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?
Whose elohim is YWHW?
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?
- 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 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.)
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.