The Trinity is one of the biggest issues encountered when discussing the Christian faith with those who believe in God, but not quite the God of Christianity. Mormons, Muslims and Jews all believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; however, they believe in a strictly monotheistic God, one being and one person (’yachid’ in Hebrew meaning a solitary numeric one), while Christians are monotheists who believe in God who is three persons in one being (’echad’, a composite oneness in unity and essence). In the course of the conversation, the yachidist 1 ‘Yachidist” versus “echadist” are terms I am using to distinguish between types of monotheists.  Christians are monotheists as we believe there is one God, unique in being and essence, who is three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit.) We are “echadists.” “Yachidists” believe God is solitary, one person and one being. “Yachid” is the Hebrew word for a numerical one. “Echad” can mean a numerical one, but it also means a compound unity. Such as in Genesis 2:24 which says that a man and wife become one (echad) flesh. The Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One.” Uses “echad.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) monotheist might say something along the lines of “The Jews of Jesus’ day had no concept of multiple persons in the Godhead. The trinity is a later invention forced on the church by Constantine and incorporated beliefs of Babylonian/Egyptian/Greek/take-your-pick paganism”2 A note on pagan beliefs and the Trinity: I’ve read a lot of mythology. I have never come across a belief or a depiction of gods that in any way approaches the Christian understanding of the Trinity. The gods of mythology are all individual persons and individual beings. The closest thing in my mind is the Hindu belief in gods who present themselves as different “avatars” throughout time. However, this does not parallel the Orthodox belief in the Trinity, but rather the heretical belief called “modalism” where there is a single god, (yachid) who appears in different forms at different times.

Many people believe this, but it is not at all true.

Two Powers in Heaven by Alan Segal explores and analyzes the early rabbinic commentary against those who believed there were “two powers” in heaven. Segal writes from a position that opposes Trinitarianism and that is considered orthodox within modern Judaism. He was a “yachidist,” a strict monotheist. Segal did not believe that there are “two powers” which are God and he considered the belief in “two powers” a heresy; however, he did recognize that this belief was found within Judaism in the first century and earlier. The book researches the first arguments against the “two powers heresy” and explores the possibilities for the targets, including Christians, Gnostics, and sects of Judaism.

The Origins of Modern Judaism

Before I review the actual book, I would like to give a brief history of the origins of modern Judaism. During the Second Temple period, there were a number of sects of Judaism. Through reading the New Testament, we are familiar with two of those sects, the Pharisees and the Sadducees; however, there were other sects such as the Essenes and the Zealots. Within those sects, there were also varying beliefs. After the destruction of the Temple by Titus in 70 A.D., the Levitical system of worship and sacrifice came to an end and what became rabbinic Judaism formed out of the Pharisaical schools. Rabbinic writings, such as the Mishnah and the Talmud, began to be codified at the end of the second century A.D 3 Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism, Reprint edition. (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012).21. . as Segal notes, in the “Two Powers.” Many of the earliest writings found in the Mishnah and Talmud are polemics written in response to Christian beliefs which the rabbis rejected.

An Overview of the Two Powers in Heaven

Segal begins by giving an overview of the rabbinic discussion regarding the “two powers” heresy and presents possibilities for their object. Just as we today have a plurality of beliefs about God and his nature, there were diverse beliefs at the time of the second century. Beyond the Christians who believed in three persons of the Godhead, Gnostics were also prevalent. The most common form of Gnosticism was dualistic in nature believing in two opposing deities, one good and one evil; however, there also appears to have been atheists who believed in “no power in heaven.” Regardless, the “two powers” polemic was directed towards all those who were not monotheists, 4Segal. 12. and more specifically, those who did not believe in a God with a single person, one who was “yachid.”

In part two, Segal lays out the evidence of the issue itself and explains why it was so hotly debated. He includes references in Scripture of what he considers to be “conflicting” appearances of God along with rabbinic interpretation. A discussion on the nature and purpose of angelic powers is also covered.

The final section discusses the differing views at the time of the beginning of the new millennia. Segal examines how philosophers such as Philo (more on this later) viewed the text as well as apocalyptic sects such as the Essenes. Segal also presents the case of the early church writers and the Gnostic view.

Explaining the Son of Man

How did this intense debate come into the forefront? Many of the passages under discussion could possibly be interpreted a variety of ways, but it was a vision that caused everyone to stop and reassess what they thought they knew. In Daniel chapter 7 in the middle of a somewhat symbolic vision, Daniel sees a clear picture of God.

I watched as thrones were put in place and the Ancient One sat down to judge. His clothing was as white as snow, his hair like purest wool. He sat on a fiery throne with wheels of blazing fire, and a river of fire was pouring out, flowing from his presence. Millions of angels ministered to him; many millions stood to attend him. Then the court began its session, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:9-10 NLT)

The “Ancient One” is obviously the Great I AM; however, the controversy did not come from this, but who was with him.

As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.

Compare this to Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

How can a human son be “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father?” This seems to have caused intense debate.

A Note on the Dating of Daniel

As a side note, liberal scholarship insists that the book of Daniel was of late authorship in spite of the fact that it would have had to have been considered canon by the time of the translation of the Septuagint and that the language and references within the book itself supports traditional dating rather than later. The reason for the resistance to the early dating is the same as the reason for the resistance to early dating of the Gospels . . . The books contain fulfilled prophecy. Daniel contains very specific fulfilled prophecy about the course of nations.

But I think that this entire discussion about the Son of Man and the implications it has for the nature of God himself is further evidence for the early dating of Daniel. If you read the intertestamental books, you can see the role the speculation on this vision of a second figure at the right hand of God played in their writing. The primary figure in the book of Jubilee is the “Angel of the Presence.” An explanation of this figure also seems to play a role in the development of Philo’s idea of the Logos.

What would cause the trajectory of this thought, which was considered orthodox within Judaism, if not for this extraordinary vision of Daniel? Daniel would have had to have been written early enough to be widely disseminated and accepted for this to happen. That could not be the case if it were written just two centuries before Christ.

The Need to Mediate Justice and Mercy

In addition to the question of the identity and role of the Son of Man, another major part of the controversy (which is referenced in the Biblical passage itself) is the dilemma of how to mediate justice and mercy. How can God be perfectly just and yet merciful? If He is just, he can do nothing other than give a judgment that is exactly what we deserve. This would seem to preclude mercy. How can God be merciful while executing righteous judgment?

One cannot be perfectly merciful while at the same time perfectly just. There must be an intermediary between the two and a person to mediate. It is this that led to the school of thought regarding the Logos, most commonly associated with Philo, and those unfamiliar with Philo will likely recognize this concept in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. As Segal explains:

“Philo’s concept of the logos is a combination of Platonic ideas of divine intermediation and the Stoic world spirit. Logos is the equivalent with the intelligible world; but, because it can be hypostasized, the logos can also be viewed as a separate agent and called a god. Hence any Jew who shared Philo’s ideas of the nature of divinity could be a prime candidate for the charge of ‘two powers in heaven.’” 5 Segal. 23.

These two discussion, among others, were taking place during the centuries immediately preceding the birth of Christ. The need for a mediator, a Logos or acting agent in the physical world for the God who is pure spirit, and the interesting question of the role and person of “one who was like the Son of Man.” The writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls shed some light on the conclusion the Essenes came to regarding this question; however, in terms of the content of this book, Segal includes an interesting side note of that of a rabbi’s.

A Rabbi’s Conclusions

Rabbi Akiba lived at the end of the first century and the beginning of the second and is known as one of the most important backers of the failed Messianic claimant, Bar Kochba. He was considered “one of the wisest and holiest of Israel’s rabbis. 6 Ken Spiro, “History Crash Course #37: Bar Kochba Revolt,” Aish.Com, n.d., accessed April 23, 2018, http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48944706.html. ” He too puzzled over the opposing requirements of justice and mercy. Segal includes a commentary which is presented as a discussion with Rabbi Akiba on the meaning of the two thrones of Daniel chapter 7:

One passage says: His throne was fiery flames (Daniel 7:9) and another passage says: Until thrones were placed; and One that was ancient of days did sit—there is no contradiction; One (throne) for Him, and one for David:[Note: The belief that it is David in the second throne, the “Son of Man,” obviously incorporates Psalm 110:1 which says, “My Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand while I make your enemies a footstool under your feet.”] this is the view of R. Akiba. Said R. Yosi the Galilean to him: Akiba, how long will you treat the divine presence as profane! Rather, one for justice and one for grace. Did he accept (this explanation) from him, or did he not accept it?—come and hear: One for justice and one for grace; this is the view of R. Akiba. 7Segal. 47.

However, this was not the end of the consideration. As Segal tells us, at the end of his life R. Akiba came to believe that rather than David or an angel, that “both figures in heaven were seen to be divine, one God in two hypostases. 8 Segal, 49.” One God, two hypostases. This is the conclusion of one of Israel’s wisest rabbis.

This language of “hypostases,” or persons, is the same which Christians from the earliest times have used to describe the persons of the Trinity. The Trinity is not a foreign or pagan concept, but one that was birthed from the most foundational concepts of Second Temple Judaism itself. However “odd” it may be, it was the only conclusion that accounted for every clue given in Scripture: the references to God with a plural noun and singular verb, the conversations between the Godhead, the reference to two acting agents in numerous stories, the appearance to man of the unseeable God himself, the necessity of a mediator, and finally Daniel’s actual vision of both the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man.

God could be nothing except Triune.

Takeaways as a Christian

As a Christian, I obviously believe that Rabbi Akiba’s conclusion is the correct one, that Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man at the right hand of God is the two (out of three) hypostases, two persons, of one God or being. Reading this book, it was interesting to me to see just how many verses Modern Judaism considers “problematic” and has to explain away or ignore.

Segal understood the Christian belief in the Trinity. Several times throughout the book he qualifies his explanation of the various rabbinic arguments, which are essentially strawmen, but not always. There are times he let the strawman stand. I suppose this is to be expected as he was a follower of modern Judaism and firmly believed in a God that is entirely “yachid.”

However, as a Christian, we need to recognize the arguments that are, in fact, nothing more than a strawman, an argument against a fabricated Christian belief. It is important as Christians that we are able to articulate who we believe God to be and his Triune nature.

There are so many people in other belief systems that struggle with that concept, there are even people who are Christians who don’t understand. If you could explain nothing else other than the need for atonement and the nature of the Trinity, I think you would go a long way towards fulfilling Peter’s instruction to “always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within you. 91 Peter 3:13-16 NLT). “Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.”

There is another belief in modern Judaism that is opposite of Christian belief that I was completely unaware of until I read this book. That is the belief that God is the author of evil as well as good. 10Segal. 8. Christianity and modern Judaism are poles apart in what they believe about the nature of God. Even though the Son of God movie ends with the claim, “but there was darkness in the light, 11 Note: That line is just one of many reasons that I hate that movie..” that is completely unscriptural and antithetical to Christian belief.

We believe in a holy and righteous God, completely perfect. As John states, “This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. (1 John 1:5. NLT.)”

This may have been an item of discussion during the Second Temple period. Jesus decided the matter. If we believe he is who he says he is, God come as man, we should take his word for it. We do not believe in a God that is both evil and good. He is perfectly good. 12 Note: Just a small selection of verse from the Old Testament that attest to the perfect goodness of God.
2 Samuel 22:31 NLT “As for God, his way is perfect: All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.”
Psalm 145:17 “The LORD is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does.”
Psalm 18:30 NLT “God’s way is perfect. All the LORD’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.”
Psalm 25:8-9 NASB “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way.”
Exodus 33:19. “And He said, ‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion whom I will show compassion.:
Psalm 18:24-28 NASB (This passage shows the need for a mediator in order for the Lord to show mercy, because he is always just.) Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in His eyes. With the kind You show Yourself kind; with the blameless You show YOurself blameless; with the pure You show Yourself pure, and with the crooked You show Yourself astute. For you save an afflicted people, but haughty eyes You abase. For you light my lamp; the Lord my God illumines my darkness.
  Not only is Christianity incompatible with modern Judaism in our belief about the person of Jesus Christ, but also because of what we believe about the fundamental nature and character of God, whether He be one person or three.

I know many people who, in an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of their Christian faith, get into the “Jewish” or “Hebraic” roots of Jesus. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. However, the picture that many . . . not all, but many . . . of the teachers in those side pools of belief paint has no basis in historical reality.

Many of them take modern teachings from Judaism, those that either far post-date the time of Christ or that were a minority position during the Second Temple period, and construct a different version of the Gospel. I am not trying to discourage Christians from reading rabbinic commentary, it is important to understand the perspective of our Jewish friends so we can have meaningful and fruitful discussions.

What I am saying is to be aware of the ideology that is beneath it and recognize those writings for what they are. They are the beliefs of the Jewish sects that remained after the Romans wiped out the Jewish national resistance. They are written after the New Testament and many were in response to Christian beliefs.

There is an underlying belief that God is not perfectly good, but does both good and evil; that in spite of the clear statement of Isaiah 43:11, 13 Isaiah 43:11.  “I, even I, am the Lord.  There is no other Savior besides me.” there is no need for a mediator between man and God; and that, through their own works, they can not only atone for their own sins but “repair the world. 14The concept of “Tikkun Olam” in modern Judaism is the belief that through good works, humans, and particularly Jewish people, can “repair the world.” In this it is somewhat similar to humanism, except for that Judaism does see God as the source and arbiter of moral value. It has its basis in Kabbalistic beliefs, which in turn, takes its cosmoslogical worldview from Platonism.
“Tikkun Olam: Repairng the World,” My Jewish Learning, n.d., accessed April 23, 2018, https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tikkun-olam-repairing-the-world/.
” This unitary view of God leaves no room for mercy or grace.

There can be no grace with a God who is “yachid.”

References   [ + ]

1. ‘Yachidist” versus “echadist” are terms I am using to distinguish between types of monotheists.  Christians are monotheists as we believe there is one God, unique in being and essence, who is three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit.) We are “echadists.” “Yachidists” believe God is solitary, one person and one being. “Yachid” is the Hebrew word for a numerical one. “Echad” can mean a numerical one, but it also means a compound unity. Such as in Genesis 2:24 which says that a man and wife become one (echad) flesh. The Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One.” Uses “echad.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
2. A note on pagan beliefs and the Trinity: I’ve read a lot of mythology. I have never come across a belief or a depiction of gods that in any way approaches the Christian understanding of the Trinity. The gods of mythology are all individual persons and individual beings. The closest thing in my mind is the Hindu belief in gods who present themselves as different “avatars” throughout time. However, this does not parallel the Orthodox belief in the Trinity, but rather the heretical belief called “modalism” where there is a single god, (yachid) who appears in different forms at different times.
3. Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism, Reprint edition. (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012).21.
4. Segal. 12.
5. Segal. 23.
6. Ken Spiro, “History Crash Course #37: Bar Kochba Revolt,” Aish.Com, n.d., accessed April 23, 2018, http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48944706.html.
7. Segal. 47.
8. Segal, 49.
9. 1 Peter 3:13-16 NLT). “Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.”
10. Segal. 8.
11. Note: That line is just one of many reasons that I hate that movie..
12. Note: Just a small selection of verse from the Old Testament that attest to the perfect goodness of God.
2 Samuel 22:31 NLT “As for God, his way is perfect: All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.”
Psalm 145:17 “The LORD is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does.”
Psalm 18:30 NLT “God’s way is perfect. All the LORD’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.”
Psalm 25:8-9 NASB “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way.”
Exodus 33:19. “And He said, ‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion whom I will show compassion.:
Psalm 18:24-28 NASB (This passage shows the need for a mediator in order for the Lord to show mercy, because he is always just.) Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in His eyes. With the kind You show Yourself kind; with the blameless You show YOurself blameless; with the pure You show Yourself pure, and with the crooked You show Yourself astute. For you save an afflicted people, but haughty eyes You abase. For you light my lamp; the Lord my God illumines my darkness.
13. Isaiah 43:11.  “I, even I, am the Lord.  There is no other Savior besides me.”
14. The concept of “Tikkun Olam” in modern Judaism is the belief that through good works, humans, and particularly Jewish people, can “repair the world.” In this it is somewhat similar to humanism, except for that Judaism does see God as the source and arbiter of moral value. It has its basis in Kabbalistic beliefs, which in turn, takes its cosmoslogical worldview from Platonism.
“Tikkun Olam: Repairng the World,” My Jewish Learning, n.d., accessed April 23, 2018, https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tikkun-olam-repairing-the-world/.