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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, 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 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. This is My name forever; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation.” (Ex.3:15, HCSB)

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 in every generation”.

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 (YHWH) 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 remaining 90% of the occurrences of “Elohim” refer to the God of Israel. The combin­ation “Yahweh Elohim” (“Lord God” in most Bibles) occurs 891 times.

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 “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom.15:6; 2Cor.1:3; 11:31; Eph.1:3), a truth that is expressed by Jesus when he says, “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” (Jn.17:3), an 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 the Hebrew language is יהוה, translit­erated into English as YHWH. Because it con­sists of four consonantal letters, it is often 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

The name “Yahweh” is seen on almost every page of the Hebrew Bible (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 portion 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, including 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).

The 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 OT, and “Joshua” about 200 times, and “Judah” about 800 times (to give 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 in YHWH, which is why YHWH can be translit­erated “Jahweh” as in German. The German “J” is pronounced 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 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 if it can be explained in historical terms 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 YeshuaYe—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 foundation 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 (which means “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 depicting 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 does His work 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 or 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 to think 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 many commentaries avoid mentioning this verse altogether. Other commentaries would simply quote the words “the only true God” but with zero commentary. Yet others quote only the first part of John 17:3 which they find less problematic (“this is eternal life, that they may know you”), yet are completely silent on the second part (“the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”).

But a few trinitarians are so bold as to attempt to ex­plain away Jesus’ clear statement in John 17:3. Yet even the most brilliant minds in church history cannot reverse the meaning of John 17:3; this is clear proof of the strict and absolute monotheism of John 17:3. The usual tactic is to alter Jesus’ words in a way that widens or expands the definit­ion of “the only true God” so as to absorb Jesus Christ or even the whole Trinity into the redefined “only true God”.

August­ine, one of the most brilliant theologians of the Latin church, after quot­ing John 17:3 correctly and accurately, im­mediately goes on to alter the order of Jesus’ words in a way that absorbs Jesus into “the only true God”. Then he does something similar for the Holy Spirit. In the following quotation from Augustine’s exposition of John’s gospel, Augustine’s shocking alteration is shown in boldface:

“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 (and explicitly non-Scripture) 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 failing to quote 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”; Jesus is specifically saying, “You (i.e., Father) are the only true God”. Jesus is not just making a gen­eral statement on monotheism but spec­ifies ex­actly who the only true God is.

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 (i.e., 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 1Corinthians 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, 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 trouble trinitar­ians at all.

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 the truth 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.

1 Timothy 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 translate 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 convey 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 verses 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 types of context—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 New Testament 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 אֶחָד יְהוָה (Yahweh echad, one and only Yahweh) or, with fewer markings, אֶחָד יהוה. 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. But 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.[4] 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 [5] 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 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 eḥad). 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. [6]

The first of the two articles, in the section “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,[7] 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. That 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 explicitly 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 baffling, 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

Judges 11:34 She was his only child

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

Psalm 25:16 I am lonely and afflicted

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

Psalm 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 says 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).

Of the two words, only echad is found through­out the Bible where­as yachid is a rare word that occurs in very limited contexts. For example, yachid occurs 3 times in Genesis 22 to refer to Abraham’s “only” son Isaac; this alone accounts 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.[8]

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 I mean, 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 Yahweh or 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 Deuteronomy 6:4 as numeral one

Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one”. Some trinitarians take “one” in this verse not as numer­al one (which would make YHWH the one and only YHWH, exclu­ding all others), but as a com­pound “one” in order to imply that Yahweh is a compound unity of (three) per­sons.[9]

This is despite the fact that the Jews, as a whole, have never interpreted Dt.6:4 to mean a com­pound YHWH. Old Test­ament schol­ar­ship, both Jewish and Christian, has gener­ally taken echad in Dt.6:4 to mean numeral one, which would exclude all others from being Yahweh.[10]

But amid the endless trinitarian protests against the unitary sense of echad in Dt.6:4, what settles the matter is what Jesus himself said to a scribe in the follow­ing conversa­tion. We 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 brief 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”.
  • More than that, 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 uniqueness and exclus­ion, and not as a compound “one”.
  • Moreover, the scribe uses the specific phrase “he is one”—a direct echo of “the Lord is one” in Dt.6:4—as an encapsulation of his own under­standing of Yahweh’s exclusivity as the one and only Yahweh. This puts a lock on the meaning of “the Lord is one” in Dt.6:4.
  • Jesus saw that the scribe had “answered wisely” and tells him that he is not far from the kingdom.

In short, Jesus and the scribe agree that the Shema (Dt.6:4) is not speaking of Yahweh as a compound unity but as a num­er­ally singular Yahweh such that all others are excluded from being Yahweh. This closes any possible trinitar­ian “loophole” in Dt.6:4.

Since this undermines trinitarianism, a com­mon tactic among trinitar­ians is to obscure the true meaning of “one” in Dt.6:4 by throwing as many “possible” meanings at Dt.6:4 as possible—in one recent publication, ten possible mean­ings to choose from!—with the thinly disguised objective of diverting the reader’s attention from the true message of this verse.

“Echad” as correctly explained by a Jew

The following paragraphs are from another Internet arti­cle,[11] 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[12] 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” which 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, volume 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.

[4] The term Shema origin­ally referred to the sacred proclamation of Dt.6:4 but has since been extended to include Dt.6:4-9 and 11:13-21, and Num.15:37-41.

[6] 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.

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

[8] 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.

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

[10] The non-trinitarian interpretation of Dt.6:4 is seen in the follow­ing authorit­ies: 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.”

TWOT, in its article on echad, concedes that Deuteronomy 6:4 “concentrates on the fact that there is one God and that Israel owes its exclusive loyalty to him (5:9; 6:5)”. This state­ment is remarkable for coming from an article that otherwise expresses trinitarian belief. In fact, TWOT speaks positively of the following non-trinitarian reading of Dt.6:4: “The option ‘the Lord is our God, the Lord alone’ has in its favor both the broad context of the book and the immediate context.’”

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

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

 

 

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