This will be the final segment to my series discussing the clear, unambiguous witness of Genesis chapters 18-19 to the existence of two distinct divine Persons of YHWH, One of whom appeared on earth in the form of a Man and the other One that was in heaven: JW BIBLE ADMITS: JESUS IS ABRAHAM’S GOD!
Here I will address a typical objection by both Arians such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and rabbinic Judaism to refute the claim that Genesis 19:24 refers to two Persons as YHWH.
Their argument is that this is a case of third person usage, a biblical feature where an author or speaker within the inspired text will either refer to himself or someone else in the third person.
I will let the JW’s Watchtower Bible and Tract Society explain it:
It is consistent with Hebrew idiom to speak of a person’s doing something in reference to himself. We read: “Solomon proceeded to congregate the older men . . . to King Solomon.” “To Moses [Jehovah] said: ‘Go up to Jehovah . . .’” “[Jehovah] went on to say: . . . I will save them by Jehovah.’” (1 Kings 8:1; Exodus 24:1; Hosea 1:6, 7; Zechariah 10:12) In this same way Genesis 19:24 tells us that Jehovah brought the unprecedented sulfur and fire from himself, “from Jehovah, from the heavens.” So rather than being a strained prop for the unscriptural Trinity doctrine, this verse underscores the point made at Psalm 83:18: “That people may know that you, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.” (Questions From Readers, Genesis 19:24 speaks of ‘the Lord’ raining down sulfur and fire ‘from the Lord’ on Sodom. Does this indicate that God is a trinity?)
The JW argument is virtually identical to the one employed in the Talmud:
Rav Naḥman says: This one, i.e., any person, who knows how to respond to the heretics as effectively as Rav Idit should respond to them, but if he does not know, he should not respond to them. The Gemara relates: A certain heretic said to Rav Idit: It is written in the verse concerning God: “And to Moses He said: Come up to the Lord” (Exodus 24:1). The heretic raised a question: It should have stated: Come up to Me. Rav Idit said to him: This term, “the Lord,” in that verse is referring TO THE ANGEL METATRON, whose name is like the name of his Master, as it is written: “Behold I send an angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Take heed of him and obey his voice; do not defy him; for he will not pardon your transgression, for My name is in him” (Exodus 23:20–21).
The heretic said to him: If so, if this angel IS EQUATED WITH GOD, we should worship him as we worship God. Rav Idit said to him: It is written: “Do not defy [tammer] him,” which alludes to: Do not replace Me [temireni] with him. The heretic said to him: If so, why do I need the clause “For he will not pardon your transgression”? Rav Idit said to him: We believe that we did not accept the angel even as a guide [befarvanka] for the journey, as it is written: “And he said to him: If Your Presence go not with me raise us not up from here” (Exodus 33:15). Moses told God that if God Himself does not accompany the Jewish people they do not want to travel to Eretz Yisrael.
The Gemara relates: A certain heretic said to Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei: It is written: “And the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven” (Genesis 19:24). The heretic raised the question: It should have stated: From Him out of heaven. A certain launderer said to Rabbi Yishmael: Leave him be; I will respond to him. This is as it is written: “And Lemech said to his wives: Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; wives of Lemech, hearken to my speech” (Genesis 4:23). One can raise the question: It should have been written: My wives, and not: “Wives of Lemech.” Rather, it is the style of the verse to speak in this manner. Here too, it is the style of the verse to speak in this manner. Rabbi Yishmael said to the launderer: From where did you hear this interpretation? The launderer said to him: I heard it at the lecture of Rabbi Meir. (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 38b https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.38b?lang=bi; bold and capital emphasis mine)
Here’s a different rendering:
‘R. Nahman said: He who is as skilled in refuting the Minim as is R. Idith,52 let him do so; but not otherwise. Once a Min said to R. Idith: It is written, And unto Moses He said, Come up to the Lord.53 But surely it should have stated, Come up unto me! — IT WAS METATRON54 [who said that], he replied, whose name is similar to that of his Master,55 for it is written, For my name is in him.56 But if so, [he retorted,] we should worship him! The same passage, however, — replied R. Idith says: Be not rebellious57 against him, i.e., exchange Me not for him. But if so,58 why is it stated: He will not pardon your transgression?59 He answered: By our troth60 we would not accept him even as a messenger,61 for it is written, And he said unto him, If Thy [personal] presence go not etc.62
A Min once said to R. Ishmael b. Jose: It is written, Then the Lord caused to rain upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord:63 but from him should have been written! A certain fuller64 said, Leave him to me, I will answer him. [He then proceeded,’ It is written, And Lamech said to his wives, Ada and Zillah, Hear my voice, ye wives of Lamech;65 but he should have said, my wives! But such is the Scriptural idiom — so here too, it is the Scriptural idiom.
- [Ms.M.: R. Idi.]
- Ex. XXIV, 1.
- Name of an Angel, probably derived from metator, guide. In Talmud and Midrash he is regarded notably as the defender of the rights of Israel (cf. Hag. 16a).
- Cf. Rashi on Ex. XXIII, 21. The numerical value of Metatron ([H]) is equal to that of [H] (the Almighty) viz. 314.
- Ex. XXIII, 21.
- [H] is here taken, in the sense of ‘exchange’, from [H].
- That he is not to be worshipped, but God alone.
- Ibid. Surely, he has no authority to do so.
- Lit., ‘we hold the belief.’
- Lit., ‘Postman’ — of forgiveness.
- Ex. XXXIII, 15. [The Min was a believer in the doctrine of two rulers and he sought support for this belief from Ex. XXIV, 1. R. Idith met his argument by showing that even Metatron was accepted by Jews only as guide, and in no sense a second god. For a full discussion of the passage, v. Herford, op. cit. p. 285ff.]
- Gen. XIX, 24
- A figure frequently mentioned in the Talmud as of a specific type. V. e.g., Ber. 28a, Ned. 41a. [In Roman literature, he is an object of ridicule; in rabbinic lore, he plays a more dignified role.]
- Gen. IV, 23. (Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin, Folio 38; bold emphasis mine)
The foregoing assertion is easily refuted when we observe that none of the biblical texts cited above are at all identical to what we find in Genesis 18-19.(1)
As we saw in the previous installments, Genesis 18-19 emphatically states that YHWH was on earth in the form of a Man and carried out human functions, such as eating human food and having his feet washed by actual water. These chapters also affirm that YHWH went down from Abraham’s presence to Sodom in order to personally inspect the inhabitants’ conduct before bringing destruction upon them.
Here, again, are the relevant passages:
“Afterward, Jehovah appeared to him among the big trees of Mamʹre while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing some distance from him. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them, and he bowed down to the ground. Then he said: ‘Jehovah, if I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass by your servant. Please, let a little water be brought and have YOUR FEET washed; then recline under the tree. Seeing that you have come here to your servant, let me bring a piece of bread so that you may refresh yourselves. Then you may go on your way.’ At this they said: ‘All right. You may do as you have spoken.’ So Abraham hurried to the tent to Sarah and said: “Quick! Get three measures of fine flour, knead the dough, and make loaves of bread.’ Next Abraham ran to the herd and chose a tender and good young bull. He gave it to the attendant, who hurried to prepare it. He then took butter and milk and the young bull that he had prepared and set the food before them. Then he stood by them under the tree AS THEY WERE EATING.
“They said to him: ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ He replied: ‘Here in the tent.’ So one of them continued: ‘I will surely return to you next year at this time, and look! your wife Sarah will have a son.’ Now Sarah was listening at the tent entrance, which was behind the man. Abraham and Sarah were old, being advanced in years. Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah began to laugh to herself, saying: ‘After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I really have this pleasure?’ Then Jehovah said to Abraham: ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Am I really going to give birth even though I am old?” Is anything too extraordinary for Jehovah? I will return to you next year at this appointed time, and Sarah will have a son.’ But Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh!’ for she was afraid. At this he said: ‘Yes! You did laugh.’
“When the men got up to leave and looked down toward Sodʹom, Abraham was walking with them to escort them. Jehovah said: “Am I keeping hidden from Abraham what I am going to do? Why, Abraham is surely going to become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by means of him. For I have come to know him in order that he may command his sons and his household after him to keep Jehovah’s way by doing what is right and just, so that Jehovah may bring about what he has promised concerning Abraham.’ Then Jehovah said: ‘The outcry against Sodʹom and Go·morʹrah is indeed great, and their sin is very heavy. I will go down to see whether they are acting according to the outcry that has reached me. And if not, I can get to know it.’ Then the men left from there and went toward Sodʹom, but JEHOVAH REMAINED WITH ABRAHAM.
“Then Abraham approached and said: ‘Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are 50 righteous men within the city. Will you, then, sweep them away and not pardon the place for the sake of the 50 righteous who are inside it? It is unthinkable that you would act in this manner by putting the righteous man to death with the wicked one so that the outcome for the righteous man and the wicked is the same! It is unthinkable of you. Will the Judge of all the earth not do what is right?’ Then Jehovah said: “If I find in Sodʹom 50 righteous men in the city, I will pardon the whole place for their sake.’ But Abraham again responded: ‘Please, here I have presumed to speak to Jehovah, whereas I am dust and ashes. Suppose the 50 righteous should lack five. Because of the five will you destroy the whole city?’ To this he said: ‘I will not destroy it if I find there 45.’ But yet again he spoke to him and said: ‘Suppose 40 are found there.’ He answered: ‘I will not do it for the sake of the 40.’ But he continued: ‘Jehovah, please, do not become hot with anger, but let me go on speaking: Suppose only 30 are found there.’ He answered: ‘I will not do it if I find 30 there.’ But he continued: ‘Please, here I have presumed to speak to Jehovah: Suppose only 20 are found there.’ He answered: ‘I will not destroy it for the sake of the 20.’ Finally he said: ‘Jehovah, please, do not become hot with anger, but let me speak just once more: Suppose only ten are found there.’ He answered: ‘I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.’ When Jehovah finished speaking to Abraham, HE WENT HIS WAY and Abraham returned to his place.” Genesis 18:1-33 New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (2013 Revision)
“Then JEHOVAH made it rain sulfur and fire on Sodʹom and Go·morʹrah—it came FROM JEHOVAH, FROM the heavens. So he overthrew these cities, yes, the entire district, including all the inhabitants of the cities and the plants of the ground. But Lot’s wife, who was behind him, began to look back, and she became a pillar of salt. Now Abraham got up early in the morning and went to the place WHERE HE STOOD BEFORE JEHOVAH. When he looked down toward Sodʹom and Go·morʹrah and all the land of the district, he saw quite a sight. There was dense smoke rising from the land like the dense smoke of a kiln! So when God destroyed the cities of the district, God kept Abraham in mind by sending Lot out from the cities he overthrew, the cities where Lot had been dwelling.” Genesis 19:24-29 NWT
We, thus, have an explicit reference to a YHWH appearing on earth as a Man, and a YHWH in heaven that rained down sulfur and fire at the request of the other YHWH who had gone down to Sodom in human form!
Therefore, the cases of Lamech referring to himself in the third person, or of Solomon being mentioned twice in the same text, are not analogous since neither one of these verses posits a Lamech or Solomon on earth and another Lamech/Solomon in heaven or in some other location.
So much for this oft-repeated anti-Trinitarian objection.
(1) What makes these citations from the Watchtower and the Talmud rather ironic is that they actually contradict each other!
The society quotes Exodus 24:1 as a case where YHWH refers to himself in the third person, whereas the Talmud interprets this as YHWH actually telling Moses to go up and meet Metatron, whom the rabbis believed was the Angel mentioned in Exodus 23:20-23 that embodied YHWH’s own name.
In other words, the YHWH whom Moses was told to meet on the mountain is taken by the rabbis to be a distinct angelic figure acting in the place of YHWH, and not as an example of YHWH referring to himself in the third person!
The contradictory replies which these various anti-Trinitarian groups raise in their zeal to refute the biblical basis for the Trinity couldn’t be any more glaring.