The Shema

Deuteronomy 6:4 reads like this in the ESV: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Both occurrences of “Lord” here are “Yahweh.” This translation, however, is not the only one possible. The reason for this is that the inter-relationships between the words is not explicit (McConville, pg. 140). Here it is in Hebrew:

 שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד׃

Now, the four interpretations that McConville lists are as follows: “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone;” “The Lord our God, the Lord is one;” The Lord is our God, the Lord is one;” and “The Lord our God is one Lord.” The first emphasizes the polemical edge against other religions. The second emphasizes the oneness of the Lord. The third emphasizes the possessiveness of one Lord on the part of Israel, and the fourth is very little different from the third. At any rate, one can say with certainty that oneness and Lordship go together, and that this one Lord is “our” Lord.

The question arises: does this formulation preclude the Trinity? The answer must be “no.” Moses, in this chapter, is very careful to contrast the polytheistic religions of the nations in Canaan with the monotheism of Israel. This is clear in verses 14-15. However, that there might be a plurality within the one God is not ruled out. Moses’ focus is polemics, not so much on saying everything about the number of God that could be said. After all, Deuteronomy occurs in the same section of the canonas Genesis 1, which plainly indicates that within God there is plurality.



  1. Seth McBee said,

    November 27, 2006 at 11:41 am

    I have also used the Shema and contrasted it with Numbers 13:23 when the spies came back from Canaan carrying “a SINGLE cluster of grapes” The word single is the exact word that is used in the Shema when it says “our Lord God is ONE”

    This is not a perfect parallel as far as comparing God to a cluster of grapes and that is not my intent, but it does point to the fact that multiples can make something ONE. Again, as James White puts it, One Being, three Persons.

    Good post.

  2. November 27, 2006 at 12:33 pm

    I think we need to be careful of trying to see the Trinity in the OT. Did the readers/hearers of the OT think of the Trinity when they heard these words? Did Moses/David? I am not saying that the Trinity did not exist then, it obviously did and has for eternity. But I am saying that we need to be careful when we see Elohim and think, “It is a plural and therefore the Trinity is in mind here.” I don’t think we can say that. So all that to say, I think we need to be careful of making too much out of the Shema pointing to the Trinity. I don’t think that is at all what is going on here, but quite the opposite. The main tenant of Judaism is that God is ONE. There are no other gods! [See first commandment].

  3. greenbaggins said,

    November 27, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    No, you’re right, Andrew, to a point. My point was not that the Shema points to the Trinity. Rather, my point was that the Shema does not rule it out as the Jews would say. I think the Trinity is adumbrated in Genesis 1 (not fully revealed as it is in the NT). I certainly would never argue that the plural form of “God” gives us the Trinity, since the plural form on the word “God” is usually interpreted as a plural of majesty or intensity. However, the plurals in the *verb* form in Genesis 1 are more suggestive.

  4. Seth McBee said,

    November 27, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. Andrew, I don’t know how much of the Trinity that the Old Testament writers knew of. But I do believe that when Isaiah sees the Lord in Isaiah 6 that he saw the Lord Jesus Christ. And David knew in Psalm 110:1 when he states, “The Lord said to my Lord” I don’t know how fully David knew of this but he definitely had the Trinity in mind.

  5. Richard said,

    November 28, 2006 at 12:17 am

    A Trinitarian should not be hesistent to admit that the Jews spoke nothing of a triune God. However, it may be considered in this way that God is seen as triune in the economic sense of Trinitarianism, that is, the economical Trinity, in contrast to the ontological Trinity. With this in mind, we all should remember that Tertullian used the Latin word persona, which literally means “a mask.” Now, if anyone is familiar with this saying, in Tertullian’s time, the Roman drama had people wear different masks, and these different masks expressed different roles. Thus, for Tertullian, he might have wanted his readers to take note of God expressing Himself in a Trinitarian manner in the “economy of salvation.”

  6. greenbaggins said,

    November 28, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    However, the church concluded that the ontological Trinity existed. To say that God is Trinity in economics only and not in ontology is modalism. Actually, Tertullian did not use the term “persona” in the same way that it was used in Latin plays. Letham notes “he is the first to use the term “person,” meaning by it a concrete individual, rather than an actor’s mask, as in prior secular usage” (pg. 99). Then, Tertullian demonstrates the real personal distinctions in the Trinity, thus setting up a barrier to modalism (Letham, pg. 101).

  7. Richard said,

    November 28, 2006 at 11:53 pm

    I do not deny that there is an ontological Trinity. But, if we are to see that God is three, real personal persons, and not a meaning of Latin plays, then it makes me wonder how this can be so. The question then comes to mind: Is God three persons, just as John, Paul, and Peter are persons? I’ll have to look further into this.

    By the way, I would like to say that I do enjoy your blog. I came across it after looking for a response on the egalitarian view of women in the Church. But, noticing that I could respond in your blog, I felt like giving a few personal thoughts.

  8. Seth McBee said,

    November 29, 2006 at 12:05 am

    If you are looking to “define” persons look to the book “The Forgotten Trinity” by James White. Very good book and will take you no more than a couple of days to read. About 200 pages. Goes into good detail about us not being able to define the Persons of the Trinity as we would define persons in a finite person, because we are dealing with an infinite, omnipresent God.

  9. greenbaggins said,

    November 29, 2006 at 10:12 am

    Richard, you and many others (including myself) wonder at how God can be only one God, and yet three persons. We must beware, however, of applying what we know about humanity to the Godhead. God is not three persons as Peter, Paul, and John are three persons, since those humans do not interpenetrate and indwell one another as the three persons of the Godhead do. Perichoresis explains how there can be three persons and yet only one God. See this post for more:

    Welcome to my blog, btw.

  10. Richard said,

    November 30, 2006 at 12:22 am

    I had always thought that I grasped the concept that nobody seemed to have been able to grasp, concerning God being three persons, yet one substance. I am not saying that I am intellectually superior than everyone else, but my thoughts on persona was as what I had believed above (Latin drama). Yet, I have thought over Tertullian’s words over and over in his treatise, Against Praxeas (see ch. 5 Tertullian notes that God was alone, which is Scriptural (Isa. 44:24). Yet, He was not alone (Psa. 33:6; John 1:1). By this, so that it may not be thought a contradictory statement, the former refers that nothing was outside of God or existing apart from Him, yet, at the same time, God had always possessed Reason, which is within God. You’ll find a fuller explanation in chapter five.

    Thank you for the link to perichoresis also. I have heard of the word, and some have called it a “divine dance.” I knew also that the persons were interpenetrated, but not that they dwell in one another, unless both “interpenetrate” and “indwelling in one another” are epexegetical. To be honest, I was really never given much information on perichoresis. Well, it looks like I’ll have to go even deeper, and so perhaps save the doctrine of the Trinity from Unitarians and Oneness theologians.

  11. greenbaggins said,

    November 30, 2006 at 9:20 am

    It is a wonderful journey, Richard, and well worth travelling. I would heartily suggest Robert Letham’s book _The Holy Trinity_. It is the best book out there. it does Scriptural exegesis, historical tracing, doctrinal considerations, and practical implications. It is simply wonderful.

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