Why didn’t the Jews believe in the trinity? Such a question is usually supposed to serve as a theological quagmire for those who believe in orthodoxy. After all, if there is one God who is eternally present in three persons, God seemed to have forgotten to reveal that to his people. Trinitarian theology was not formulated until the great councils in the early years of Christendom. But the Jews seemed to be strict unitarians, had no conception of the doctrine of the trinity. Indeed if you ask a modern Jew, they will tell you that the trinity is heresy and idolatry; it is a different God than the God of the Hebrew Bible.
This question could be rather puzzling for the Christian. God does not change, after all, and he did not evolve into a trinity. God has always been a trinity, from the beginning of time, and from the beginning of his revelation to the world. The God who revealed himself to Moses was a trinity. The God who said, “there is none else; besides me there is no God,” (Isaiah 45:5), is a trinity. Why did that truth go over the head of the Jews? Why didn’t the Jews believe in the trinity?
They did not believe in Jesus either. I find it rather problematic to use the beliefs of men as an argument against a certain believe. Men are frequently wrong. Jesus spent his ministry correcting the theology of the Pharisees, telling them, “you are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29). The Jews killed their own prophets (Matthew 23:37), and indeed, rejected their own Messiah. God himself came to his own people, and his own people rejected him (John 1:10-11). God stood before them, and they denied him.
Now, orthodox Jews will argue against the deity of Jesus. They will say that the Messiah was not going to be God, nor was the Messiah going to be crucified. You ask, “why didn’t the Jews believe in the trinity?” I could mount a parallel argument, “why didn’t the Jews believe in Jesus?” If we are basing our theology on the mistakes that men have made, or the things that men have missed, we are going to run into a lot of trouble. Rather than believing just on the basis of what men believe, we ought to believe on the basis of the biblical data.
They did not have as wide of a revelation. There were hints of trinitarian theology in the Old Testament. There were some suggestions that God would manifest himself in human form. God would refer to himself in plural form, etc. But it was easy to miss or explain in other ways. The doctrine of the trinity was not clearly spelled out until the revelation of the New Testament. That is because it simply was not necessary. The Jews did not need to known about the trinitarian nature of God. However, with the advent of Christ, we needed to know about it because we needed to understand who Jesus was. Jesus is God, and yet is a distinct person from the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Thus, we believe in the doctrine of the trinity because of the revelation of the New Testament. We know that there is one God. We know that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each God. We know that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each distinct persons. When one puts these three truths together, we get the doctrine of the trinity. There is one God, who is eternally present in three persons. The Jews did not understand this because they did not have as wide of a revelation as we Christians do.
Why didn’t the Jews believe in the trinity? As an argument against the trinity, this faces a glaring flaw, because a parallel argument could be made from, “why didn’t the Jews believe in Jesus?” We cannot base our theology on the non-beliefs of men. Rather, we base our theology on the Bible. Which leads to the second point that I made, namely, the Jews did not believe in the trinity because they did not know about the trinity and they did not know about the trinity because God did not reveal it to them in full yet and God did not reveal it to them in full yet because they did not need to know it yet.
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