As I mentioned before, each one of the doctrinal statements deserves a sermon of its own. Libraries of books have been written on each of these, because here we talk about the nature and person of G-d as revealed to us through the Scriptures[i]. We’ll start by reminding ourselves of what we said about the first doctrinal statement and then go in depth.
We Believe…There is one sovereign living G-d, and He is “Echad” as declared in the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:4, a “united One” or “compound unity” eternally existent (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) as expressed in:
Isaiah 48:16,[ii] “Draw near to Me, hear this: Since the beginning, I have not spoken in secret. From the time it existed, I was there. So now Adonai Elohim has sent Me, and His Ruach.”
Mathew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Ruach ha-Kodesh. teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
YHWH is G-d alone.
When Yeshua was asked, by one of the Torah scholars what was the first or greatest commandment he responded, “The first is, ‘Shema Yisrael, ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad. Hear O Israel, the L_RD our God, the L_RD is One. And you shall love ADONAI your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31) In this passage Yeshua is quoting from (Deut. 6:4-5 and Lev. 19:18b). These two Scriptures form the foundation of the Judeo-Christian worldview. All other commandments hang on these two, so it is right that we start here. So, what does the Shema mean? Does it say that ADONAI is an absolute unity or a compound unity? Was Moses Maimonides correct when he wrote in the 12th century that “Jewish people must believe that God is yachid, an “only” one”[iii]?
A lot centres on the word echad, so let us see what this word means. The first use of echad is in (Gen 1:5). The first use usually helps us gain an understanding of how the word is used. Here we see that the first day was called yom echad, or day one, but did you notice that the day was defined as “evening” and “morning.” So while it is one day, it is made of multiple parts. How about another passage (Gen 2:24). Here we see that a “man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife; and they become one flesh.” What Hebrew word do you think is being used here for “one”? That’s right, echad. There are many other examples like this where the Scriptures talk of “one people” or ‘am echad in (Gen 11:6) or “one nation” (2 Sam. 7:23, Exe. 37:22) or “one” tabernacle in (Ex. 36:13).
But does this prove that ADONAI is complex in His unity? Well, no. The meaning of echad is exactly the same as our English word “one.” It can mean “one” book or it can mean “one” library, “one” person, or “one” nation. In reality it doesn’t actually tell us anything about the nature of G-d at all. The Shema is actually more concerned with the fact that ADONAI was to be the only G-d for Israel, and that there was not other god who could compare or should be worshiped. ADONAI was and is demanding exclusive allegiance to Himself. The footnote in the TLV gives an alternative translation of (Deut. 6:4) as, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” This principle is confirmed in the 10 (Ex. 20 and Deut. 5) commandments and all throughout the prophets. We will just read a few from Isaiah. [read Isaiah 44:8, 45:5, 18, 22]
The term “Trinity”
So, if the Shema does not tell us anything about the nature of G-d, what about the rest of Scripture? How has G-d chosen to reveal Himself throughout the pages of history? Before I cover other Scriptures, I would like to address the word “Trinity.” I have no problem with this word, but I prefer not to use it for three reasons:
- The word is not found in Scripture but was originally used by Tertullian (AD 160 -225).
- It is a term that has usually been poorly explained and therefore misunderstood.
- The word “trinity” has become more of a stumbling block than helping people understand the nature of G-d.
But what about the concept of ADONAI being one and yet being complex or compound in His unity? Or what about being one nature and three persons? Is this a Biblical concept or something that was based on paganism and brought into Christianity? Well if it was something that was brought into Christianity, then how did it get into Judaism? Simon Herman in explaining Sefirot in The Encyclopedia of Hasidism writes, “the so-called divine emanations ..act as ‘intermediaries or graded links between the completely spiritual and unknowable Creator and the material sub-lunar world. [but this does not conflict with the unity of God because] God is an organic whole but with different manifestations of power – just as the life of the soul is one, though manifested variously in the eyes, hands and other limbs. God and his Sefirot are just like a man and his body: His limbs are many but He is one. Or, to put it another way, think of a tree which has a central trunk and yet many branches. There is unity and there is multiplicity in the tree, in the human body and in God too.’”[iv] Or what about where the Zohar speaks of the divine nature of G-d as being, “three heads, three spirits and three forms of revelation, three names, and three shades of interpretation”[v] Now I am not saying that Judaism is correct in these beliefs, but I can assure you that they have nothing to do with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. All of these beliefs came into being by studying the Scriptures and asking the question, how has ADONAI revealed Himself to us throughout history?
We see in (Ex. 33-34) that the manifest presence of ADONAI also called the Shekinah was seen by the people of Israel over the camp. At the same time ADONAI spoke to Moses, hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and then passed before him and showed him, His back. The Talmid (disciple) of Yeshua, John wrote (1 Jn. 4:11) that “No one has ever seen God.” So if this is true, then who did Moses see? And how did ADONAI show Himself to Moses, while at the same time manifesting as a pillar of cloud and fire, while at the same time His Spirit filled the universe? If we simply say that ADONAI can be in multiple places at once, then what is stopping Him from being enthroned in heaven (Dan. 7:9), manifesting Himself as a man, and touching people through His Spirit, all at the same time?
And what about Scriptures like the one in (Isa 48:16) that we read before where there seems to be three distinct persons, and yet we know that there is only one God? How about the burning bush? [Read Ex. 3:1-6] Here in this passage we see some interesting dynamics. Firstly we see that the angel of ADONAI appeared to Moses “in a flame of fire from within a bush,” Then we see in Vs. 4, that ADONAI saw that Moses had turned to look and called to Moses our of the midst of the bush. Then we see that Moses hides his face because he is afraid to look at G-d. So who is talking? Is it the Angel? Is it the flame, or is it ADONAI? The Hebrew text makes no distinction. There seems to be multiple persons and yet only one because all the verbs are in the singular tense. And why did Moses hide his face so that he would not look at G-d? I thought that ADONAI had no form (Deut. 4:15), or as John put it, “No one has ever seen G-d.” If that is the case, then why did Moses cover his face?
Fire from Heaven
Or how about (Gen. 19:24)? Here we see that “ADONAI rained sulfur and fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah from ADONAI out of the sky.” Did you catch that nuance? ADONAI, who one chapter before seems to have been having a conversation with Abraham in the form of a man, now calls down fire and brimstone from ADONAI in the sky. So where is ADONAI? Is He calling it down or is he sending it down? The Hebrew text says both, and then in the very next verse uses the singular pronoun. So is ADONAI two persons, or did Moses not know how to write in Hebrew and just got his gramma all messed up? It is from passages like these that the Jewish doctrine of the Two Powers in Heaven.[vi]
Daniel Boyarin points out that the Two Powers theology was based upon several different Scriptures. The Angel of ADONAI is often “spoken of by G-d in the third person” (Ex. 23:20-21, 32:34, 33:2-3) and seems to not just be a divine manifestation, but rather an individual existence.[vii] There are also all the passages about the Son of Man (Dan. 7) and the Ancient of Days that seem to show two completely different aspects of ADONAI. This led to the belief in a Father like person and a son like person. However, in the second century the Rabbi’s deliberately walked away from this theology. They labelled it heresy probably because they realised that this is exactly what followers of Yeshua taught.
Yeshua and the Talmidim
We already covered how Yeshua used the Shema to show the greatest and second commandments. But another example is just before Yeshua went to the Cross. He said in (Jn. 17:3) “And this is eternal life, that they (the talmidim) may know You, the only true God, and Yeshua the Messiah, the One You sent.” Then Yeshua continues in Vs 4-5 to point toward the glory that He had with the Father before the world was created. Paul also taught that there was only one God (1 Cor 8:4-6). In Revelation we see that there is “in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, … a Lamb standing, as having been slain”. And the people cry out, “To the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and power forever and ever!” So there seems to be two, and yet in the last chapter of Revelation (22:3) we see “The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in the city, and His servants shall serve Him.” Both the noun “throne” and the pronoun “Him” are singular. So there is only one throne, and only one “Him” whom we worship, yet we both God and the Lamb. Two and yet One.
I am sure that this study has raised more questions than it has answered. I would strongly recommend that you do some more studies. I recommend the work of Dr. Michael Brown on www.realmessiah.com. To conclude today, there are four questions that I wish to leave you with:
- The Hebrew Bible states that no one can see God, and yet at times it says that people saw him. Who was it that they saw?
- The Hebrew Bible speaks of God occasionally manifesting himself on the earth, apparently in human form. Yet, as God, he sits enthroned in the highest heavens. How can both of these things be true?
- The Hebrew Bible sometimes describes the Holy Spirit as a personal being and not just as an impersonal force. Is the Holy Spirit merely a synonym for God, or does the term describe part of his very nature, his own Spirit?
- The Hebrew Bible makes reference to God’s Word as a concrete entity, worthy of praise, sent on divine missions, and active in the world. What is meant by this “Word”?[viii]
We will be covering these questions in more detail in the weeks to come.
[i] The Hebrew Scriptures (The Torah, Prophets and Writings or Tenach) and the Apostolic Writings (the New Covenant or Brit Chadashah) are divinely inspired, verbally and completely inerrant in the original writings. These 66 books are the only infallible, authoritative Word of God in all matters of faith and conduct. (Numbers 12:6-8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17)
[ii] All Scripture quotations are taken from the Tree of Life (TLV) version unless otherwise noted.
[iii] Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol 2, Michael L. Brown, pg. 4.
[iv] Ibid, Pg 8, Simon Hermon as quoted by Michael L. Brown.
[v] Ibid, Brown
[vi] Border Lines: The Partition of Judeo-Christianity, Daniel Boiyarin, pg. 134.
[vii] Ibid, Boiyarin
[viii] Ibid, Brown, pg. 12.