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One God, One Lord

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Deuteronomy 6.4.

The word “hear” in Hebrew is shema, which is why this whole verse is known as the Shema. The Shema is considered to be the most important prayer in Judaism and it is a mitzvah — a binding religious duty on Jews — to recite it twice every day. Hence it has become central to all Jewish morning and evening prayers.

To the Jews, the Shema is not only an assertion of monotheism but also of the singularity of God as opposed to the Christian belief in the triune nature of God. Looked at closely, however, this verse on its own asserts neither thing. It does not actually say that “there is only one God and he is the God of Israel” though that is what the Jews (no doubt rightly) came to believe. And the vocabulary used does not actually preclude trinity. The word for “one” is echad and it is used elsewhere in the Old Testament for unity made up of several parts. Perhaps the best example is where God instructs Ezekiel: “Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, ‘Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.’ Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, ‘Ephraim’s stick, belonging to Joseph and all the house of Israel associated with him.’ Join them together into one (eched) stick so that they will become one (eched) in your hand” (Ezekiel 37.16-17).

Certainly, for those of us committed to a belief in the triune nature of God, it is not difficult to find evidence for it within the Old Testament. In the very first chapter of the Bible, God says: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness …” (Genesis 1.26). Us? Our? A pointer surely to a plurality of persons within the Godhead.

But most interesting and illuminating is the way that Paul tackles the traditional view of the Shema head on when writing to the church at Corinth. The context is whether it is all right for Christians to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. His answer is that Christians are monotheists like the Jews and so do not admit the existence of any other gods. There is only one God, so the meat is sacrificed to things that don’t exist. “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one,” he says, “There is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
1 Corinthians 8.4,6). The “God” of the Shema has become “the Father” and the “Lord” of the Shema has become “Jesus Christ”. Bishop Tom Wright calls this an “explosive redefinition of the Shema” and so it is. And all the more remarkable when it comes from the pen of one who was and remained the most Jewish of Jews.

And what does it mean for me? Paul gives me permission, I think, to see Jesus in the “us” and “our” of Genesis 1. He gives me permission to see Jesus as one of the “three” who Abraham saw when God appeared to him — “The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground” (Genesis 18.1-2). He gives me permission to see Jesus as the one working alongside God in creation: “I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind” (Proverbs 8.27-31). In short, he gives me permission to Jesus wherever I see God in the scriptures and in history — not someone who came into being only two thousand years ago in Bethlehem but one who “became flesh” two thousand years ago, and before that was with God and was God (John 1), co-existing with the Father and the Spirit, part of the Godhead, from eternity to eternity.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; I worship you today — one God, now and forever, Amen.

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2 comments on “One God, One Lord

  1. Ronald says:

    Neil,

    Above you made the following statement:

    “the vocabulary used does not actually preclude trinity. The word for “one” is echad and it is used elsewhere in the Old Testament for unity made up of several parts.”

    Applying this to the trinity dogma would mean that the Father is not God, but a part of God, the Son is not God, but a part of God, and that the holy spirit is not God, but a part of God. The scriptures given showing that the Hebrew word ECHAD can refer to a one made of many parts does not apply to the trinity dogma, since the trinity dogma claims that the Father is not a part of God, but wholly God, and that the Son is not a part of God, but wholly God, and that the holy spirit is not a part of God, but wholly God.

    Of course, the fact that the only true God speaks to his firstborn creature, saying, “let us”, in scriptures such as Genesis 1:26, does not mean that the firstborn creature is God Himself, anymore than if I say to my roomate, “let us return to our apartment,” would mean that I am my roomate.

    1 Corinthians 8:6 speaks of Jesus as the “one Lord” that has been made lord by Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Isaiah 61:1; Acts 2:360 There is nothing at all in that verse that gives us any idea that Yahweh of Deuteronomy 6:4 has become “the Lord” of 1 Corinthians 8:6.

    In Genesis 18:1, it is Yahweh, the God and Father of Jesus, who appears to Abraham. Then Abraham sees three “men,” who are identified as “angels”. There is no evidence from any of these scriptures that one of these three men/angels was Jesus, although one of them could have been. That would not mean that Jesus is Yahweh, the God that sent Jesus and that Jesus worships, prays to, and speaks the words of as the Logos of Yahweh. — Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Matthew 4:4 (Deuteronomy 8:3; Luke 4:4); Matthew 4:7 (Deuteronomy 6:16); Matthew 4:10 (Exodus 20:3-5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 6:13,14; 10:20; Luke 4:8); Matthew 22:29-40; Matthew 26:42; Matthew 27:46; Mark 10:6 (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 2:7,20-23); Mark 14:36; 15:34; Luke 22:42; John 4:3; 5:30; 6:38; 17:1,3; 20:17; Romans 15:6; 2 Corinthians 1:3; 11:31; Ephesians 1:3,17; Hebrews 1:9; 10:7; 1 Peter 1:3; Revelation 2:7; 3:2,12.

    For more on Jesus and his God, see:
    http://godandson.reslight.net

    Christian love,
    Ronald

    Like

  2. Neil says:

    Ronald

    I have visited your website and read some of the stuff there.

    Without wanting to be unkind, I do find what I’ve read terribly misguided and erroneous, but I’m afraid it would take more time and effort than I have to spare to refute all your arguments one by one. Sufficient, I think, just to pick up on your interpretation of Revelation 22.12-16 as an example. There you engage in the most bizzare mental contortions to try (completely unconvincingly) to show that the “I, Jesus” of verse 16 is not the person who calls himself the Alpha and Omega (a divine title) in verse 12. It just won’t wash. And in any case the divinity of Jesus is written all over the New Testament. What concerns me is why you are so anxious to deny it.

    However, for the sake of other readers of my posts who might be following this exchange, here are my brief answers to the points you have raised about it …

    1. I did not say that the Hebrew word “echad” proves trinity, I simply said it does not preclude the possibility of it as the Jews like to claim.

    2. It nowhere says in Genesis 1 that God is speaking to any “firstborn creature” when he says “let us make man in our own image”. I assume you are reading back from Proverbs 8 and having God speaking to personified “wisdom” in the “we” passage, but wisdom literature did not emerge until centuries after Genesis was written so that can hardly have been in the writer’s mind; rather he recognised an inexplicable plurality within the oneness of divinity.

    3. If you cannot see the identification of Jesus with Yahweh in 1 Corinthians 8.6, read in context, then I suggest that you have really not begun to grasp the thrust of Paul’s teaching throughout his letters at all, culminating in Romans 5.9 where he calls Christ “God over all, blessed forever.”

    4. In Genesis 18 there is a clear identification of the three men with Yahweh at several points and the fact that in other places they are referred to as angels does not alter that. The term angel was often used in the Old Testament to describe a theophany, eg in Judges 6, “the Lord” and “the angel of the Lord” are used interchangeably of the one who appeared to Gideon.

    In conclusion might I just add that, in denying the divinity of Christ, you are not only setting yourself against the historic trinitarian creeds of Christendom but also against all those countless saints, scholars, teachers and theologians who, over two thousand years, have firmly come to the conclusion that Jesus, no less than the Father and no less than the Spirit, is indeed God. Are you sure that your insight and understanding really is greater than all of theirs and that you are right where all of them are wrong?

    Neil

    Like

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