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Exploration of the Trinity – Part 7 – The Christianized Shema Background

1 Corinthians 8:4–6 (ESV) — 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.

 

 

Introduction:

Before we dig into this verse we need to clear up two things.

 

(1) Paul is not denying the existence of other gods (theos/elohim).

  • The ESV puts quotes around “gods” and it could mislead.

 

Paul understands that there exist “cosmic powers” (Ephesians 6:12) in the spiritual realm.

  • He understands the implications of the Divine Council and a Deuteronomy 32 worldview.
  • After all, Paul affirms the OT repeatedly, speaks of demons, and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), etc.

 

For example, later in 1 Corinthians he says this:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:21–22 (ESV) — 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
  • Demons” are elohim/theos.

 

The ASV is much clearer in its translation:

  • For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth; as there are gods many, and lords many

 

(2) Consequently, when Paul says, “there is no God but one” it is an affirmation of the ancient Jewish monotheism we discussed a few weeks ago, not a denial of other elohim.

  • In other words, Paul is saying that YHWH is the unique, incomparable God of Israel.
  • The only God worthy of worship.
  • The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who called Israel out of Egypt.
  • The uncreated Creator God.

 

Or to put another way – Paul is affirming the Shema:

  • Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

 

Larry Hurtado sums up both of these points:

“In short, though Paul (with a good many other ancients) thought that there were multiple ‘divine’ beings of various sorts, he seems also to have held the one God of Jewish tradition as in something of a category of one apart from all others” – Larry Hurtado.

 

And this leads us back to 1 Corinthians 8:6.

  • A text where Paul distinguishes the “one God, the Father” and the “one Lord, Jesus Christ” from all other elohim/theos.

 

We are not exploring Paul’s primary concern in this passage – eating food offered to idols.

  • But we will concern ourselves with a particular idea he uses to deal with his primary concern.
  • Specifically, what he says about the Father and Jesus in 8:6.

 

Before we do, we need to look at some OT background.

  • It is deeply embedded in Paul’s messaging about the Father and Jesus.
  • It will be something we need down the road as we unpack 8:6.

 

 

OT Background:

Just like Mark’s Gospel, Paul is deeply indebted to Isaiah for his understanding of the Father and Jesus.

  • Scholar Trent Rogers tells us that in our text Paul is…
  • “drawing on the idol polemic in Isaiah 40-44”.

 

Interestingly, Douglas Oss says the template for Paul’s use of Isaiah probably came from Jesus Himself:

“There is no doubt…that it was Christ himself who originated the approach to Isaiah that was followed by Paul. It was Christ himself who first cited Isa 61:1-2 and then proclaimed, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:18-21); and it was Christ himself who first taught the church that all the scriptures spoke of him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45).”

 

 

Idol Worship:

Isaiah 40-44 shows us an Israel that was faltering in its allegiance to YHWH.

  • They whored after other gods and fashioned idols of those gods.

 

It might be helpful here to clear up something about ancient idol worship.

  • “Ancient people did not believe that their gods were actually images of stone or wood. We misread the biblical writers if we think that” – Michael Heiser.

 

What is idol worship?

“What ancient idol worshippers believed was that the objects they made were inhabited by their gods. This is why they performed ceremonies to ‘open the mouth’ of the statue. The mouth (and nostrils) had to be ritually opened for the spirit of the deity to move in and occupy, a notion inspired by the idea that one needs to breathe to live. The idol first had to be animated with the very real spiritual presence of the deity. Once that was done, the entity was localized for worship and bargaining” – Michael Heiser.

 

Paul Rainbow puts it this way:

  • “It was generally believed in the ancient world that a divinity and its physical image interpenetrated one another and thus formed a sort of unity. The god, of course, transcended the physical object, but it was embodied in it in such a way that it could be contacted through the object.”

 

Much of Isaiah 40-44 is YHWH’s response, His polemic, against this behavior.

  • YHWH points out the absurdity and futility of worshipping other gods and making idols.
  • Something, BTW, that was declared over and over in the OT (see Deut. 4:1-40).

 

 

Isaiah’s YHWH:

Generally, Isaiah 40-44 speaks of three reasons whoring after other gods was absurd and futile.

  • (1) YHWH is unique and incomparable.
  • (2) YHWH alone was Creator of all things (including Israel).
  • (3) YHWH alone was Savior and Redeemer of Israel (and eventually the nations).

 

YWHW speaks of His incomparability:

  • Isaiah 40:12–14 (ESV) — 12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? 14 Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?
  • Isaiah 40:18–20 (ESV) — 18 To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? 19 An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains. 20 He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move.

 

YHWH declares He alone is Creator:

  • Isaiah 40:25–26 (ESV) — 25 To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.
  • Isaiah 40:28 (ESV) — 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
  • Isaiah 44:24 (ESV) — 24 Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,

 

YHWH declares He alone is Savior:

  • Isaiah 41:14 (ESV) — 14 Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
  • Isaiah 43:1 (ESV) — 1 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
  • Isaiah 43:12 (ESV) — 12 I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.
  • Isaiah 44:22 (ESV) — 22 I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.

 

So who is Israel’s God?

  • He alone is the unique and incomparable Elohim.
  • He alone is the Creator of all things – including Israel.
  • He alone is Redeemer of Israel (and the nations).
  • He alone is to have Israel’s loyalty.

 

All of the above is woven into 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 in some surprising ways.

  • Let’s begin to explore how.

 

 

Paul’s God and Lord:

1 Corinthians 8:5–6 (ESV) — 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.

 

The most obvious feature of verse 6 is its relationship to verse 5.

  • It serves as a stark “Isaiah-ish” contrast between gods and the one true God of Israel.
  • Or as Paul puts it, between the “many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’” (vs. 5) vs. “one God, the Father…one Lord, Jesus Christ” (vs. 6).

 

To properly unpack this contrast we need to recognize yet another OT allusion.

  • We have already noted Paul’s allusion in 1 Cor. 8:6 to the Shema found in Deut. 6:4.
  • Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

 

But in 1 Corinthians 8:5, there is also an allusion to, “an echo” of, Deuteronomy 10:17 (G.K. Beale).

  • Deuteronomy 10:17 (ESV) — 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
  • Interestingly, “[Deut. 10:17] is the only text in the Hebrew Bible where ‘gods’ and ‘lords’ appear in the same sentence as in 1 Cor. 8:5” – G.K. Beale.

 

Why is all this significant?

 

Deuteronomy 10:17 is contrasting two wildly different species of “elohim” – beings who reside in the spiritual realm.

  • The two species of elohim parsed out here are:
  • (1) “LORD your God” – YHWH the God of Israel.
  • (2) “gods” and “lords.

 

This basic understanding of Paul’s starting point – his contrast – is where the fun begins!

 

Why?

  • In 1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul modifies the contrast of Deut. 10:17 and the affirmation of Deut. 6:4 to include Jesus Christ.

 

In other words, Paul does two remarkable things:

  • (1) He inserts Jesus into the ancient Jewish monotheistic formula affirmed in verse 4 – “there is no God but one”.
  • (2) He places Jesus Christ on the “LORD your God” side of the Deuteronomy 10:17 contrast.

 

This mutation of the Shema to now include Jesus is called the “Christianized Shema”.

  • There is much to be gleaned this handling of Jesus.
  • Especially when we understand his Corinthian converts.

 

 

Accounting for Christ at Corinth:

The Church at Corinth presented Paul with a challenge.

  • (1) It existed in the midst of open worship of various gods and their idols.
  • (2) Its pagan Christian converts formerly worshipped various gods and their idols.
  • (3) Its pagan Christian converts switched to the worship of the Father and Jesus…
  • (4) While simultaneously affirming that “there is no God but one” – the Christianized Shema.

 

Larry Hurtado describes the situation:

  • “There was a veritable cafeteria of divine beings of various orders, attributes, and functions…peoples were rather richly supplied with deities” – Larry Hurtado.
  • And the “residents of any given city were expected to participate in the worship of the civic deities, who were typically seen as protectors of the city” – Larry Hurtado.
  • But, “Early Christians…typically departed from these religious customs and defined ‘God’ in a very exclusive manner in beliefs and also in religious practice. For them, there was really…only one deity worthy of worship, as Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6” – Larry Hurtado.

 

So given this info we need to setup an important question:

  • The ex-pagan now worshipped the Father.
  • The ex-pagan now worshipped the exalted Jesus Christ.
  • In their pagan life, this would obviously have been the worship of two gods.

 

The problem Paul faced at Corinth was how to reduce a pantheon of gods down to one God.

  • And do so while calling the Corinthian ex-pagan to worship both the Father and the Son.

 

So how is it that the ex-pagan can see the worship of the Father and Jesus as the worship/affirmation of the one God of Israel?

 

 

Unitarian Answer:

Unitarian John Schoenheit thinks he has the answer to this question:

  • “This verse, when properly understood, is actually strong evidence that Jesus Christ is not God.”
  • In other words, Christ isn’t God so there is no problem.
  • He is the human-only “one Lord” – an exalted divine agent – and worship is given him at the Father’s pleasure not as “a god”.

 

He goes on to say:

“Polytheism was rampant in Corinth, and Scripture is clear that ‘…there is no God but one’ (1 Cor. 8:4)…[and that] there may be many gods and lords, [but] for Christians there is but one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. If the doctrine of the Trinity is correct, then this text can only be construed as confusing. Here was the perfect opportunity to say, ‘for us there is only one God made up of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost,’ or something similar, but, instead, Scripture tells us that only the Father is God. That should stand as conclusive evidence that Jesus is not God” – John Schoenheit.

 

There are a number of problems with this approach.

 

(1) The obvious one is the question begging – “Scripture tells us that only the Father is God”.

  • As we have seen, Scripture affirms both explicitly and implicitly that Jesus participates in the uniqueness of YHWH, shares the divine name, and is “my Lord and my God”.
    • Suggesting that these claims are better understood as only agency is one thing.
    • Denying their existence all together is bogus.

 

Moreover, this idea that only the Father is God is not in the Bible.

  • This is an idea that finds life only in a misrepresentation of ancient Jewish monotheism.
  • And in the philosophical Unitarian presuppositions we discussed a few weeks ago.

 

(2) The second problem is that this Unitarian approach is no less “confusing” and does nothing to solve the question we raised.

  • The ex-pagan worshipped Jesus Christ and the Father.
  • In their context, to worship a being is to acknowledge it as god or a god.
    • Something the pagan did with all kinds of “gods”.
  • Simply calling one “Lord” and one “God” does nothing to alleviate the predicament of worshipping two “entities” and thus having two “gods”.
  • Actually, the Trinitarian approach is the only one that makes sense of this practice.

 

(3) But even more of a problem than these two is:

  • (A) The suggestion that when Paul uses “Lord” and “God”, only one rightly refers to YHWH.
  • (B) And…that Paul’s silence on a Trinity means Jesus is not God.

 

Both of these ignore the fact that Paul did say, in Schoenheit’s own words, “something similar” about Jesus’ and the Father’s identity.

  • And the way Paul implicitly identified Jesus with the divinity of YHWH is not obtuse.

 

The problem for many, it seems, is that Paul did this in the style of a 2nd Temple Jew steeped in the messaging of a high context culture.

  • He didn’t do this as a 4th century Greek or Latin philosopher or 21st century analytic philosopher.

 

So where does Paul say “something similar” about Jesus’ and the Father’s identity?

  • (1) Paul’s OT allusions in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6.
  • (2) The meaning behind the Greek prepositions used in verse 6.

 

We will unpack both of these.

  • And in so doing, provide the Trinitarians answer to our question.
  • So how is it that the ex-pagan can see the worship of the Father and Jesus as the worship/affirmation of the one God of Israel?

 

 

Exploration of the Trinity – Part 2 – “God Is One” Biblical Landscape

Our aim over the next few weeks is to:

  • Dive deep into the Biblical Landscape that informs our discussion of the Trinity.
  • Everything we uncover will be the backdrop for later discussions.
  • It will be our claim that the Biblical landscape is best explained by the Trinity.
  • Enjoy the ride!

 

 

God is One:

The first line of our septad from last week is:

  • (P1) God is one.

 

This seems like a good place to start Part 2 of our exploration of the Trinity.

  • Does the Bible affirm that God is one?
  • What exactly is meant by the proposition, “God is one”?

 

Let’s start with most obvious relevant verse – the Shema.

  • The Shema affirms for us that God is “one”.
  • Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

 

But what does the Shema mean with its affirmation that God is one?

 

To get at the answer, we need to see that the verse uses two significant words to refer to God.

  • It uses “Lord” which is English for the Hebrew YHWH.
  • It uses “God” which is English for the Hebrew “elohim”, the plural of “el”.

 

Insert these back into the verse and we get:

  • “Hear, O Israel: YHWH our elohim, YHWH is one (elohim)”

 

And, even more helpful, there is wide agreement that the verse should be translated:

  • “Hear, O Israel: YHWH is our elohim, YHWH alone (is our elohim)”
  • (See any descent study Bible).

 

So let’s ask some basic questions about this verse.

  • By doing so we will flesh out the meaning of “one”.

 

Is YHWH an elohim?

  • Yes.

 

Whose elohim is YWHW?

  • Israel’s.

 

How many YHWH “elohim” are there?

  • Context makes clear that there is one.

 

How many “elohim” are there?

  • The Shema makes no sense if YHWH is the only “elohim”.
  • In fact, “The Shema doesn’t deny existence of other gods, it presupposes them and treats them as ‘real competitors for Israel’s devotion’” – Nathan MacDonald.

 

Look at Deuteronomy 6:14 (just a few verses later).

  • Deuteronomy 6:14 (ESV) — 14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you—
  • “gods” here is Hebrew for “elohim”.
  • (More on “elohim” in a moment).

 

So now we have enough info to understand what is meant by “one” in context of the Shema.

  • 1) There are many “elohim” (such as Egypt’s “elohim” from Deut 6:14).
  • 2) There is only one YHWH “elohim” (Israel’s “elohim”).
  • 3) So to be the only YWHW “elohim” among all “elohim” is to be what?

 

Answer:

  • Unique!
  • What we have here is talk of “the uniqueness of the one God” (Larry Hurtado).

 

Scholar, Mike Heiser puts it this way:

  • The Shema teaches the “belief in [YHWH’s] uniqueness and incomparability: There is only one YHWH and He is unique.”
  • “Yhwh is elohim but no other elohim is yhwh.” – Mike Heiser.

 

So, when the Shema speaks of “one God” it is telling us:

  • YHWH is unique.
  • YHWH is incomparable.
  • No other “elohim” compare to YHWH.

 

 

Biblical Landscape Alert:

(1) Some argue that the Shema itself points to the Trinity.

  • The TWOT, for example, says that the Hebrew word for “one”, “ehad”, can mean:
  • “Unity while recognizing diversity within that oneness”.

 

Yet, it concedes that context is what makes this determination.

  • The Shema doesn’t contain the right context.
  • The context here is not YHWH’s ontology (his inner nature as a being).
  • It is YHWH’s outward relationship to Israel and other elohim.

 

So, the Shema is neither a:

  • Trinitarian proclamation.
  • Binitarian proclamation, or a
  • Unitarian proclamation.

 

(2) We need to take the proclamation of the Shema at face value.

  • This will be very important in a couple of weeks.

 

The Shema makes a very simple and straightforward claim.

  • If an “elohim” is unique among the “elohim” then that “elohim” is…YHWH.
  • To be Israel’s YHWH is to be or possess (?) this uniqueness.
  • (We will see what this uniqueness consists of shortly).

 

Importantly, this means there is no talk of “substance” or “essence” in the Shema.

  • These are, after all, Greek ideas that came much, much later.
  • The language to identify and set apart YHWH here is “oneness” as “uniqueness”.

 

This is a very important feature of the Biblical Landscape we are surveying.

  • File this away for later.

 

Remember, we are seeking to gain an appreciation for the Biblical Landscape.

  • A landscape that suggests the Trinity as its best explanation (our contention).

 

For now, we need to flesh out all this “elohim” and YHWH stuff.

  • We need to understand what makes YHWH unique among the “elohim”.
  • This is going to be fun!

 

 

YHWH’s Uniqueness and the Elohim Intro:

For this to make any sense, you have to rework your modern concept of monotheism.

  • A word that, is itself, only a few hundred years old.
  • The modern dictionary idea of monotheism is not ancient Jewish monotheism.

 

If you look up the word “monotheism” you will find something like:

  • The belief that there is only one god or deity.

 

Here is the problem:

  • The idea that there is only one god or deity is foreign to the Bible.

 

Scholar, Michael Heiser (Understanding Israelite Monotheism):

The Shema has often wrongly, “lead to the assumption that the OT Israelites did not believe in the existence of other gods. According to this assumption, the definition of monotheism rules out the existence of other gods. In light of many OT passages, these assumptions cannot be sustained.”

 

Scholar, Larry Hurtado (One Lord, One God):

“It is a fair point that the dictionary meaning of ‘monotheism’ (the term a relatively modern coinage) scarcely fits the ancient world-views in question…The key distinguishing factor, and the most blatant expression of ‘ancient Jewish monotheism’ was not in denial of the existence of other divine beings but in an exclusivity of cultic practice [worship].”

 

Scholar, Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the God of Israel):

The element that makes ancient Judaism monotheistic, “is not the denial of the existence of other ‘gods’, but an understanding of the uniqueness of YHWH that puts him in a class of his own, a wholly different class from any other heavenly or supernatural beings, even if these are called ‘gods’.”

 

Is this for real?

  • Does the OT affirm the existence of other gods – “elohim”?
  • Does the Bible locate YHWH’s uniqueness with comparisons to other “elohim”?

 

The answer to both questions is…yes!

 

 

The Elohim:

The obvious thing to do now is figure out the identity of the “elohim”

  • In the OT, there are at least six “different entities” designated as “elohim” – Michael Heiser.
  • (The source for this info is Michael Heiser’s Unseen Realm.)

 

(1) Yahweh

The OT uses the word “elohim” for YHWH literally thousands of times.

  • Deuteronomy 4:35 (ESV) — 35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God [elohim]; there is no other besides him.
  • Jeremiah 26:13 (ESV) — 13 Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God [elohim], and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.
  • Micah 4:5 (ESV) — 5 For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god [elohim], but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God [elohim] forever and ever.

 

(2) Members of Yahweh’s Divine Council

God’s Divine Council, or heavenly host, appears throughout the OT

  • Psalm 82:1 (ESV) — 1 God [elohim] has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods [elohim] he holds judgment:
  • 1 Kings 22:19–21 (ESV) — 19 And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven [these are elohim] standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit [“ruah”, an elohim] came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’

 

(3) Foreign Gods

Called a Deuteronomy 32 worldview, the OT understands there to be gods over other nations.

  • Deuteronomy 4:7 (ESV) — 7 For what great nation is there that has a god [elohim] so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?
  • Judges 11:24 (ESV) — 24 Will you not possess what Chemosh your god [elohim] gives you to possess? And all that the Lord our God [elohim] has dispossessed before us, we will possess.
  • 1 Kings 11:33 (ESV) — 33 because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess [elohim] of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god [elohim] of Moab, and Milcom the god [elohim] of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did.

 

(4) “The deceased Samuel”

  • 1 Samuel 28:13–14 (ESV) — 13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god [elohim] coming up out of the earth.” 14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.

 

(4) Demons (“shedim”)

  • Deuteronomy 32:17 (NRSV) — 17 They sacrificed to demons, not God, to deities [elohim] they had never known, to new ones recently arrived, whom your ancestors had not feared.
  • Paul references this in 1 Corinthians 10:20 – “they sacrifice to demons and not to God”.

 

(5) “Angels or the Angel of Yahweh”

  • Judges 6:20 (ESV) — 20 And the angel of God [malak elohim] said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.” And he did so.
  • 2 Samuel 14:17 (ESV) — 17 And your servant thought, ‘The word of my lord the king will set me at rest,’ for my lord the king is like the angel of God [malak elohim] to discern good and evil. The Lord your God be with you!”

 

BTW – “elohim” has many other uses, such as idols, but they are obviously not living “entities”.

 

So what do all the referents of the word “elohim” have in common?

  • Maybe a leading question will help.
  • In what realm do all “elohim” live?

 

Mike Heiser helps us out here:

  • “What all the figures on the list have in common is that they are inhabitants of the spiritual world.”
  • “The word elohim is a ‘place of residence’ term. Our home is the world of embodiment; elohim by nature inhabit the spiritual world.”

 

This leads us to some very important questions.

  • What is the difference(s) between YHWH and all other “elohim”?
  • Why is YHWH unique and incomparable?
  • Why is it true that, “Yhwh is elohim but no other elohim is yhwh”?

 

 

YHWH’s Uniqueness and Incomparability:

The Bible will help us out quite a bit here.

  • Nehemiah 9:6 (ESV) — 6 “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven [elohim of Divine Council] worships you.
  • Deuteronomy 10:17 (ESV) — 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods [elohim] and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
  • Psalm 148:1–5 (ESV) — 1 Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! 2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! 3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! 4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! 5 Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created.

 

YHWH is the uncreated, eternal creator of all things – including the other “elohim”.

  • And all other “elohim” are to worship him.
  • You can’t get any more unique and incomparable than that.

 

Let’s look at some more Scriptural examples of YHWH’s uniqueness.

  • Deuteronomy 3:24 (ESV) — 24 ‘O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god [el] is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours?
  • Deuteronomy 32:39 (ESV) — 39 “ ‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god [elohim] beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
  • Exodus 15:11 (ESV) — 11 “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods [el]? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
  • 1 Kings 8:23 (ESV) — 23 and said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God [elohim] like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart;
  • Psalm 89:6–7 (ESV) — 6 For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, 7 a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones [refers to elohim], and awesome above all who are around him?
  • Psalm 97:9 (ESV) — 9 For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods [elohim].

 

The above texts are “statements of incomparability” – Michael Heiser.

  • No “elohim” compare to YHWH!
  • Again, “YHWH is elohim, but no other elohim is YHWH!” – Heiser.

 

But wait, there is more!

  • Scripture is chocked full of “unique qualities” that pertain only to YHWH – Heiser.
  • Examples are too numerous to list.

 

And of the many examples, Job 9 has a curious one.

  • Job 9:8 (ESV) — 8 who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea;
  • YHWH’s uniqueness includes the ability to subdue and walk upon the sea.
  • His control over creation is one reason why He is the one unique God of Israel.
  • He controls it and subdues it because He made it.

 

Such examples are important parts of the Biblical Landscape relevant to our exploration of the Trinity.

  • As is our final topic under YHWH’s uniqueness – worship.

 

 

Worship and Ancient Jewish Monotheism:

Ancient Jewish monotheism cannot be fully understood outside of the worship of YHWH.

  • YHWH is unique
  • YHWH is incomparable.
  • YHWH alone is to be worshipped.

 

Scholar, Thomas McCall:

  • “Because YHWH is utterly unique as Creator and Lord, worship is to be devoted exclusively to him.”
  • “Worship is central to early Jewish monotheism” – Thomas McCall.

 

Again, the Bible makes this clear!

  • Exodus 34:14 (ESV) — 14 for you shall worship no other god [el], for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God [el],
  • Deuteronomy 8:19 (ESV) — 19 And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods [elohim] and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.
  • Deuteronomy 11:16 (ESV) — 16 Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods [elohim] and worship them;

 

Biblical Landscape Alert:

We need to note something very important about the Jewish idea of worship of YHWH.

“For Jewish monotheism, this insistence on the one God’s exclusive right to religious worship was far more important than metaphysical notions of the unity of the divine nature” – Richard Bauckham.

 

In other words, YHWH was worthy of worship because He was the Israel’s elohim.

  • The unique and incomparable elohim.
  • YHWH was not worshipped because he was, in His inner nature, numerically one.

 

Scholar, Thomas McCall puts it this way:

“It is important to see that this account of monotheism is not centered on numerical oneness, nor does it obviously dictate that there is at most one divine person” – Thomas McCall.

 

As with the other features of the Biblical Landscape we have mentioned in this section…

  • We will revisit this in a few weeks.

 

As well as one other thing that needs fleshing out:

  • What did it mean, exactly, for an ancient Jew to worship?
  • And was it ever kosher to worship any being other than YHWH?

 

For now, let’s end with the words of Jesus:

  • Mark 12:28–29 (ESV) — 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.