Abraham addresses the three visitors as LORD. Is there any group of Christians that understands this as a theophany of the Trinity?

Genesis 18:1-2 NASB 1 Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. 2 When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth,

  • Is Genesis 18 regarded by whom as a theophany? – Flimzy Feb 4 '15 at 20:40
  • While I think the idea that at least one of the 'men' was a Theophany, I've never heard the idea that all three were the three persons of the Trinity. But as Flimzy says, according to who? – curiousdannii Feb 4 '15 at 22:47

According to Augustine, it seems, he interpreted the three men in Genesis 18 as The Trinity God appearing in human form, hence the three men.

On the Trinity (Book II) - Chapter 10

But under the oak at Mamre he saw three men, whom he invited, and hospitably received, and ministered to them as they feasted. Yet Scripture at the beginning of that narrative does not say, three men appeared to him, but, "The Lord appeared to him." And then, setting forth in due order after what manner the Lord appeared to him, it has added the account of the three men, whom Abraham invites to his hospitality in the plural number, and afterwards speaks to them in the singular number as one; and as one He promises him a son by Sara, viz. the one whom the Scripture calls Lord, as in the beginning of the same narrative, "The Lord," it says, "appeared to Abraham." He invites them then, and washes their feet, and leads them forth at their departure, as though they were men; but he speaks as with the Lord God, whether when a son is promised to him, or when the destruction is shown to him that was impending over Sodom.

Genesis 18 is taken seriously by many Trinitarians to prove that Trinity is mentioned in the Old Testament. The language used in Genesis 18 is vague and subjected to many interpretations. This has to be one of the most debated passages of all time. Non-Trinitarians and even some Trinitarians understand this as "God and two angels". However, as a Trinitarian, I prefer to believe that it was The Trinity who visited Abraham.

Explanation why the two men were not merely angels

Genesis 19 called the two men as angels. However, as the language here is vague, it seems the two angels were also the Lord(or Lords). For they said "we are going to destroy this place" and then later the Bible says "God destroyed the cities".

(Genesis 19, NIV)

(1) The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground.

(12) The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, (13) because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

(24) Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens.

(29) So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.

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    It's a good insight. I'm a trinitarian and I personally feel the scriptural passage does not point to The Trinity as in the next subsequent chapter it's been mentioned as 2 angels. – Bernard R Feb 4 '15 at 15:53
  • @BernardR I edited to clarify that point. – Mawia Feb 5 '15 at 6:00

Actually Abraham does not address the visitors as LORD, he address them as Lord. Many English translations (including the NIV and the New King James) use uppercase LORD where the original manuscript have YHWH, the name of God. Other versions translate it Jehovah, or Yahweh. The lowercase "lord" or mixed case "Lord" represent a different word entirely, which could be applied to God or to an earthly lord. So Abraham actually addresses the visitors with the same word he would use to an earthly lord.

All of which is irrelevant, because Genesis 18:1 states "The LORD appeared to Abraham...", clearly using the word for God.

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Genesis chapters 18-19 is a powerful proof text for these reasons:

First, is clearly shows Yahweh walking around on the earth in human form with two angels.

They are called "three men". Yahweh and the two angels are called men, because they appeared as men.

Second: God taking human appearance on earth is called a "Theophanies". There are several other examples of Theophanies in scripture.
Few of those examples can be found in Genesis 3:8-10; Genesis 18-19; Genesis 26:2,24; Exodus 3:2; Exodus 6:3; Leviticus 16:2; 1 Samuel 3:21; Judges 13:15-23; 2 Chronicles 3:1

Third, you have Genesis 19:24 that has two distinct Yahweh's: One on earth and one in heaven. "Then Yahweh [on earth in human form] rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Yahweh [in spirit form in heaven] out of heaven. Genesis 19:24.

In this story, Abraham meets God (Jesus) and the two angels. Jesus came right out and said He was the one who talked to Abraham. This is what Jesus meant when He said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." (John 8:56) God appearing to Abraham is an example of a Theophanies.
Elijah is also said to have seen Jesus in heaven in Isa 6 + John 12:41. Jesus appearing to Elijah is not be an example of a "Theophanies" because Jesus was seen in heaven.

Amazingly, Amos 4:10-11 has two Yahweh's just like Gen 19:24 when talking about the exact same event!: "Yet you have not returned to Me, [Father]" declares Yahweh [Father]. "I [Father] overthrew you, as God [Son] overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, And you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze; Yet you have not returned to Me [Father]" declares Yahweh [Father]." (Amos 4:10-11)

Commentary and corresponding texts in block quotes for clear understanding

Three men: Yahweh + 2 angels appear to Abraham

"Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth" Genesis 18:1-2

It was God who was standing before Abraham in human form.

"And Yahweh said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?' " Genesis 18:13

Three men intend on visiting Sodom.

"Then the [three] men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off. Yahweh said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, " Genesis 18:16-17

God, in human form says this directly to Abraham

"Yahweh said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do" Genesis 18:17

God, in human form says this directly to Abraham. This verse shows that Yahweh would go personally to Sodom and see for Himself.

"And Yahweh said, "The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I [Yahweh] will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know." Genesis 18:20

The two angels, called men, depart, leaving Yahweh behind to talk to Abraham.

"Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before Yahweh. " Genesis 18:22

Abraham replies to the man and calls him Lord. Notice the Lord (the man) intended on destroying it.

"Then he said, "Oh may the Lord [adonai] not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?" And He said, "I will not destroy it on account of the ten." " Genesis 18:32

Yahweh, in human form, left Abraham and went to Sodom to join the two angels who left earlier.

"As soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham, Yahweh departed, and Abraham returned to his place." Genesis 18:33

Two angels visit Lot. During this time, these two are never called Yahweh, neither are they addressed by Lot as Yahweh.

"Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. " Genesis 19:1

Lot addresses these two angels, as Adonai, not Yahweh.

And he said, "Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant's house"" Genesis 19:2

Notice the angels say that Yahweh sent them. Yahweh is not present with Lot the way he was with Abraham. The change is powerful proof of our major premise.

"for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before Yahweh that Yahweh has sent us to destroy it." " Genesis 19:13

Yahweh, the man who was talking to Abraham, was to destroy Sodom.

"Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, "Up, get out of this place, for Yahweh will destroy the city."" Genesis 19:14

Again the two are called angels, never Yahweh.

"When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city." " Genesis 19:15

There are two Yahweh's present in this verse and the context. The man talking to Abraham, called Yahweh, was standing on the earth and commanded the city destroyed. Yahweh in heaven then sent the fire out of heaven.

"Then Yahweh [on earth in human form] rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Yahweh [in spirit form in heaven] out of heaven." Genesis 19:24

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Some people may well regard this as a theophany of the Christian trinity, however, the word used here for 'men'is clearly representative of humans, not gods, or the supernatural. Other Christians believe the Bible to be divinely inspired, in which case God would have used a word that implied divinity, not one used for men. True, Abraham is represented as treating the men with the kind of respect he would reserve for gods or kings, but this is not supported by the language of the text.

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    This answer may be technically correct, but it answers the wrong question. Remember this is Christianity not Biblical Hermeneutics and the point is to explain where various branches of Christianity stand on issues, not to argue from the text about what should or should not be believed. You kind of gloss over the issue about what extant Christian teachings there are on this matter. That's the question that needs answering here, not an exegesis of the verse (right or wrong). – Caleb Feb 4 '15 at 9:43
  • @Caleb For the purposes of this question, my assumption is that God can indeed appear in the form of man, but that many Christians believe the Bible to be divinely inspired. Because it is divinely inspired, God would have used words that imply divinity rather than men. I have edited the answer to clarify this, and hope I have thereby met this objection. – Dick Harfield Feb 4 '15 at 20:54

Part l Gen.18-19 I know Hebrew. To mix "men" with "angels" two different words it is not unusual(we do the same in English narratives) for the same person/s. Even the names for God change in a narratives in different places in scripture.

"Men" refers to a personage like a human being. God created man in His 'image and likeness' Gen.1:26-7;5:12 Note it says "us" and "our." v.26'cf.3:22;11:7 All "three" of these 'men' or personages appear to be the same. All three stand together. All three talk at the same time saying the same thing. "And they said, Do as you have said."v.5 then in v.9 "And they said to him..."then it says "He" said..."v.10 Either they are still speaking as 'one' or one speaks for them. The 'Word' or the son Yahweh. "I will..." v.10

All three eat at the same time "they ate"

Later for rest.

Note: It says "Yahweh"(sing.) appeared to Abraham then it says lo, "three men." Abraham calls them Adonai sing.as though they or these 'three persons' are the same 'Lord' (or Adonai which is used also of God). He bows down to them something no angel allows. Rev.22:8-9* Abraham says, '...if he has found favor in His[sing']sight.' and says he is their "servant."*

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