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Chapter 1. Yahweh, The One and Only God

Chapter 1

Yahweh,
The One and Only God

Yahweh: God’s personal name

Who is God and does He have a name? Why do so many biblical scholars and Bible dictionaries and Bible encyclopedias call Him by the name Yahweh? In English Bibles, when the word “Lord” is printed in small capitals as Lord, it indicates that the original word in the Hebrew text is YHWH or Yahweh, which is God’s personal name. For example, the familiar phrase “the word of the Lord” is in the Hebrew text literally “the word of Yahweh” (e.g. 1Kings 18:1, “the word of Yahweh came to Elijah”). In Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd” is literally “Yahweh is my shepherd”. The familiar term “the Spirit of the Lord” is literally “the Spirit of Yahweh” (e.g. Ezekiel 11:5, “the Spirit of Yahweh fell upon me”).

The typographical convention of rendering “Lord” as Lord in small capitals is explained in the prefaces of most modern Bibles. ESV says, “The ESV usually renders the personal name of God (YHWH) with the word Lord (printed in small capitals).” Note ESV’s helpful reference to “the personal name of God,” a reminder of the crucial fact that “Yahweh” or YHWH is God’s personal name. This is seen throughout the Hebrew Bible, for example, in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain” (Ex.20:7, literal rendering). It is also seen in Exodus 3:15 in which God says to Moses:

Say this to the people of Israel, “Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (ESV, “Yahweh” in the original Hebrew restored)

In saying, “This is my name forever,” God was referring to His own name Yahweh which appears in the same verse. The word “forever” indicates that Yahweh is to be God’s name not just for one generation but for all eternity; indeed it is “to be remembered throughout all generations”.

It is standard knowledge among Bible scholars, liberal and conservative, that Yahweh is God’s personal name, as seen in Bible encyclopedias such as ISBE (“Yahweh is the only truly personal name of God in Israel’s faith”), in Hebrew lexicons such as TWOT (“Yahweh, the personal name of God”), and in Bible commentaries such as UBC (“the knowledge of the personal name of God, Yahweh, was arguably the greatest gift of God entrusted to Israel”).[1]

In fact the standard translation of Isaiah 42:8 makes no sense (“I am the Lord, that is my name”) unless the name Yahweh is restored, as in NJB and HCSB: “I am Yahweh, that is my name”.

The preponderance of the name “Yahweh”

Most Christians don’t know that God’s name is Yahweh or similar, or that He even has a name. The ignorance of God’s name is unacceptable given that YHWH occurs 6,828 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. The ignorance is puzzling given that many academic works regularly use the name Yahweh or YHWH in their biblical and theological studies. For example, the exact word “Yahweh” occurs 2287 times in the revised International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 2090 times in United Bible Societies OT Handbooks, and 4023 times in the OT portion of New American Commentary.

We note that these are conservative Bible references lest we glibly dismiss “Yahweh” as a fabrication of liberal scholarship or Christian sects. The sometimes liberal Anchor Bible Dictionary, regarded by many as the most scholarly Bible dictionary or encyclopedia ever, has 3280 instances of “Yahweh”.

What about Elohim (אְֶלֹהִים), the well-known Hebrew word for “God” or “god”? Whereas Yahweh occurs 6,828 times in the Hebrew Bible, Elohim occurs about 2,602 times. Hence the primary term for God in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) is not “God” but “Yahweh”.

Moreover, around 10% of the 2,602 instances of the term Elohim refer to false gods such as the gods of Egypt (Ex. 12:12), the golden calf (Ex.32:4), and the goddess Ashtoreth (1Ki.11:33). In rare instances, Elohim is used of human beings, e.g. Moses (Ex.4:16; 7:1), unjust judges (Ps.82:6), and possibly Samuel’s spirit (1Sam.28:13). The other 90% of the instances of Elohim refer to the God of Israel. The combination “Yahweh Elohim” (“Lord God” in most Bibles) occurs 891 times.

All this tells us that the Bible’s primary designation of the God of Israel is “Yahweh” rather than “God,” not only in terms of numerical preponderance (6,828 versus 2,602 instances) but also in terms of precision of reference (the 6,828 instances of “Yahweh” all refer to the God of Israel and never to false gods, without exception). Hence it is unacceptable that God’s unique and personal name Yahweh is rendered in most English Bibles as Lord, a title of honor that is sometimes applied to humans.

In fact some Bible scholars are calling for a return to the original name Yahweh. The standard five-volume NIDOTT theological dictionary says:

The “translation” Lord is something of a problem from various perspectives. Lord obscures the fact that Yahweh is a name and not a title … In view of this reality, it could be argued that, as with other personal names, we simply transliterate what the original Hebrew was thought to be—Yahweh. (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology, vol.5, “Yahweh”).

 

The identity of Yahweh: Who exactly is Yahweh?

In order to understand a person, whether human or divine, it is often helpful to make a few summary statements about him. This is helpful in establishing the precise identity of Yahweh:

  • Yahweh is the one and only God. Yahweh says, “I am Yahweh, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5); and “there is no other god besides me” (v.21).
  • Yahweh is the only Creator. Yahweh says, “I am Yahweh, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.” (Isaiah 44:24)
  • Yahweh is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yahweh instructed Moses to tell the Israelites: “Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:15)
  • Yahweh is the God and Father of Jesus Christ. As a preliminary point, we note that Yahweh is our Father: “You, O Yahweh, are our Father” (Isaiah 63:16; also 64:8). “Is this the way you repay Yahweh, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father who created you?” (Dt.32:6; cf. Mal.2:10). But more specifically, Yahweh is also the God and Father of Jesus Christ: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn.20:17). Just three chapters earlier, Jesus calls his Father “the only true God” (John 17:3), an exclusive identification that aligns perfectly with Isaiah 45:5: “I am Yahweh, and there is no other, besides me there is no God”. Hence Yahweh is the God and Father of Jesus Christ.

“Yahweh” in the Scriptures

In the Bible there is one and only God, and there is no other besides Him. He has revealed His name as Yahweh which in Hebrew is יהוה, transliterated into English as YHWH. Because it consists of four consonantal letters, it is called the Tetragrammaton (“four letters”). Since Hebrew is written from right to left, the first letter, Yod, corresponding to Y in YHWH, is the small curved letter at upper right:

יהוה

Yahweh is mentioned on almost every page of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), often several times on one page. To be specific, YHWH occurs 6,828 times in the Old Testament, or almost seven times per page on average, assuming that the OT section of a typical Bible has 1,000 pages. It occurs 34 times in Deuteronomy 28 alone.

The short form of “Yahweh” is “Ya” or “Yah” which occurs 49 times in the Old Testament, with 40 of these found in the Psalms, e.g. three in the following passage:

I shall live to recount the great deeds of Yah. Though Yah punished me sternly, he has not abandoned me to death. Open for me the gates of saving justice, I shall go in and thank Yah. (Psalm 118:17-19, NJB, with “Yahweh” changed to “Yah” to conform to the original Hebrew text).

Catholic Encyclopedia (“Jehovah, Yahweh”) says that the name Yahweh is embedded in 163 personal names. Some of them incorporate “Yahweh” in the first syllable (Jehoahaz, Jehu, Jehoshaphat, Joab, Joel, Jonathan, Joshua, Judah), others in the last syllable (Elijah, Hezekiah, Hilkiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Josiah, Micaiah, Nehemiah, Uriah, Zechariah, Zephaniah). Given that “Jeremiah” alone occurs about 130 times in the Old Testament, and “Joshua” about 200 times, and “Judah” about 800 times (to give just three examples which combine for over 1,000 occurrences), we can probably estimate on the low side that the OT has at least 6,000 occurrences of “Yahweh” embedded in the 163 proper names, if not 8,000 or 10,000 or more. When we include the 6,828 and 49 occurrences of “Yahweh” and “Yah” respectively, we could easily arrive at a total of more than 14,000 occurrences of “Yahweh” in its various forms.

When “Yahweh” is embedded in the first syllable of a name, it is often shortened to “Je” as in the case of “Jehoiada” or “Jehu”. It is in this form that Yahweh’s name appears in the Hebrew form of “Jesus”. Another form is “Jo” which is found in names such as “Joab” and “Joel”.

Those who don’t know Hebrew might not know that “Y” and “J” in these transliterated names represent the same Hebrew letter Yod, the first letter of YHWH, which is why YHWH can be transliterated “Jahweh” as in German. In pronunciation, the German “J” is the same as the Hebrew Yod (“y” is not used in German except when foreign words such as yacht or yoga are borrowed), so Yahweh’s name is sometimes spelled with a “J”. In fact the German “J” sounds closer to the Hebrew Yod than does the English “J”.

From all this we see that the first letter in Yahweh—the consonant Yod—can be followed by one of several possible vowels such as “a”, “e”, or “o”. Yet the name Yahweh is still represented by the Yod (which, interestingly, is the physically smallest letter of the Jewish consonantal alphabet, and this is surely not without spiritual significance). This is confirmed by the fact that even if the first syllable “Yah” stands by itself, the reference to Yahweh’s name remains perfectly clear.

In the case of the name “Jesus” (from Hebrew Jehoshua or Yehoshua), the short form Yah is used with “e”, so the reference to Yahweh appears in the “Ye” or “Je” of “Jesus”. In the English spoken 500 years ago (as represented by KJV 1611), “J” is closer to the German “J” than even to the modern English “J”.

The fact that Yahweh’s name can shortened to “Yah” indicates that the essential element of “Yahweh” lies in the first syllable “Yah”. Moreover, the fact that “Yah” can exist as “Ye” or “Ya” or “Yo” when embedded in Hebrew names indicates that the key element of “Yah” is the initial Yod. So the tiny letter Yod is the essential component of “Yahweh”; every other letter can be left out (e.g. by reducing “Yahweh” to “Yah”) or changed (e.g. “a” into “e” or “o”) without impairing the recognizability of the divine name. But we can never remove the indispensable Y (or J in some languages).

But where is Yahweh in the New Testament?

But turning a few pages from the Old Testament to the New Testament, suddenly the name Yahweh seems to have disappeared, as if the New Testament were a totally different book with only a faint connection to the Old Testament! Until I had come to see the centrality of the name and person of Yahweh in the New Testament, the apparent absence of His name in the New Testament puzzled me (even though it can be explained by the absence of “Yahweh” in the LXX). Then it dawned on me that in fact His name appears on almost every page of the NT, and sometimes, as in the OT, several times on one page. How could I have been blind to this fact? As one who knows some Hebrew, it was inexcusable of me.

So where is Yahweh’s name in the New Testament? It appears in every instance of “Jesus”! Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yeshua (i.e. Joshua). The first syllable of Yeshua—namely Ye—is a common short form of “Yahweh” when it is embedded in proper names.

Here is the striking thing: There is no way for us to invoke the name “Jesus” without referring to “Yahweh” as the cornerstone of that name. Although trinitarians have knowingly or unknowingly pushed aside the all-glorious Yahweh from their doctrinal scheme of things, they cannot run away from His name no matter what they do! Such is Yahweh’s wisdom that every time “Jesus” is spoken, Yahweh is proclaimed the Savior of the world! He makes the ignorant speak the truth even in their ignorance!

Yahweh’s prominence in the New Testament lies not only in the fact that His name is embedded in Jesus’ name (“Yahweh saves”), but also in the amazing revelation that Yahweh Himself, the one and only God, came into the world to dwell in Jesus, the temple of God.

Moreover, the one who gave Jesus his name in the first place was Yahweh Himself, through an angel of the Lord (“you shall call his name Jesus,” Mt.1:21). The reasons for this are now clear, and one can exclaim with Paul, “How unsearchable are His (Yahweh’s) ways.”

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, NIV)

This verse reveals God’s purpose in giving Jesus the name “Jesus”. But “Jesus” was a common name in New Testament times, as can be confirmed by consulting a Bible dictionary. None of the many others who were called “Jesus” saved people from their sins, so the popularity of the name does not, in itself, explain why it was given to Jesus. Yet it was Yahweh Himself, rather than Joseph or Mary, who chose this name for him, in which case the meaning of the name “Jesus” would explain God’s intentions for him.

“Jesus” is equivalent to “Joshua,” a short form of “Jehoshua” (יְהוֹשׁוּעַ or יְהוֹשֻׁעַ); all these mean “Yahweh is salvation” or “Yahweh saves”. The explanation given in Mt.1:21—“because he will save his people from their sins”—now makes sense. In Jesus and through Jesus, Yahweh will save His people.

The similarity of these words to Psalm 130:8 (“He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins”) is unmistakable (and is noted by BDAG, autos, def.2a). In the LXX (in which the verse is numbered 129:8), the similarity between Psalm 130:8 and Matthew 1:21 is even more pronounced, since both begin with the emphatic pronoun “he” (autos). Hence, Matthew 1:21 is likely an intended reference to Psalm 130:8, indicating that God’s promise in Psalm 130:8 is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The similarity between the two verses is unmistakable when we compare Matthew 1:21, Psalm 129:8 (LXX), and Psalm 130:8 (Hebrew):

Matthew 1:21: αὐτὸς γὰρ σώσει τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτῶν.

Psalm 129:8 (LXX): αὐτὸς λυτρώσεται τὸν Ισραηλ ἐκ πασῶν τῶν ἀνομιῶν αὐτοῦ

Psalm 130:8 (Hebrew): וְהוּא יִפְדֶּה אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵל מִכֹּל עֲוֹנֹתָיו

Here is a literal translation:

Matthew 1:21: For he will save his people from their sins

Psalm 129:8 (LXX): He will redeem Israel out of all their lawlessness

Psalm 130:8 (Hebrew): He will ransom Israel from all their sins

The message is essentially the same in all three statements. The only meaningful difference is the omission of “all” in Matthew’s statement. Do we then conclude that the salvation in Jesus Christ is a partial salvation that does not deliver us from all our sins? Anyone who has read the New Testament would not for a moment think so, so it is clear that “all” is implied.

The name “Yahweh” is mentioned every time we say “Jesus”. Despite the churches’ tendency to sideline Yahweh, all along He has been confronting us with His name Yahweh in the name Jesus. The New Testament is God-centered. And given its Jewish character, it is Yahweh-centered. “God” occurs 1,317 times in the NT whereas “Jesus” occurs 917 times (244 times in John’s Gospel).[2]

When we realize that the New Testament is Yahweh-centered, we will gain a better understanding of how God relates to the biblical Jesus. We will see, for example, that God works in Jesus and through him, notably in the plan of salvation as expressed in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son”. Yahweh’s love for mankind is seen in the giving of His unique Son. “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift” (2Cor.9:15).

On the other hand, the fact that Jesus is mentioned over 900 times tells us that speaking of the New Testament as Yahweh-centered does not do justice to the fact that Jesus is also a focus of the NT. In fact the NT has two foci which complement each other: Jesus never does his work apart from Yahweh his Father, and Yahweh always works through His Son Jesus Christ. It can be said that in God’s plan to save humankind, Yahweh and Jesus are in a joint venture or joint enterprise, to use the language of commerce, but always with Yahweh as having the precedence as the One who initiates every action. His preeminence in all things is expressed by Paul: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).

The only true God in John 17:3 is the Father, not Jesus Christ

I marvel at the fact, yet am also saddened by it, that as a trinitarian I could not see the clear meaning of many of Jesus’ words. The word “bewitched” that Paul uses in Galatians 3:1 is perhaps not too strong to describe the spiritual blindness that pervades trinitarianism. To see what I mean, let us consider what Jesus says in John 17:3:

This is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

Here Jesus is not making an abstruse or complex theological statement. His words are clear and simple. Even if the meaning of “eternal” is vague to some, surely the vocabulary of the sentence as a whole is not beyond that of a primary school student. Indeed John’s Gospel is known for its simple style and vocabulary. So why is it that seeing we do not see, and hearing we do not hear, nor do we understand (Mt.13:13)?

What is Jesus saying in John 17:3? Within one sentence, Jesus twice uses the pronoun “you” (singular in Greek) to address the One he is praying to. It is clear from verse 1 (“Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son”) that Jesus is praying specifically to his Father. This is not denied by trinitarians. Therefore Jesus is simply saying, “You, Father, are the only true God,” a statement that rules out everyone else, including Jesus himself, as being God. How then could we have failed to grasp this short and clear statement? Yet as trinitarians we completely failed to understand it.

In addressing his Father as the only true God, Jesus is ruling out any other, even a so-called “god” or “God,” as true God, and this is reinforced by his use of the article “the” and the adjective “only,” both of which, especially in combination, imply strict exclusion. The triple emphasis (the+only+ true) is a triple rejection of any divine person alongside the Father of Jesus Christ. Similarly, in John 5:44, Jesus calls the Father “the only God”.

Who exactly is the Father whom Jesus calls the only true God? He is none other than Yahweh Himself, the God of Israel and the creator of all things. For who can be “the only true God” (Jn.17:3) but Yahweh who is the only God (“I am Yahweh, and there is no other, besides me there is no God,” Isa.45:5)?

How could we have been so blind as to think that the Father is not the sole person in “the only true God,” or that Jesus is speaking to the three persons of the Trinity including Jesus himself? Does the “you” (singular in Greek) uttered by Jesus include “me”—Jesus himself? Is Jesus praying to himself? And what do we make of the words that follow, “and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”? Here Jesus makes a clear distinction between “Jesus Christ” and “you” by which he excludes himself from “the only true God”.

John 17:3 defeats every attempt to make it trinitarian

The monotheism of John 17:3 is rock solid and defeats every attempt to give it a trinitarian interpretation. This explains why some commentaries either avoid mentioning John 17:3 altogether, or simply quote the words “the only true God” without comment. Other commentaries quote only the first part of John 17:3 (“And this is eternal life, that they may know you”) followed by extensive commentary, but are completely silent on the second part (“… the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”).

But a few trinitarians make a direct attempt to explain away Jesus’ clear statement in John 17:3. This is often done by altering Jesus’ words in a way that widens or expands the definition of “the only true God” to include Jesus Christ or even the whole Trinity into the redefined “only true God”. Augustine, for example, after quoting John 17:3 correctly, goes on to change the order of Jesus’ words in a way that allows Jesus Christ to be absorbed into “the only true God”. Then he does the same for the Holy Spirit. In the following quotation, Augustine’s altered sentence is highlighted in color:

“And this,” Jesus adds, “is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” The proper order of the words is, “That they may know Thee and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent, as the only true God.” Consequently, therefore, the Holy Spirit is also understood, because He is the Spirit of the Father and Son, as the substantial and consubstantial love of both. For the Father and Son are not two Gods, nor are the Father and Son and Holy Spirit three Gods; but the Trinity itself is the one only true God. [3]

Trinitarianism has blinded us to the plain meaning of Jesus’ words. One would have thought that the meaning of John 17:3 is so clear that no further discussion would be needed to show that it is incongruous with the trinitarian Christ of the Nicene Creed. But as trinitarians, we ignored what Jesus had so plainly taught. I say “we” because I myself had zealously taught and preached the Trinity for some fifty years. A “trinitarian of trinitarians” (cp. Acts 23:6), I proclaimed this doctrine with utter zeal, and had led many to the trinitarian Christ. I am not self-righteously pointing my finger at trinitarians as though I am better than they. I am only genuinely trying my best to understand how I, and many others, could be so entangled in serious error without realizing it. Until there is a better explanation for this, it seems to be bewitchment.

 

Seeking an explanation for this blindness, I came across the article “Trinity” in ISBE (vol.5, p.3012f) written by B.B. Warfield who is known as “the last of the great Princeton theologians”. Reading his article carefully, I began to see the subtle process by which Jesus’ words, and with them all of biblical monotheism, could be so easily brushed aside with philosophical sophistication and the persuasive argumentation of human wisdom.

Only the first part of Warfield’s essay is quoted below. It is skillfully presented. First he admits what cannot be denied, namely, that trinitarian language is unbiblical and derived from philosophy, while boldly asserting that it is nonetheless Scriptural in essence. Using the language of chemistry, Warfield says that trinitarian truth is the “crystallization” of what is hidden in Scripture as a “solution” and in “solvent” state. While admitting that the Trinity is a doctrine extrapolated from “fragmentary allusions,” Warfield boldly goes on to say that it is nonetheless a “genuinely Scriptural doctrine”.

Warfield gets bolder in the next paragraph and says that the Trinity is in fact “indiscoverable” in Scripture and can only be known by revelation! By this clever sophistry, he has transformed a glaring trinitarian weakness (the lack of biblical support) into a supposed strength, and the non-existent into something knowable only by trinitarian illumination!

For brevity we quote only the first paragraph of his essay. Note the boldly unscriptural argumentation that comes out, without exaggeration, in almost every sentence:

The term “Trinity” is not a Biblical term, and we are not using Biblical language when we define what is expressed by it as the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence. A doctrine so defined can be spoken of as a Biblical doctrine only on the principle that the sense of Scripture is Scripture. And the definition of a Biblical doctrine in such un-Biblical language can be justified only on the principle that it is better to preserve the truth of Scripture than the words of Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity lies in Scripture in solution; when it is crystallized from its solvent it does not cease to be Scriptural, but only comes into clearer view. Or, to speak without figure, the doctrine of the Trinity is given to us in Scripture, not in formulated definition, but in fragmentary allusions; when we assemble the disjecta membra [Latin for “scattered members”] into their organic unity, we are not passing from Scripture, but entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture. We may state the doctrine in technical terms, supplied by philosophical reflection; but the doctrine stated is a genuinely Scriptural doctrine.

Here we see how easily the writer moves in one bold step from Scripture to non-Scripture. This is seen in almost every sentence, even from the start of the article. But did we catch it?

A crucial thing to notice is that Warfield defines trinitarianism as “the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons” (italics added). The words in italics are a direct reference to John 17:3 in which Jesus declares that the Father is “the only true God”. But by not quoting Jesus in full, Warfield intentionally or unintentionally sidesteps the crucial word “you” (singular in Greek) in John 17:3. Jesus is not merely saying, “there is one true God”; he is saying, “You (i.e. Father) are the only true God”. Jesus is not just making a general statement on monotheism but specifies exactly who is the only true God.

The same fundamental error is made in the hymn, “We believe in One True God,” by Tobias Clausnitzer, 1668, and translated from the German by Catherine Winkworth, 1863. Whereas Jesus says that only the Father is true God (Jn.17:3), the first line of this hymn goes off on a tangent: “We believe in one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. Just as puzzling, the Scripture verse given by a hymnbook as the biblical basis of this hymn is none other than John 17:3! A similar error is seen in the title of a book by Clarence H. Benson: “The One True God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.

It is this crucial fact—that Jesus addresses his Father as the only true God—which is suppressed in trinitarianism. The error then slides into a trinitarian distortion of the word “monotheism” to make it mean something other than monotheism, namely, that “in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence” (Warfield). But how can the doctrine of a Godhead of three persons be monotheism, the doctrine of one and only God?

Starting with a reference to Jesus’ lucid words spoken to the Father in John 17:3, the ISBE article immediately moves on to terms such as “substance” and “subsistence” and “Godhead” which are unintelligible to most people and which do not come from anything in the Scriptures, but are in fact “technical terms, supplied by philosophical reflection,” an apt description that is supplied by none other than B.B. Warfield himself!

Monotheism versus idolatry

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul makes a strong stand for monotheism in statements such as “there is no God but one” and “there is one God, the Father” which are clear echoes of Old Testament monotheism. Paul’s exposition is notable for the interweaving of strands of thought on monotheism and those on idolatry, switching back and forth between the two themes effortlessly.

4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1Cor.8:4-6, ESV)

Paul says that there is no God but one (v.4), and uses the Greek word oudeis (none, nothing) to say that an idol “is nothing at all” (NIV) or “has no real existence” (ESV). In saying that man-made idols are nothing, Paul is echoing the many Old Testament statements that mock the worthlessness and ineffectiveness of idols (1Sam.5:3; Isa.40:20; 41:7; 46:6-7).

The dual themes of 1 Corinthians 8—monotheism and idolatry, portrayed as conflicting opposites—tell us that if we abandon monotheism, idolatry will abound; but if we uphold monotheism, idolatry will be destroyed.

In Old Testament times, the land of Israel was filled with the idols which the Israelites had set up in shrines and high places. It is not surprising that the Old Testament uses some 18 different Hebrew words to refer to idols or idolatry. The Israelites were worshipping the false gods fashioned from wood, stone, silver and gold (Dt.29:17; Isa.31:7; 44:13-17). The depth and pervasiveness of their idolatry in the land of Israel can be seen in many verses, including:

Jeremiah 11:13 You have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal (= “Lord”) are as many as the streets of Jerusalem. (NIV)

Isaiah 2:8 Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. (ESV)

A perceptive description of the evil of idolatry is given by Ahuva Ho in The Targum of Zephaniah: Manuscript and Commentary (pp.412-413, italics are in the original):

Idolatry is the most condemned abomination, for this is the root of all evil. It caused the destruction of the Temples and the exile. “The Wicked” as idolaters is self-explanatory. Idolatry is expressed in syncretism, apostasy and agnosticism: they worshiped both YHWH and foreign gods. They swore in the name of YHWH then repeated that vow in the name of their idols (1:4b–5). They worshiped Baal and allowed priests to officiate. They worshiped the hosts of heaven. They rushed to worship idols and to imitate the ways of the Philistines (1:4–5, 8–9).

It would be mistaken to think that the Israelites were only worshipping their idols ceremonially as a religious ritual. Their idolatry went deeper, for the leaders of Israel had taken the idols into their hearts, an abomination that is mentioned several times in Ezekiel: “these men (the elders and leaders of Israel, v.1) have taken their idols into their hearts” (Ezek.14:3; also vv.4,7). They believed in their idols with all their hearts: “their soul delights in their abominations (idols)” (Isa.66:3). So fervent was their faith in their gods, represented by their idols, that they offered the blood of their sons (Ezek.16:36; vv.20-21) and set up high places to “burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal” (Jer.19:5).

In 1 Corinthians 8:4, quoted above, the negative statement “an idol is nothing” or “an idol has no real existence” has as its counterpart the positive affirmation “there is no God but one,” a striking echo of “Yahweh is one” in Dt.6:4 (kyrios heis estin in LXX). Paul does a play on the words “nothing” and “no” (they are basically the same word in Greek) that cannot be brought out by translation: “An idol is nothing at all in the world, and there is no God but one” (1Cor.8:4). This puts the nothingness of idols in stark contrast with the affirmation that there is “no” God but the one and only Yahweh.

The Greek word for “one” (heis) appears again in verse 6 where it occurs twice: “there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ”. Thus it is made clear that Jesus is Lord but not God.

The words “one God” do not for Paul refer to the first person of the Trinity called God the Father; similarly the words “one Lord Jesus Christ” do not for Paul refer to the second person of the Trinity called God the Son. Both these persons do not exist in the Scriptures.

It doesn’t mean that the term “God the Father” is absent in the Bible. It is found in several verses (Gal.1:1; Eph.6:23; Col.3:17; 1Pet.1:2; 2Jn.1:3) but never in the trinitarian sense of the first person among three in the Trinity. The titles “God the Son” and “God the Holy Spirit” are, however, wholly absent in the Scriptures, a fact that does not seem to trouble trinitarians.

The affirmation that “God is one” rules out three divine persons in a Trinity, who have “no real existence” as far as the Scriptures are concerned. Those who reject that God is one will fall into the delusion and final disaster of idolatry. As trinitarians, we put our faith in a non-existent God who, like the idols in the Old Testament, was fabricated by man—in this case, fabricated by the western Gentile church. I myself fervently believed and taught this man-made dogma for more than half a century, mistaken in my belief that the church can never be wrong.

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! (Romans 1:25)

 

 

A Brief Survey of “the only God” (ho monos theos) in the New Testament

Twice in John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the Father as ho monos theos (ὁ μόνος θεός), that is, “the only God”:

John 5:44 How can you believe when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

The words shown in boldface correspond to Greek monos, as in most of the remaining verses we will quote in this present section. In every major translation of John 5:44, Jesus speaks of his Father as “the only God”. Similarly, in John 17:3, Jesus calls his Father “the only true God”. Similar statements are found in Paul’s letters (the following verses are from ESV):

Romans 16:27 … to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

1Timothy 6:15-16 …he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.

The following is significant for saying that only God is holy:

Revelation 15:3-4 “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy.” (ESV)

All major English translations render monos in this verse as “alone,” a rendering which correctly expresses its meaning in the context. In the six Bible passages quoted so far in this section, the predominant English rendering of monos is “only” rather than “alone,” but that is only because of the nature of the English language which does not permit “the alone God”. But if this were permissible in English, “the alone God” would also carry the sense “the only one who is God”.

Whereas English has to use two words “alone” and “only” to express the idea of one and only God depending on the grammatical context, languages such as Greek and others have no problems in using the same word in all six references such as the German “allein” in the various versions of Luther’s Bible, or the French “seul” in Louis Segond’s Bible (1910).

The word monos occurs in several other places in John—and in other contexts—where it is usually translated “alone” in English Bibles: John 8:29; 16:32 (twice); 12:24 (“unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone”), so its meaning in John is clear.

John 1:1 is the only place in the NT where “the Word” is identified with God. But Jesus’ two references to his Father as “the only God” make it clear that John 1:1 cannot be taken as saying that the Word is a second person within the Godhead, but that it shares the nature of the One from whom the Word is sent forth. But if besides the Father there is another who is also God, then the Father would not be the only one who is God, and therefore not the one who alone is God.

The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, also has ho monos theos (the only God), as seen in the following two verses:

Psalm 86:10 (85:10 in LXX) For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God. (NIV)

2 Kings 19:15,19 O Lord, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth … O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God. (NIV; this verse is almost identical to Isaiah 37:16,20)

Paul also uses the term “one God” (heis theos):

1 Corinthians 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (ESV)

Ephesians 4:5-6 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

In both passages, when Paul speaks of “one God,” he is referring explicitly to the Father and not to Jesus Christ. He also makes the vital distinction between Jesus as “one Lord” and the Father as “one God”. Other statements in the NT on “one God” are:

Romans 3:30 since there is only one God (heis ho theos)

Galatians 3:20 a mediator does not represent just one, but God is one (ho theos heis estin)

James 2:19 You believe that God is one (heis estin ho theos); you do well. The demons also believe

Mark 12:29 The most important is, Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one (kyrios heis estin)

In the last of these verses, Jesus is quoting Dt.6:4 which in the LXX has the same phrase kyrios heis estin (the Lord is one). The Hebrew of Dt.6:4 has יְהוָה אֶחָד (Yahweh echad, one and only Yahweh) or, with fewer markings, יהוה אֶחָד. The word echad (“one”) is explained in Jastrow’s dictionary as “singular, unique,” citing Ezek.33:24 and Dt.6:4.

In Ezek.33:24 cited by Jastrow (“Abraham was only one man … but we are many”), the word “one” (heis, LXX) is contrasted with “many” (polus, LXX). HALOT says regarding echad: “numeral one … Deuteronomy 6:4 Yahweh is one; or, the one Yahweh, Yahweh alone, Yahweh only”.

As we might expect, trinitarians try to evade these facts by making “one” to mean a oneness or unity within God in order to promote the idea of God as three persons. To the monotheist who knows of no fragmentation within God, the idea that it is necessary to speak of a unity within God is bizarre. What trinitarians often try to do is to make echad (“one”) take on the meaning of unity expressed by some other Hebrew word such as yachad, which means “together” or “community” as in the well known Psalm 133:1 (“how good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity”).

The Greek heis (“numeral one,” BDAG) has the same basic meaning as the Hebrew echad (“numeral one,” HALOT). Any quotation of Dt.6:4 in the NT would follow its meaning in the Hebrew, for neither the Hebrew word nor the Greek word means “oneness” or “unity”—but simply “one”.


 

A Trinitarian’s Distortion of the Hebrew “One”

The Hebrew word for “hear” or “listen” is shema. For this reason, Shema is the term used by the Jews as a designation of the sacred proclamation in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” as translated in most English Bibles. This is actually a misrendering because it obscures the fact that “the Lord” in the original Hebrew is YHWH. The verse says literally, “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one”. New Jerusalem Bible has a good translation: “Listen, Israel: Yahweh our God is the one, the only Yahweh”.

In the Internet there is wide circulation of an article [4] by a writer whose thesis is based on the writings of a second writer, a certain Nick Norelli, who argues that “one” in Dt.6:4 is to be interpreted along the lines of trinitarianism. To be specific, there are two articles: the first which quotes Norelli, and the second by Norelli himself. Although our discussion centers on these two articles, starting with the first and going on to the second, it touches on a wide circle of books and articles that present more or less the same arguments.

The first article (the one that cites Norelli) is remarkable for its misspelling of the Hebrew word for “one” as “eschad” (the correct transliteration is echad or ead). This misspelling (which reveals an ignorance of the Hebrew alphabet by inserting a non-existent “s”) is consistent in the whole article except where it quotes other sources. We mention this so that where the misspelling appears in our discussion, it won’t be construed as a mistyping or a misquotation. [5]

The first of the two articles, in the section called “The Argument,” begins by quoting the following statement made by a rabbi (who is not named): “The word echad in the Hebrew language functions in precisely the same manner as the word ‘one’ does in the English language.” The article then goes on to say that what the rabbi “neglects to mention is that there are two words for ‘one’ in Hebrew”.

In short, the article is accusing the rabbi of covering up the evidence vital to the trinitarian case. The article goes on: “once this becomes clear you will see that the whole point of Eschad becomes very clear.” In other words, the rabbi is accused of obfuscating the issue by withholding the crucial piece of information that there are two Hebrew words for “one”. This is a daring accusation from one who is not even able to transliterate the Hebrew word for “one”.

Contrary to the accusation made against the rabbi, let it be stated without fear of factual contradiction that, not surprisingly, the rabbi is correct when he says, “The word echad in the Hebrew language functions in precisely the same manner as the word ‘one’ does in the English language.” Or for that matter, in any other major language such as Chinese, German, and French. And contrary to the accusation levelled against the rabbi, the rabbi did not neglect to mention that there is another word for “one” in Hebrew, for Hebrew has no other word for “one” besides echad! But the rabbi’s critic blindly follows a certain Nick Norelli, who in what we call the “second article” appears to be not much more knowledgeable about basic Hebrew and biblical exegesis than this critic, but nonetheless writes an article on this subject which has the “form” of scholarship (that is, replete with footnotes) but lacks the necessary “substance”.

In the second article, Norelli’s,[6] it is remarkable that Norelli fails to understand the meaning of another Hebrew word “yachid” that he himself brings up for discussion. Of this word he says correctly:

The 1917 JPS Tanach renders yachid as only 10 out of the 12 times that it appears in the Hebrew text, the other two times being rendered solitary, and 8 of those 10 times the word is used in reference to an only child.

Let us clarify what Norelli is saying: The Hebrew word yachid occurs 12 times in the Hebrew Bible; the 1917 JPS translation renders yachid as “only” 10 times and as “solitary” twice. This is correct.

What is immediately obvious is that even by Norelli’s own statement, in no instance is yachid ever translated as “one” in the JPS Tanach! In other words, Norelli himself admits that in no instance does yachid ever function as a second Hebrew word for “one”! He is apparently unaware that he is directly contradicting his own thesis when he concedes (correctly) that the basic meaning of yachid is “only” rather than “one”. This word is often used in the sense of “only son,” but “one” is not one of its definitions.

Just as puzzling, Norelli goes on to list all the 12 instances of yachid in the Hebrew Bible. These 12 instances, which I gathered with the BibleWorks program, are listed in the following. All verses are from ESV or NASB, with verse numbers conforming to those in English Bibles, not the Hebrew Bible:

Gen.22:2 Take your son, your only son Isaac

Gen.22:12  you have not withheld your son, your only son

Gen.22:16 have not withheld your son, your only son

Jdgs.11:34 She was his only child

Psa.22:20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my only life

Psa.25:16 I am lonely and afflicted

Psa.35:17 Rescue my soul from their ravages, my only life  

Psa.68:6  God makes a home for the lonely

Prov.4:3  I was a son…the only one in the sight of my mother

Jer.6:26  Mourn as for an only son

Amos 8:10 like the mourning for an only son

Zech.12:10 as one mourns for an only son

Had Norelli even glanced at this list, he would have seen that “one” never occurs in the 12 verses! In English Bibles, yachid is consistently translated “only” (apart from the two instances translated “lonely,” a concept which in Hebrew is also based on the concept of “only”). Even with the evidence right before his eyes which he himself gathers, Norelli does not see that yachid means “only” and not “one”! What is the problem? It is one that I have had some experience of: blindness induced by trinitarianism; one simply refuses to see the obvious. This is frightening, so may God have mercy on us.

If you take this list of 12 verses to a Bible study, and ask everyone there to read them in as many English Bibles as they can get hold of, see if they can find one version that translates yachid as “one”.

What Norelli “neglects to mention” (to use a phrase that was unjustly used against the rabbi) is this: Whereas Norelli correctly notes there that are 12 occurrences of yachid in the Hebrew Bible, he fails to mention the crucial fact that there are 977 occurrences of echad! A minor oversight? Or is this a deliberate concealing of evidence vital to the understanding of “one”?

You would recall that in the first article, the rabbi’s critic confidently said that there are two Hebrew words for “one,” giving the reader the impression that the two are common words that are so closely related as to be semantically similar, differing only in usage such that yachid is a singular “one” whereas echad can be singular or compound, thereby lending support to trinitarianism. If this were really so, then insofar as the two words synonymously mean “one” in Hebrew, we would expect a wide distribution of both words throughout the Hebrew Bible. But the statistics show this to be entirely false (977 versus 12).

Only echad is found throughout the Bible whereas yachid is a rare word that occurs in limited contexts. For example, yachid occurs 3 times in Genesis 22 to refer to Abraham’s “only” son Isaac, this alone accounting for one quarter of all instances of yachid in the whole Bible! Of the 12 instances of yachid, 8 refer to an only child, this alone accounting for two thirds of all references.[7]

With a statistical difference as striking as 977 versus 12, even the semantic difference is overshadowed by this numerical contrast. The writers of the two articles have taken us “for a ride”. Or perhaps they themselves have been misled by others. Articles based on the same doctrinally-motivated premises are legion in the Internet and some books.

Let it be stated that echad is the only word for “one” in Hebrew, and that yachid (“only”) can never replace “one” in the Shema (Dt.6:4). Try reading the Shema with “one” replaced by “only”! Yet Norelli argues that yachid is a singular “one” whereas echad can be singular or compound as to make God a triunity. You can strike up a hollow victory by making up your own rules, or in this case your own definitions, but you will end up deceiving yourself and others, which is hardly a wise thing to do since it involves the word of God. Ultimately it is the living God to whom we will answer.

As for the fact that numeral “one” can have a singular or composite meaning in Hebrew, is that not true of all major languages? We can speak of one person or one family, so how “one” is to be understood in any language is determined from the sentence as a whole, and not from the word “one” itself. By itself “one” cannot be used to prove that God is triune since “one” can also mean unitary one. The meaning of “one” in Dt.6:4 can only be established from the verse or from its context, neither of which has the slightest indication of a triune God, or in this case a triune “Yahweh”.

To illustrate what this means, the statement “not one locust was left in all the territory of Egypt” (Ex.10:19) refers to a numerally single locust, not two or three locusts united as one. On the other hand, “one man” can have one of two possible meanings, depending on the context. It may refer to a numerally single man (“Abraham was only one man, yet he got possession of the land,” Ezek.33:24) or a unity of men (“they came out as one man,” 1Sam.11:7). Hence the meaning of “one man”—either singular or compound—is governed by the context, either by the singular “he” (Abraham) or the plural “they” (the Israelites). (In these verses, quoted from NASB or ESV, echad is used.)

It seems that Norelli is trying to achieve psychological influence on his readers by leaving a question mark in their minds: Maybe, just maybe, the word “one” (“Yahweh your God is one”) should be understood as a compound “one” and therefore as a reference to the Trinity. If Norelli succeeds in leaving this question mark in the reader’s mind, he has already achieved his objective even though he knows full well that his argument proves nothing.

But anyone who allows that question mark to settle in his mind will be an easy victim of the pernicious error of trinitarian polytheism. The Hebrew Bible is uncompromisingly monotheistic, a fact that no responsible biblical scholar would deny. Since the Shema of Dt.6:4 is brought up in these two articles, let’s look at it again: “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one”.

The writers of these two articles are, in fact, more daring than most other trinitarians in that they apply the composite “one” to Yahweh rather than to God. In this verse, “one” refers explicitly to Yahweh, which means that their argument collapses immediately. Why? For a start, there are 6,828 occurrences of “Yahweh” in the Hebrew Bible. In every instance in which Yahweh refers to Himself in the first person, the singular “I” or “me” or “my” is used, not the plural “we” or “us”. Similarly, whenever Yahweh is spoken of in the third person, the singular “he” or “him” or “his” is used, not the plural “they” or “them”. Against this overwhelming evidence, Norelli tries to establish that “one” has a compound meaning in Dt.6:4.

If the thousands of occurrences of the first and third person singular (“I” and “me” and so on) are not sufficient evidence for Norelli and others of like persuasion, what about the verses that state that Yahweh is God and there is “no other” (e.g. Isaiah 45:5, “I am Yahweh and there is no other, besides me there is no God”)? Notice the first person singular (“I” and “me”).

But those who close their eyes to the truth will never be persuaded by any amount of biblical evidence. Could it be that it is ultimately trinitarianism that they really care about, and not Scriptural truth? Little wonder that the rabbi quoted in the first article is frustrated with the trinitarian argument based on a spurious explanation of “one”. He could have said that this argument is nonsense, but is polite enough not to say so.

And could it be that the two writers don’t know that “Yahweh” is not a general term for God but the personal name of the God of Israel? How can a personal name have a multi-personal reference? How can a personal name such as Jesus Christ or William Shakespeare, when used referentially, refer to more than one particular person? It is well known in biblical scholarship that “Yahweh” is not a general or synonymous way of referring to God. Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, “Names of God,” says:

If El (god) was a general term for the divinity in the thought of the peoples of the Bible lands and the Ancient Near East, the name Yahweh was a specifically Hebrew name for God … It is significant that the use of this name [Yahweh] for God was unique with the Israelites. The other Semitic peoples do not seem to have known it or at least did not use it in reference to the Deity except as contacts with the Hebrew people brought it to their attention. It was the special property of the covenant people.

As the specially revealed name of the God of Israel (Ex.3:14), “Yahweh” has no multi-personal reference. It refers to Him alone, and He declares that “there is no god besides me” (Dt.32:39; cf. Isa.44:8; 45:5). This was already declared in the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before (or besides) me” (Ex.20:3; Dt.5:7) where “me” refers explicitly to Yahweh (Ex.20:2 and Dt.5:6). Can the writers of the two articles hope that on that Day they might escape the serious charge of violating the First Commandment?

I have responded in a stern tone to these two writers whose exposition is so mediocre as to be worthless for a study of God’s word. Because the word of God is “the word of life,” those who are not careful to “divide” it rightly (2Tim.2:15) will have to answer to the living God for leading others into error. Expounding the Scriptures is not a game that people with too much time in their hands might want to play. We must strive to understand God’s truth no matter what the cost may be, even the loss of our cherished doctrines. Only God’s truth must prevail if we are to enter into eternal life. For this reason, I will attend with respect and open-mindedness to any exposition of God’s word that is genuinely committed to the truth.

Jesus understands “one” in Dt.6:4 as numeral one

Some trinitarians take “one” in Dt.6:4 (“Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one”) not as numeral “one” (which would make YHWH the one and only YHWH, excluding all others as Yahweh) but as a compound “one” in order to imply that Yahweh is a compound unity of (three) persons.[8]

The Jews as a whole have never whole interpreted Dt.6:4 to mean a compound YHWH. Old Testament scholarship has generally taken echad in Dt.6:4 to mean numeral one in such a way as to exclude all others from being Yahweh.[9]

But amid the endless trinitarian objections to the unitary meaning of echad in Dt.6:4, what settles the matter is what Jesus himself said to a scribe in the following conversation. We will briefly discuss the three highlighted sentences:

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:28-34, ESV)

It suffices to make a few observations:

  • A scribe asks Jesus which is the foremost commandment.
  • Jesus tells him that the foremost is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
  • The scribe agrees with Jesus: “You are right, Teacher”.
  • Moreover, the scribe agrees specifically with Jesus’ interpretation of Dt.6:4: “You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him”. The words “no other besides him” indicate that Yahweh is to be understood in terms of numeral “one” with the sense of exclusion, and not a compound “one”.
  • Jesus saw that the scribe had “answered wisely” and tells him that he is not far from the kingdom.

In short, the Lord Jesus and the scribe agree that Yahweh in Dt.6:4 is a numerally singular God and that all others are excluded from being Yahweh, thereby closing any trinitarian “loophole” in Deuteronomy 6:4.

“Echad” as correctly explained by a Jew

The following paragraphs are from another Internet article,[10] this time by a certain Jason, a Jewish blogger who writes on the subjects of Judaism, Christianity, and the Hebrew language. It correctly explains the meaning of echad (“one”) and rejects Norelli’s explanation of the word:

In his “The Defense of an Essential: A Believer’s Handbook for Defending the Trinity,” Nick Norelli took up the argument common among missionaries that echad (אֶחָד, the Hebrew word used in Dt.6:4 to say that HaShem [11] is “one”) “is a word that allows for plurality within one and diversity within unity” (page 3). This is the most common argument when the subject of the Trinity comes up in the face of the declared unity of G-d in the text of the Hebrew Bible.

Is it true that echad refers to a “compound unity” as missionaries say? Actually, no. It isn’t true in the least. The word echad is used in the same way as the word “one” in English. That is, it means a singular as opposed to a plural. If I say that I have one book, I mean that I have one and not two. Similarly, when I tell you that I want one hamburger from the grill, I mean just one—and not two. It is not the word “one” or echad that [in itself] indicates a compound unity—not in the slightest. It is the noun to which [echad] refers which itself may be compound. A hamburger is composed of a bun, meat, sauces, and toppers. A hamburger itself is a compound unity, just as a cluster of grapes is a compound unity. It is not the word “one” that [in itself] indicates or allows for plurality …

What do we mean when we say “one”? We mean simply “not two (or more)” of something. It is not the word “one” that allows for or bears the sense of composition. Rather, it is the thing itself to which I refer that contains and bears this sense.



[1] ISBE (God, Names of); TWOT (484a, YHWH); Understanding the Bible Commentary (Dt.5:11).

[2] “Christ” occurs 529 times in the NT but is combined with “Jesus” as in “Christ Jesus” or “Jesus Christ” some 270 times, not counting other combinations such as “the Christ appointed for you, Jesus” (Acts 3:20). Hence we cannot simply add 917+529 to get the number of distinct references to Jesus. As for “God,” there are a few instances of “god” that do not refer to Yahweh (e.g. “the god of this world,” 2Cor.4:4) just as not all instances of “Jesus” refer to Jesus Christ (e.g. Col.4:11). These exceptions do not alter the statistics significantly.

[3] Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 1, vol.7, St. Augustine: Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel According to St. John, tractate CV, chapter XVII.1-5, paragraph 3, translated into English by Rev. John Gibb, D.D.

[5] The Hebrew word for “one” (אֶחָד) is sometimes transliterated echad. The “c” is added before the “h” to indicate the hard or guttural “h” as distinct from the soft “h”. In some books the hard “h” is indicated by an under-dot () but English keyboards cannot easily type this, so the dot is often omitted or the “h” is rendered “ch”. But the writer of the article doesn’t know any of this, so he comes up with the non-existent eschad, yet has the temerity to criticize a rabbi who has spent his life studying the Hebrew Scriptures, something that his critic has obviously not done.

[6] rdtwot.files.wordpress.com/2007/06/yachid-vs-echad.doc, as it was on March 31, 2013.

[7] The remaining four instances of yachid do not refer to an only child, and are found in the Psalms where Bible translators have difficulty finding suitable translations of yachid that fit the context.

[8] A surprising exception is the highly trinitarian ESV Study Bible which concedes that Dt.6:4 is a “statement of exclusivity, not of the internal unity of God”.

[9] HALOT, the foremost Hebrew-English lexicon, puts echad of Dt.6:4 under the heading “numeral one” and assigns to this verse the sense “Yahweh is one” or “the one Yahweh” or “Yahweh alone” or “Yahweh only”. Keil and Delitzsch on Dt.6:4: “What is predicated here of Jehovah does not relate to the unity of God, but simply states that it is to Him alone that the name Jehovah rightly belongs, that He is the one absolute God, to whom no other Elohim can be compared.”

[10] http://www.thehebrewcafe.com/blog/?cat=19, as it was on April 1, 2013.

[11] Hebrew HaShem (“the Name”) is used by Jews as a reverential way of referring to YHWH, the God of Israel.

 

 

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