Does One Really Mean One?
I've been doing my best to read material by learned trinitarians lately. This coming up weekend I'm engaging in a debate with a Messianic Jewish Rabbi on the doctrine of the Deity of the Messiah. When dealing with Messianics you do at times encounter teachers who have no qualms with professing what classic trinitarianism already holds to. At other times the verbage Messianics use is somewhat hazy compared to modern scholarship in the area of defining just how "many" Yahweh really is.
I was talking to my oldest daughter yesterday (almost 10) about the Trinity. She was telling me that her school cirriculum has trinitarian teachings within it. I knew this of course, and my wife and I pretty much have the children skip right over this kind of "Biblical" teaching. I asked her if she understood anything she had read about the Trinity. "All I know Dad," she said, "is that they believe there is one God in three persons." I then asked her if she believed this contradicted the shema. She answered quickly and directly, "Yes Sir."
I teach my children to quote the shema at least twice daily. I want to engrain the teaching of Deuteronomy 6:4 into my children's minds. I want them to really believe in the Mighty One of Israel, Yahweh, and in doing so believe He is all alone; believe He is really one. To my children though, this is no great task. When they read Deuteronomy 6:4 they have no problem understanding the meaning of the verse. One really does mean one to them, but it seems that Christian theology today, one can sometimes really mean two or three. I have to ask that if one really means three, what does three really mean? Maybe a dozen?
It is nothing short of bizarre what theologians attempt to do with the Hebrew word for one: echad. In Hebrew this is the numeral one. Brown, Drivers, and Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon (a standard authority for Bible study) defines the word as follows:
1) one (number)
1a) one (number)
1b) each, every
1c) a certain
1d) an (indefinite article)
1e) only, once, once for all
1f) one...another, the one...the other, one after another, one by one
1h) eleven (in combination), eleventh (ordinal)
According to this lexicon (and others I might add) the word echad means a numeral one. When small Jewish children learn to count today they are taught to begin counting by saying, echad.
There are several crystal clear examples in the Tanak (Old Testament) of the numeral oneness of the word echad. One of my favorite examples is Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.
"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the onewill lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken."
Here we see the word echad being translated as "one" and "alone." Are people really going to argue about the word alone too?
Arguments for a "compound unity" about echad stem from somewhat of a "flim flam" by the presenters of the teaching. "One flock" to them indicates that the word echad somehow is speaking of a compound of sorts, a "uni-plural" in the verbage of certain teachers. However, it is the collective noun "flock" that is plural, while the word one retains its meaning of numeral oneness. "One flock" most certainly means one flock and not two flocks. "One cluster of grapes" doesn't mean "two clusters of grapes" and so on.
The Hebrew word echad functions pretty much like our English word one. The word "one" in English means a numerical one, but it can be used in certain contexts to denote a unity between persons. For instance Genesis 2:24 says that the husband and wife are "one flesh" (not two fleshes). This means that the husband and wife are unified in marriage. Nothing in this dismisses the numerical oneness of the word one, it only shows how the word one can be used in a different context. Our English versions of the Bible show forth this meaning in 1 Corinthians 3:8 (KJV) were both he that planteth (the spiritual seed) and he that watereth are one. They are united.
Trinitarian theology believes that God is one in being or essence but three in person or subsistence. Some trinitarian theologians are meticulously careful to define the word person in their declaration. They do this in a great attempt to maintain strict monotheism (belief in one sole God). However, the Bible just does not teach that Yahweh is three in "subsistence." Rather the teaching of Scripture is that God is one in being and one in person. What I mean can be somewhat illustrated by recognizing your "being" and your "person." I am a human being, that is "what" I am. Who I am is Matthew Janzen; I am one person. This illustrates to some degree what the Bible teaches about Yahweh. He is "God being" but at the same time He is one person - the Father. This is why passages such as 2 Kings 19:15a state: "O Yahweh God of Israel ... thou art the God, even thou alone..."
You know, theologians can argue "till the cows come home" about what "echad" means in Deuteronomy 6:4, but let us not forget that the Bible is its own best commentary. Many times we find the Scriptures stating a commandment and then later on in Scripture the commandments meaning or greater definition is given. Such is the case with the shema. Go and read Mark 12:28-32 where a Judahite (Jewish) scribe comes to Yeshua and asks him what is the most important commandment. Yeshua quotes the shemaand the scribe responds by saying, "Teacher, you've answered correctly, for there is one God, and there is none other but He." Notice that this Judahite scribe believed the shema gave a numerical oneness, an alone-ness, to Yahweh. Yeshua did not argue with the scribe, He rather complimented the scribe on his understanding. Deuteronomy 6:4 most assuredly doesn't have two or three persons being unified, it rather has Yahweh proclaiming to be one in number.
Take note that the scribe did not believe Yeshua was the Yahweh of the shema. The scribe believed the shema spoke of someone other than Yeshua. Yeshua agreed with the scribe. Yeshua thus did not believe that He was really Yahweh, the one God of Israel. Do you agree with Yeshua and the scribe?
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Blog by Matthew Janzen. Lover of Yahweh, Yeshua, my wife and 5 children. All else is commentary.