Three Men visit Abraham (icon)

Following is a Russian Orthodox icon of the Three Men visiting Abraham which are depicted as the Trinity by Andrei Rublev (c. 1360 – c. 1430). The icon was likely painted between 1400 and 1410 (it is today located in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow).


Michael Stevens (in: The Word on Fire Bible, Vol 1, 2020, p. 118f.) comments on this icon:

“This depiction of the three persons of the Trinity is considered to be one of the finest works ever produced in the ancient tradition of Eastern iconography. Its creator, Andrei Rublev, is widely considered to be the greatest iconographer of all time, and this is one of the few panels of his that has been verified beyond doubt as his original work. Within this panel is contained a world of theological insight—a complex network of symbolism that is easily overlooked without careful study.

“Rublev’s representation of the Trinity is strikingly different from the typical Western Christians visualization of the Trinity, with God the Father as an elderly man, God the Son as a young man, and God the Holy Spirit as a dove. Here the artist uses the image of three conversing angelic figures to illustrate the relationship of the persons of the Trinity. The figures are drawn directly from Genesis 18, wherein three mysterious angelic figures visit the house of Abraham and receive his hospitality. While this biblical account from the Old Testament was written long before the Christian doctrine of the Trinity was understood, it has been interpreted as a Trinitarian foreshadowing by many of the Church Fathers. Flowing from this interpretation, Rublev gives us many clues that the three figures in his icon are not meant to represent mere angels, but are in fact the three persons of the Holy Trinity.

“The Father is shown on the left. His outer garment appears to shimmer elusively in the light, somewhere between gold and violet. This symbolizes his incorporeal (immaterial) nature, as well as his majesty over creation. Under this is a robe of blue, symbolizing his divinity. Across from him, the Son and the Holy Spirit bow their heads in acknowledgment that the Father is the unbegotten source of the Trinitarian processions.

“Christ sits in the middle and wears two contrasting garments — one an earthy red, and the other blue. The red represents Christ’s human nature and ministry on earth as well as his blood poured out for sinners. Like the Father’s inner robe, the blue portion of Christ’s clothing also signifies his divinity. The two garments’ colors are harmonious and pithily capture the two natures of Jesus. Finally, the gold stripe on Christ’s shoulder symbolizes his sharing in the kingship of God the Father.

“The Holy Spirit also wears the same divine blue as the others showing his nature as God- but outside he wears a robe of lush green, representing his role in the creation of the world. This harkens back to Genesis, where we are told that the Spirit ‘swept over the face of the waters’ (Gen. 1:2) before the creation of the universe and living things.

“The three persons are arranged inside a perfect circle, which symbolizes their Trinitarian oneness and perfection. The circle also helps to guide the viewer’s eye around the painting, creating a focal point in the space between the conversing figures.

“The Father and the Son’s wings overlap one another, signifying their familial relationship.

“The three primary background elements are borrowed from the biblical story of the angels’ visit to Abraham’s house, and each symbolizes a person of the Trinity. The house of Abraham behind God the Father represents his patriarchal authority by linking him to the character of Abraham, who was the father of the Hebrew people. The tree behind God the Son represents the cross of Jesus and new life offered by his Resurrection. The mountain behind the Holy Spirit (faintly seen) represents the soul’s journey to holiness, which is possible only through his divine power.”

Orthodox Icons are not drawings or creations of imagination. They are in fact writings of things not of this world. Icons can represent our Lord Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints. They can also represent the Holy Trinity, Angels, the Heavenly hosts, and even events. Orthodox icons, unlike Western pictures, change the perspective and form of the image so that it is not naturalistic. This is done so that we can look beyond appearances of the world, and instead look to the spiritual truth of the holy person or event. (Source )


The name that is transliterated as “Abraham” in English is translated in Spanish Sign Language, French Sign Language, British Sign Language, and in American Sign Language with the sign signifying “hold back arm” (referring to Genesis 22:12). (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff., Lexique Explications en langue des signes, Christian BSL, and Yates 2011, p. 1)

“Abraham” in American Sign Language (source )

Click or tap here to see two short video clips about Abraham (source: Bible Lands 2012)

See also our ancestor Abraham and Abram.

complete verse (Genesis 18:16)

Following are a number of back-translations as well as a sample translation for translators of Genesis 18:16:

  • Kankanaey: “When the three visitors left, they headed-for Sodoma, and Abraham went-along to escort them. When they were-looking-down then at Sodoma,” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Newari: “The guests got up to go. Then, looking toward Sodom, they went. Abraham also went to see them off on their way.” (Source: Newari Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “Afterwards the three men/males walked-away. Abraham took/brought them up-to the place which/where they could-see down-below the city of Sodom.” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “When the three men got up to leave, they looked down into the valley toward Sodom city. Abraham was walking with them to say ‘goodbye’ to them.” (Source: Translation for Translators)

Translation commentary on Genesis 18:16

Then the men set out from there: a transition term like Then is appropriate for English to mark this as continuing to the next episode. Set out is literally “rose up,” but the sense is to depart or leave. From there is from Abraham’s camp, the setting of the previous events. Biblia Dios Habla Hoy translates “After that the visitors got on their feet and walked….” This version pictures the visitors rising from their meal beneath the tree. This may serve as a satisfactory translation model. We may also say, for example, “After finishing their meal, the men got up and started out” or “… left Abraham’s camp.”

They looked toward Sodom is literally “looked down upon the face of Sodom.” The expression refers to an overlook or high point in the hills outside Mamre, from which it is possible to see the Dead Sea valley, where Sodom is located. The Septuagint adds “and Gomorrah” after Sodom. Good News Translation “where they could look down on Sodom” assumes the reader knows the geography of the area. Since most readers do not know the geography of the area, it may be better to say “Then the men left Abraham’s camp and went to a hilltop [or, cliff] where they could look down in the direction of the town of Sodom.”

Toward Sodom is of course the direction in which the men are going to travel, not just the direction in which they look. So Speiser translates “The men set out from there and faced toward Sodom….” Other translations have something like “They got up and went in the direction of Sodom.”

Abraham went with them to set them on their way: that is, Abraham accompanied them to see them off, send them on their way, point out the way for them. We may also say, for example, “to say farewell to them,” or “to tell them good-bye.”

In some languages it will be desirable to change the order of the clauses in this verse, since Abraham actually sets out with the visitors before they look down on the town of Sodom. Two examples of this change are “… and Abraham went with them to say goodbye to them at a high place where they could look…” and “Abraham went with them to see them off. And at one place they stood and looked down on the town of Sodom.”

Quoted with permission from Reyburn, William D. and Fry, Euan McG. A Handbook on Genesis. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1997. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .