THE GOD OF JESUS: PART THREE
The Lord Our God Is One
The Biblical Scriptures teach there is a single God who is responsible for the existence and sustenance of all things. This monotheistic approach is the cornerstone of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Judaism and Islam believe this God to be a single undifferentiated entity. Much of Christianity is Trinitarian and teaches God is a single entity differentiated into Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Trinitarians see plurality in the single entity that is God. To ancient Israel, God was identified as being one.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5: Hear, O Israel: The LORD (Hebrew: YHWH) our God (Hebrew: Elohim), the LORD (YHWH) is one (Hebrew: echad). Love the LORD (YHWH) your God (Elohim) with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
This proclamation found in Deuteronomy does not define or identify the nature of the oneness that is God. It is simply a statement of monotheism, a statement saying there is one God Being as opposed to polytheism which is a belief in the existence and efficacy of many separate god Beings. In Judaism, this statement is called the Shema which is the Hebrew word “to hear.” Jesus affirmed monotheism in the first century. He was asked what the most important commandment was and He gave this answer:
Mark 12:29-30, 32, 34: "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: `Hear, O Israel, the Lord (Greek: kurios) our God (Greek: Theos), the Lord (kurios) is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' Verse 32: "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him." Verse 34: When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
It is instructive that in his reply, the man identifies the one God as a him, a personal pronoun denoting singularity of Being. Old Testament (OT) Scriptures consistently testify to God being a single Being who is responsible for creation and who is over all things.
Deuteronomy 4:35: ... the LORD (Hebrew YHWH throughout) is God (Hebrew Elohim throughout); besides him there is no other.
Deuteronomy 4:39: Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.
Deuteronomy 32:39a: "See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me.
1 Kings 8:60: So that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.
Isaiah 45:5a: I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.
Isaiah 44:24: This is what the LORD says-- your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.
Psalm 83:18: Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD-- that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.
Jeremiah 10:10a: But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.
In quoting the Shema, Jesus confirms Israel’s monotheistic understanding of God. While the Shema does not identify or define the nature of this one God, Jesus and the Apostles clearly identify this God as the Father. In John 5:44 and 17:3, Jesus says the Father is the one and only true God. Paul does the same in 1 Corinthians 8:6 and John does the same in 1 John 5:20. This being the case, why do most Christians believe the nature of the one God to be a tri-unity of Father, Son and Spirit?
Most Christians are monotheistic. They believe there to be one and only one Supreme God. There are, however, different perspectives as to how to define this one and only God. Unitarians (not to be confused with the Unitarian Church) view God as being of undifferentiated composition. Trinitarians see God as a differentiated plurality of composition. Trinitarianism teaches the one true God is Father, Son and Spirit. The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. These are not three Gods but three distinctions, dimensions or expressions of the one and only God. Therefore, the question before us is not the oneness of God per se but how that oneness is to be defined.
Some believe the Trinitarian God has its roots in the OT, including the Shema. The word translated "one" found in the Shema is from the Hebrew echad. Because of the manner in which this word is used in various OT Scriptures, it is felt oneness can be seen as being composed of more than a single entity. This word is felt to express “compound unity.” It is argued that echad, when modifying a collective noun such as “cluster,” implies a plurality in echad. An example that is used is Numbers 13:23b, “they cut off a branch bearing a single (echad) cluster of grapes.” Since the word “cluster” is a collective noun in so much as it implies more than one entity making up the cluster, it is felt echad, in modifying the noun, implies more than one entity. Some other Scriptures used to suggest echad implies a “compound unity” are as follows:
Genesis 2:24: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one (echad) flesh. Here we see two individuals being defined as one.
Genesis 34:16: Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We'll settle among you and become one (echad) people with you. Here we find “one” including several cultures of people.
Ezra 2:64: The whole (echad) company numbered 42,360. Here echad is translated whole and includes thousands of people.
To argue that echad can signify more than a single entity making up oneness is problematical. The Hebrew echad is associated with the numerical one and appears hundreds of times in the OT as designating the absolute singleness of something with no hint of such singleness being more than one of that something. In the example of the man and woman becoming one flesh, the man and woman still remain two autonomous individuals. The persons of the Triune God are not seen as autonomous but as indwelling each other. We know a man and women do not literally become one flesh but remain two separate individuals. There becoming one flesh is descriptive of sexual union and not that they literally become a single individual. Therefore, this analogy is without merit.
In the example of two peoples becoming one people, the two peoples still remain autonomous. They don’t indwell each other. They become one only in the sense of becoming one people through intermarriage. They remain separated entities within their one group. Trinitarianism sees God as a single entity of single substance differentiated into three persons or distinctions indwelling each other. Therefore, God is seen as one (echad) plurality. In examining how echad is used in the OT, it appears that when a collective noun such as “people” is modified by echad, the plurality is in the collective noun and not in the modifier. When echad modifies a noun that suggests plurality, it signifies a single unit of that plurality. In the Shema, there is nothing in echad or YHWH that suggests plurality of Being.
As discussed below, the Hebrew Elohim is generally rendered “God” in the OT and is a plural noun. When this noun is modified by echad, some see echad as identifying God (Elohim) as a single plurality of Father, Son and Spirit. The Scriptures, however, identify God (Elohim) as YHWH. There is nothing in the noun YHWH to suggest plurality. When the Shema says YHWH is the one God (echad Elohim), it is identifying God (Elohim) as the single undifferentiated entity called YHWH, who, as will be shown as we proceed with our discussion, is the Father and none other but the Father.
The Hebrew Scriptures consistently show YHWH as being the one and only true Elohim. While Elohim is plural in the Hebrew, YHWH is not. There is nothing in the meaning of YHWH that denotes plurality. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude when the Hebrew echad is used in reference to YHWH Elohim, it is identifying God as one singular, unseparated and undifferentiated Being and not a plurality of entities indwelling each other as taught in Trinitarianism, or a plurality of separate God Beings (God being a family of Beings) as is taught by some Christian groups.
For those who believe God is a family of God Beings, the word God is considered a family name. There is one God family which is presently made up of the Father and the Son. It is believed this is an “open family” where, through resurrection from the dead, humans can become members of this God family and virtually become God as God is God. The concept of a Trinitarian God is seen as opposed to the concept of humans becoming members of “the God family” because it is believed Trinitarianism teaches God is a closed family. It must be understood, however, that Trinitarian theology does not teach God is a closed family of Beings. Under Trinitarianism, God is not a family of separate individual Beings. God is a single Being of indwelling entities of Father, Son and Spirit. Some Trinitarians teach that the human race is centered in this indwelling relationship of Father, Son and Spirit, a concept discussed in the last chapter of this book.
The plurality in God seen by Trinitarians is not that of separation but of indwelling distinctions. It’s analogous to the sun being attributes of fire, heat and light which act as one but can be distinguished from one another. Trinitarians see God as a single Being of Father, Son and Spirit indwelling each other. These indwelling distinctions are viewed as being of one mind and power and always acting as one. The concept of God as a family of separate Beings is not found in Trinitarianism. Those who see the concept of a Trinitarian God being opposed to the family of God concept need to better understand how the Trinitarian God is defined.
It should be pointed out that while God is not seen as a family of Beings in either Trinitarianism or Unitarianism, both positions allow for God to have a family. Humans becoming Son’s of God through Christ, who himself became a Son of God through Divine birth and resurrection from the dead, is clearly indicated in the Scriptures.
It is sometimes argued that if the writer of the Shema had wanted to express an absolute oneness of God he would have used the Hebrew word yachid in the Shema rather than echad. The Hebrew word yachid is felt to express the idea of absolute oneness in the OT. For example in Genesis 22:2a, God says to Abraham, "Take your son, your only (yachid) son, Isaac.” Since the author of the Shema used echad rather than yachid, it is believed the Shema does not express absolute oneness and allows for plurality in God. However, as already indicated, plurality is not seen in the word echad. As discussed above, plurality is sometimes seen in nouns echad modifies including the plural elohim, a word commonly associated with YHWH. Nothing in the word YHWH by itself indicates plurality. Does the plurality found in elohim indicate plurality in YHWH?
GOD AS ELOHIM IN THE OLD TESTAMENT:
As already pointed out, some argue that because the Hebrew elohim, which is translated God in the OT, is a plural noun, it shows plurality within God. Therefore, when echad is used in association with elohim the sense is that there is one God in whom there resides plurality. Some believe when elohim is translated into the English word God, it should be translated as God’s.
Genesis 1:1: In the beginning “God’s” (elohim) created the heavens and the earth.
The Hebrew word for God in this passage is elohim. This word appears 2,570 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and is used most of the time to identify the one true God. As already discussed, elohim appears in a plural form and because elohim appears in a plural form, some have concluded this word has an implicit connotation of plurality in the one God.
The Hebrew Soncino Commentary shows elohim to be a plural word in the Hebrew language and is often used in Hebrew to denote “plenitude of might.” Some Hebrew linguists believe Elohim is derived from the Hebrew El, which has the meaning of "the strong one." The Gesenius Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon of the Old Testament defines elohim as “plural of majesty.” The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament states the plural elohim is “usually described as a plural of majesty and not intended as a true plural when used of God as this noun is consistently used with singular verb forms and with adjectives and pronouns in the singular.” Examples of this are found in association with the creation account in Genesis chapter one.
Genesis 1:27-31: So God (elohim throughout) created man in his (singular pronoun) own image, in the image of God he (singular pronoun) created him; male and female he (singular pronoun) created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." Then God said, "I (singular) give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground--everything that has the breath of life in it--I (singular) give every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw all that he (singular) had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning--the sixth day.
Further evidence that elohim does not imply plurality of Being is found in how this word is used in other Scriptural passages. For example, in Exodus 7:1 we read, “Then the LORD said to Moses, "See, I have made you like God (elohim) to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.” Moses is one single Being and obviously not made up of several persons. Another example is found in 1 Samuel 5:7 where the Philistines had captured the ark of the God of Israel and set it next to their god Dagon in the temple of Dagon at Ashdod. Israel’s God began to bring judgment upon the people of Ashdod which led to the following conclusion:
1 Samuel 5:7: When the men of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god (elohim) of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy upon us and upon Dagon our god (elohim).”
Here we find elohim freely used to describe both the God of Israel and Dagon the god of the Philistines. There is no reason to believe Dagon was of plural composition. The god of the Amorites, called Chemosh, is called elohim in Judges 11:24.
It should be obvious when looking at the manner elohim is used throughout the OT Scriptures that it simply means plenitude of might or plural of majesty as the Hebrew Lexicons clearly show. This word is used to define not only the one true God but also angels, pagan gods and at times humans who are granted power and authority. Humans are seen as made a little lower than elohim.
Psalm 8:4-5: What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings (elohim) (NIV).
The Septuagint (The Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that began to be made around 250 B.C.) translates elohim in this passage as angelos which is the Greek word for angel or messenger. The KJV and NKJV apparently follow the Greek and translate elohim as angels. The ASV, NASV, and RVSV translate elohim as “God” in this passage which indicates these translators are translating directly from the Hebrew text. By translating elohim as “heavenly beings” it appears the NIV (and also the NET) translators are taking a somewhat neutral approach. It is the Septuagint that the writer of Hebrews apparently used when he quotes from this Psalm and goes on to describe Jesus being made in the same fashion as man.
Hebrews 2:6-9: But there is a place where someone has testified: "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet." In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
The writer to the Hebrews teaches that man, including Jesus, was made a little lower than elohim. If the Psalmist is using elohim in reference to the one true God, this has implications for our understanding of the origin and nature of Jesus. Trinitarianism teaches Jesus has existed eternally as a co-equal and con-substantial distinction of the one true God. The writer to the Hebrews is saying Jesus was made lower than elohim like all other humans. The context of this passage shows it is God the Father who has made Jesus lower than elohim and able to die like all humans who are made lower than elohim. You will see the implications of this as we proceed with our discussion.
It should also be noted that it is written that man was made a little lower than angel’s (or elohim) and crowned with glory and honor with everything put under his feet and subject to him. Yet the writer says that at present (at the time this was written) not everything is subject to man. The writer then speaks of Jesus also being made lower than angels (or elohim) but in the case of Jesus, He has now been crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death. The implication is that prior to His death, Jesus was not crowned with glory and honor but was first given such crowning after He suffered death on behalf of the human race. This indicates Jesus was like all other humans until God glorified Him after He had completed His mission to die for the sins of the world and not that Jesus was already glorified which would have been the case if He was an eternally existing person of a Triune Godhead.
It has been argued that when God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26a), this shows a plurality in God because of the use of the plural pronouns “us” and “our.” In verse 27, however, there is an immediate return to the use of singular pronouns to modify the word for God (Elohim). “So God created man in his (singular) own image, in the image of God he (singular) created him; male and female he (singular) created them.” These singular pronouns show God as a single entity. Yet the language of Genesis 1:26 indicates this single entity called God is communicating with others having the same image and likeness as that with which God intends to create man.
Trinitarianism teaches God is a single entity (one essence) and, as such, is Father, Son and Spirit. To a Trinitarian, therefore, the singular pronoun identification of God in the above passages is not a problem because God is believed to be of a single essence but plural in composition. Trinitarians believe in the singularity of God but define that singularity as composed of plurality. God saying, “Let us make man in our image and likeness” is seen as God communicating within Himself as Father, Son and Spirit.
Is God talking to Himself in Genesis 1:26? Could God be talking to an attendant council of angels and possibly other supernatural beings who themselves may have been created in the image and likeness of the one God and given various levels of authority and power? In Job 38:1-7 God is speaking to Job about His creation of the earth and refers to it being a time when, “all the angels shouted for joy.”
As already discussed, elohim is a plural word in the Hebrew language which denotes plenitude of might and plural of majesty. As such, this word is not intended as a true plural when used of God or anyone else. This noun is consistently used with singular verb forms and with adjectives and pronouns in the singular and is not only used to identify the one and only true God but also angels, other heavenly Beings and even humans who have been granted power and authority. This word does not denote quantity of Being, but quality of Being. This word denotes attributes of status, not numerical status.
Let’s again look at Deuteronomy 6:4-5. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD (YHWH) our God (Elohim), the LORD (YHWH) is one (echad). Love the LORD (YHWH) your God (Elohim) with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" If the plural Elohim means Gods, you virtually have to read this passage as fellows which can be seen as making no sense at all.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD (YHWH) our Gods (Elohim), the LORD (YHWH) is one (echad). Love the LORD (YHWH) your Gods (Elohim) with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."
This passage only makes sense if you read it with the understanding that Elohim is a single Being whose personal name is YHWH. Seeing YHWH as the name of two or more Beings, who together comprise the one God (Elohim), does not square with Scriptures that identify YHWH as a single undifferentiated Being. Therefore, the “family of God” concept is very problematical. As we proceed with this discussion, it will become apparent that viewing Elohim (when this word is associated with the one true God) as a plurality of Beings is scripturally untenable.
While Trinitarians don’t see the plural Elohim as meaning a family of separate individuals being the one God, they do see a plurality in Elohim in the form of indwelling, un-separated distinctions of the one God Being. As we progress with this discussion, it will be demonstrated that this position is also scripturally untenable.