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 Hebrew that is translated as “curds” in English is translated in Makonde as ntindi or “yoghurt.” (Source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)

complete verse (Genesis 18:8)

Following are a number of back-translations as well as a sample translation for translators of Genesis 18:8:

  • Kankanaey: “When everything was-cooked, he also got milk and other food and took-it-along-with the meat to the location of his visitors at the base of that tree. And he set-it-before them there.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Newari: “After that Abraham brought the meat with yoghurt and milk and served it to them. While they were eating he was standing by them under the tree.” (Source: Newari Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “Then he brought it to his visitors, and he also brought cheese and milk. And while they were-eating under the tree, Abraham was- there also -serving them.” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “When the meat was cooked, Abraham brought some curds and milk and the meat that had been prepared, and set them in front of his visitors. Then he stood near them, under a tree, while they ate.” (Source: Translation for Translators)

Translation commentary on Genesis 18:8

Then he took curds, and milk, and the calf: curds refers to thickened, sour milk that is known today in many areas by the Turkish name “yoghurt.” Milk was supplied by either goats or cows. And the calf refers to the meat from the calf, or simply the meat. Nothing is said of the bread Sarah was told to bake.

Which he had prepared: it was actually the servant who had done this, but Abraham is the host, and so the preparation of the meat is credited to Abraham. Good News Translation does not repeat this clause. Translators may feel that the quantity of food is far in excess of what three men could eat. However, Middle Eastern hospitality requires serving far more food than the guests could possibly eat.

Set it before them: that is, set the food in front of them so that they could eat it. The visitors probably were sitting on skins brought by Abraham’s servants.

And he stood by them under the tree while they ate: the rush of getting the meal ready is finally over. The guests are eating and Abraham plays the role of the host who stands close by watching over his guests to see that they receive every attention they may require. Stood by them describes Abraham’s physical position, but in translation it may be necessary to explain this custom. For example, Biblia Dios Habla Hoy says “and Abraham stood by ready to serve them while they ate under the tree.” We may also translate “While the visitors ate under the tree, Abraham stood close by to wait on them.” Abraham’s role as host is emphasized in some translations that say “… waited on them himself” (Revised English Bible). In some languages it is also possible to combine the two elements of giving the food and attending to the needs of the guests; for example, “There under those trees he served them the meal.”

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 .