genesis 1:26 is, at least, God speaking to Jesus.
So, what do you think? I guess the answer to that question depends on your answer to my previous question: How many licks does it take to get at the core of the truth here? Will one lick (hint 1) do? Or do you need all four hints? Or are these four hints not enough to conclude definitively that God is addressing the two other members of the Trinity here? What’s your take?
I am really comfortable in seeing things in the Old Testament that the original audience would not have seen if the New Testament authors make specific reference to them. Then the question becomes, “how is the New Testament author using this verse?” But if the New Testament does not refer to a specific verse, I tend to want to read it with the least possible meaning, even if that meaning is lost to us. I want to be fair with the author’s intent and how the original audience would have understood his text. And for me, while John’s prologue is close, it still does not highlight the “let us” of verse 26. Now, if you ask me if it is possible or even probable that Genesis 1:26 speaks of the Trinity, I would say, “yes.” Reading it as the Trinity makes good sense; but while that is true, in my opinion, it still falls short of sufficient proof (at least for me). Plus, my belief in the Trinity does not rest on Genesis 1:26. Would it be nice to have a definitive statement about the Trinity in the Old Testament? Sure. Is it necessary? In my opinion, no. There should be hints about the Trinity in the Old Testament, but I don’t think I need a trinitarian doctrine based on the Old Testament alone. My goal is to let the text speak for itself and never force what I think it ought to say on to what it does say. And that means, when the text is clear, I want to be clear. But Genesis 1:26 is not clear (hence, the 7 different options!); and maybe that means I need simply to rest in saying, “I don’t know who God was addressing here. We have options, but we can’t be sure which one of them best fits the context.” I think I am content with saying that. How about you?
But there is a big takeaway here for our discussion. The Old Testament contains mysteries, and sometimes those mysteries can only be solved with additional light shed from the New Testament. And that means in our interpretation of the Old Testament, it is okay to find hints of this truth or that, even if it is not clearly spelled out. And as long as we hold these hints loosely, as hints and not dogmatic assertions, we should open the door to have many great conversations with people who look at the text from a different perspective.
When I started writing this, I thought it was pretty straightforward. Now, it is a mystery. And if the truth be told, the world may never know. But of this I am certain: for the first time in 40-plus years, I am really craving a Tootsie Roll Pop.