Recently I’ve heard a passing mention of an ancient Jewish view of monotheism that allowed for a belief in ‘Two powers in heaven’, due to the Angel of the Lord passages through the OT that we’d today refer to as theophanies. I’m intrigued by whether it can fit with an early church understanding of the Trinity. I’d love to learn more about this Jewish concept of 2 powers in heaven, and wondered if anyone has any knowledge of this?
I would recommend reading Alan Segal’s, Two Powers in Heaven also The Unseen Realm by Michael Heiser. Segal’s book is written from a Jewish perspective. He considers that Jewish Binitarianism was a possibility based on the rabbinic polemics directed at the thought of more than one power. His conclusion is that it was heresy. I disagree with Segal as I believe there are many OT verses that directly or indirectly support the idea of binitarianism; if not binitarianism, then surely henotheism. The acknowledgment of other gods but the worship of only Yahweh.
Heiser, on the other hand, pursues the idea of a heavenly council with Yahweh as the Godhead. He gives many examples of verses that do and could support this view.
I also have another book, Discovering the Mystery of the Unity of God:
A Theological Study on the Plurality and Tri-unity of God in the Hebrew Scriptures by John Metzger. This is from the perspective of a Christian with a heart for the modern-day Jewish audience. His premise is that the Trinity was not a Christian invention but was in the OT all along. Here is a quote from early in the book that has stuck with ever since I read it:
The Pharisees would have had every right to reject Yeshua if He and the New Covenant taught that He was divine if the plurality of God, that great mystery of the unity of God, was not taught in the Hebrew Scriptures. But if He was taught and proclaimed in the Hebrew Scriptures as He said, then the Pharisees rejected Him for reasons beyond the claim of being divine, and they misinterpreted some very important Scriptures that God intended them to understand and believe. God would not have presented His Son in a vacuum, but the Tanakh would have had to give clear and ample evidence of His divine nature. If the Father had not given ample witness of His plurality in the Tanakh, the Father would have been setting up the Pharisees to reject Yeshua. All that Israel has suffered over the centuries would have been a direct result of God’s silence or deception on the subject of His plurality in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Fruchtenbaum, D. A. G. (2010). Foreword. In Discovering the Mystery of the Unity of God: A Theological Study on the Plurality and Tri-unity of God in the Hebrew Scriptures (p. 12). Ariel Ministries.
Thoughts and comments always.
Thanks @jimmy ! Actually, just after I posted, I thought, “I bet Michael Heiser would have something to say about this”, so I’ll look into his ideas on the two powers, based on your suggestion, thanks!
I feel like I’ve heard of Alan Segal before, but I’m not sure I’ve ever read him. I appreciate both the recommendation of his book, and Metzger’s.
Yes, just my study into the Angel of the Lord this morning makes this more than a subtle suggestion from scripture. For example, Judges 6:11-23
- The Angel of the Lord appears: verse 11,
“The angel of the Lord came, and he sat under the oak that was in Ophrah…”
- Gideon speaks to the Angel: verse 13,
“Please, my lord…”
- Yahweh speaks to Gideon: verse 14,
“The LORD turned to him and said…”
- Gideon replies to Yahweh and asks Him to wait while he brings a gift: verse 18,
“Please do not leave this place until I return to you. Let me bring my gift and set it before you”
- Yahweh agrees to wait for the gift: verse 18
- Gideon brings the gift to Yahweh who is sitting under the oak: verse 19,
“He brought them out and offered them to him under the oak”.
I feel like this is one of those passages (of which there are many) that point to binitarianism, with both the Angel and Yahweh filling the same role where they are simultaneously 2 identities and one being, and therefore supports New Testament trinitariaism, and high Christology etc.
This is obviously different to binitarianism in the sense that the powers alluded to by Heiser (based on Psalm 82) aren’t equal in essence or authority in the same sense that the Judges passage above hints at equality of essence. Clearly in Psalm 82:1 God presided over them all,
God [elohim] stands in the divine assembly; he pronounces judgement among the gods [elohim]…
From your reading, do you think the Two Powers in Heaven concept as understood by ancient Jews is nearer to binitatianism or the Psalm 82 divine council? Or is it both? I’ll certainly get hold of those books but I’m interested in your thoughts. I’m guessing based on the quote you shared that it’s pointing more in the direction to binatarianism/trinitarianism…
Wow! This forces us to consider the character of God. Of course we know he desires all to be saved, and has made Himself known from the beginning. I’ve always read Romans 1:20 was just referring to the existence of him at all, but actually in the context of this discussion, I realise that of course he would have made his entire divine nature and eternal power known, and this obviously means his triune identity. I’d never thought of it like that!
It makes reading the Old Testament so exciting when seen in this light.
From my notes and what I remember of the two books, the two authors approach the subject from two different perspectives; Segal admitted
"that many parts of the Jewish community in various places and periods used the traditions which the rabbis claim is an heretical conception of the deity. "He starts and ends the book with the qualifies that the reports of the “Two Powers” was and still is obscure. I think that Segal would call “two Powers” a heresy.
Heiser cites Segal several times ( that is how I found out about Segal), and he also broaches the subject of a binitarian idea in the Jewish community. I don’t think that Heiser is vying for a “Divine Council” versus "Two Powers showdown but that the language of the Divine Council Bible verse and the language of the visible and invisible Yahweh verse are all pointing to the doctrine of the Trinity as a Jewish concept and not as a Christian “new idea.”
I am going to leave you with a quote from Daniel Boyarin (another guy you might want to read on the subject.) note Goshen-Gottstein disagrees with Boyarin’s position.
Goshen-Gottstein has somehow misread my work to imply that the issue of “Two Powers in Heaven” “stands at the heart of the parting of the ways.” My argument is entirely opposite from such a notion, since I am suggesting strenuously that binitarian/ditheistic notions of godhead are a shared retention between later Jews and Christians of an earlier theological approach and not one formed in one of the later communities and either accepted or rejected by the other one. … the conflict is internal, not with any already-given external group.