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Affirming The Shema’

Updated: Jun 18, 2023

Intro:


There is confusion when we think of, the ontology of God, as unique and alone or rather a unity of components. The unity then could be said by the Trinitarian apologist to be the ontology of God. This then is a filter by which the “אחד (echad) of יהוה (YHWH)” is perceived. [1] As such, the beginning of the probability that the אחד of יהוה is an alliance of things or Persons. We concede that this is inaccurate. False by authorial intent, since the “אחד” then does in general mean unique and alone, is normally equated with the numerical one and not unity. The context will affirm this. [2] One God as opposed to any other Gods or gods is indeed the central theme of the monotheistic supremacy of the bible, but not only this, it is also opposed to the possibility of another possible one called God in a complex unified sense.


Thesis


In Hebrew grammar the modifiers always determines whether that verb, noun or adjective is plural or singular.[3] Here the first usage of יְהוָ֥ה in the text of Deuteronomy 6:4 is a singular masculine noun. It modifies the plural 1st person possessive masculine noun אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ (Eloheinu), which means "our God". Whenever Elohim, the root word of eloheinu, which is grammatically plural describes the God of Israel, it is always used in a absolute SINGULAR sense. There exist no other possible semantic value for echad, other than a cardinal #1. The second occurrence of יְהוָ֥ה modifies the attributive adjective אֶחָֽד which means one. יְהוָ֥ה as mentioned earlier is a singular noun, here again, it modifies the adjective "echad". Adjectives always agree in number and gender of the noun or pronoun it modifies. [4] Echad grammatically can denote a compound unity if the modifier is plural. Here it is grammatically impossible because the modifier (in both instances) is Singular. This credal declaration in the Torah characterizes God as an absolute singularity void of any hint of plurality. [5]


Implanting 3 persons into this text is a typical example of placing far too much theological weight on the fine details of grammar and can produce many false positives. For example In Ezekiel 33:24 we observe ‎אֶחָד הָיָה אַבְרָהָם, (Abraham was one). Should we understand this text as a compound unity of Abraham(s)? Surely not. The projection is to portray the Unitarian argument as a straw man when challenged, because Trinitarians theoretically agree with the Shema, yet will plead when it comes to the nuances.


Bible scholar and expert in ANE geopolitical/cultural history Martin Sicker seems to grasp the correct idea that when the ancient Jews were affirming the shema, echad has a single solitary person semantic. He notes in his commentary; "It was observed by an early commentator that “in every instance where ehad (one) occurs it denotes that the one to whom the term is applied was great. Of the Holy One, blessed be He, it says ‘ehad,’ for it is written, The Lord is one (Deut. 6:4), implying that there is none in the world like Him. It was the same with Abraham, Abraham was one (Ezek. 33:24): in those days there was none like him.” This suggests that the same was true of Manoah in his day, notwithstanding that there is nothing in the following text that even intimates in what sense Manoah was extraordinary". [6]



Genesis 2:24 as parallel text?


One escape route for advocates for the multi-personal view is to redirect you to this text, which reads “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be אֶחָֽד (one) flesh."

First, notice it talks about a man and his wife, so too it the verse is being governed by the indefinite pronoun "THEY" (a plural pronoun) fulfilled by a perfect conjunction 3rd person plural verb וְהָי֖וּ (they shall become). Ideally, when אֶחָֽד (one) is modified by a plural noun or a pronoun then Echad is entitled to have a compound semantic, but is still generally a cardinal absolute number. Yes, the attributive adjective אֶחָֽד has the same form as in the Shema, but not the same meaning. [7]In retrospect, when it comes to Deuteronomy 6:4 the only theistic outcome is YHWH. The appeal to the Shema is inadequate and misleading. In addition, there is so much to be said about the adjective אֶחָֽד in Gen 2:24. To be completely technical, אֶחָֽד could be said to precisely modify the "flesh” (singular). Which אֶחָֽד nonetheless retain its cardinal singular absolute meaning (one). (Also see again Ezekiel 33:24, Numbers 34:18, Numbers 13:2)


Finally, It would be plausible to say the compound subjects (man and woman) introduce the plurality similar to the collective noun “Israel”, which also introduces plurality. Elohim is not a collective or a compound noun. It’s plural or singular but not collective.

The ‘Yachid’ possibility


A common pushback to nullify the oneness of God view is that it is suggested that the author of Deuteronomy had a more conceivable Hebrew word if he wanted to express the oneness of the covenant God of Israel. Yachid. [8] It’s important to note that this word is quite rare in the Hebrew Scriptures and usually only carries the meaning of “lonely” or “beloved”. If the word was used in the Deuteronomy 6:4 [The Shema] it would be rather unsuitable for a proper inscription for YHWH.[9]


Consider that there are 12 occurrences of the Hebrew word יָחִיד (yachid ) in the Old Testament.


* In 7 of those instances (Genesis, Judges, the Prophets), the Septuagint/Old Greek translates it with ἀγαπητός (agapetos = "esteemed, dear, favourite, worthy of love, beloved").

* In 3 of its 4 occurrences in the Psalms it's translated by μονογενής (monogenes = "unique"), which is what I would have thought would have been its translation elsewhere as well.

* In its one occurrence in Proverbs, it's translated by ἀγαπώμενος (a participial form of ἀγαπάω = "to love" = "beloved").


Thus, perhaps in these verses in the Gospels where ἀγαπητός occurs, we can understand why the author of the Shema neglected use the rare adjective. Observe the following NT passages;


- Matthew 3:17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

- Matthew 12:18 “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

- Matthew 17:5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

- Mark 1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

- Mark 9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

- Mark 12:6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

- Luke 3:22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

- Luke 20:13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’


Thus, we should understand that "beloved" is virtually interchangeable with יָחִיד; i.e., it might also include the idea of "unique," as in John 1:14,18 and 3:16,18 and 1 John 4:9 where μονογενής ("one and only") is used. Ezekiel could have likewise used yachid in Ez. 33:24 to express his absolute oneness…


Margaret Barker points out this use of ἀγαπητός for יָחִיד in her book [10]


“Finally, the Hebrew preposition בַּד [bad] used in Deut.4:35 literally has an expressive semantic of “only” or by “itself” to describe God's oneness. The reality is that Yachid is not one. It's not the word that commonly implies one in the Hebrew numerical system, it means only, lonely, alone, solitary”…


Also consider Gen 22:2, the word Yachid is referring to an only son. Paralleled to Hebrews 11:17 when referring to Abraham's offering up of "his only [son]" Isaac uses μονογενής, whereas the verses in Genesis (22:2,12,16) about this all use ἀγαπητόν. Regardless, it must be noted that Isaac was not in fact Abraham's one son. Abraham actually at this point had 2 sons, Ishmael and Isaac. [11]


There is a small objection to this claim that the theory that ἀγαπητός can mean "only" or "only beloved," especially in reference to a child, has been critiqued by John A. L. Lee [12]. He argues that the LXX translators chose ἀγαπητός to render yachid in Gen 22 in order to provide an interpretive solution to a well-known problem in the Hebrew text, namely, that Isaac is not literally Abraham's only son, since he had Ishmael as well.


Lee says it is "not a straight rendering of Hebrew 'only,' but an interpretation. It is *intended* to mean 'beloved'" (emphasis on the word "intended" original with Lee). In other words, they intentionally chose ἀγαπητός precisely to avoid saying that Isaac was Abraham's "only" son. So the LXX Gen 22 actually proves that ἀγαπητός does *not* mean "only."


Nevertheless, I'm not sure that argument can be sustained due to an abundance of other verses. I.e., Genesis 22:12, Genesis 22:1, Judges 11:34, Proverbs 4:3, Jeremiah 6:26, Amos 8:10, Zechariah 12:10 that doesn't necessarily speak of children. All translated by agapetos except Proverbs (agapomenos).


A more suitable plural option available

We know echad has a legitimate plural at our disposal: אֲחָדִֽים (achadim). With the added suffix ‘yod-mem’ in Gen 11:1; 27:44; 29:20, Daniel 11:20; Ezekiel 37:17 that says לַאֲחָדִ֖ים/ la-achadim which means "few, alike, altogether, several, some", along those lines. [13] This was also available for the author of the relevant text as seen in the Book of Gen. Also יַחַד (Yachad) likewise would have been a more emphatic unified number if the author wanted to show support to the later tri-personal doctrine. The notion that Yachid was never applied to God in the literature (although true) crumbles under examination and is simply a fabricated rule or tendency by those who purports this theory. [14] It's not a legitimate rule that can be substantiated in the grammar. Similarly, אֶחָֽד (echad) is not exclusive to created beings or places but rather is a shared term for both God, places, things and man.

The plural form אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ/אֱלֹהִים


Eloheinu/אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ (our God) is undoubtedly plural but only because it uses Elohim as the base from which to conjugate a possessive. When we use Elohim and wish to say ‘OUR’ Elohim, we pronounce it as Eloheinu as if conjugating a plural noun; simply because that's the form it occurs in. However, it retains plural form, but not plural meaning.

Interesting fact: The oldest known fragment of a Biblical Hebrew text before the discovery of the DSS (dead sea scrolls, The Nash Papyrus, from around 150–100 BCE., shows the SHEMA ending with the words "one Lord is He" or “He is one", or one YHWH. [15]



This discovery and translation outcome seems antithetical to a “two powers in heaven" theorist's position, in which the belief is that in early second temple Judaism the concept of two powers (YHWH’s) were at the forefront of Israelite belief.


Repeated thrice?

Another less common and extremely less satisfactory answer from [some] Orthodox apologist for this text to be used as a "Triune God" supporter is the repeat of the divine name argument, that it should give cause to pause that the author was subtly uttering a trinitarian formula. However, this argument that has been made that the repeated names for God (יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ, יְהוָ֥ה ) entail an allusion to the 3 distinct persons in a Trinity backfires with tremendous consequences. The initial words יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ are in a appositional relationship (see Ex. 20:2). [16] This means the terms identify each other, not distinct individuals. It should also be noted that Jeremiah 7:4 expressed the temple of the Lord thrice in a similar fashion.


‘Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of Jehovah, the temple of Jehovah, the temple of Jehovah, are these.’


See also Jer 22:29- “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of Jehovah.” Are there three distinct earths that share one divine essence?


To put it mildly, this argument is a gross contextual misfire and an example of grammar negligence.


So in retrospect, given that "nations” and "man and woman” (they) are plural pronouns the adjective "echad” grammatically generally agrees with its number and in most cases gender. I would not take it as having an absolute plural meaning, just form.


Zechariah 14:9


Interestingly, Zechariah 14:9 presents us with a dual usage of ‘echad’. If we were to understand that when speaking of the covenant God of Israel, that the sense of echad is to be understood as a "complex” unity, then it begs the question, what would be the meaning of אֶחָד echad in the last clause of this verse? It reads "and his name אֶחָד." Unless consistency is abandoned there is no justification for reading a unification cardinal number 1 in the divine name. In other words, are there multiple names inside the name? It would result in exegetical chaos to suggest such. Admittedly, the Zech 14:9 passage does have κύριος and εἰς together as does the Shema. But both also have a word that is missing from passages to the likes of 1 Corinthians 8:6. Namely, the verb "to be".


וְהָיָהיְהוָהלְמֶלֶךְעַל־כָּל־הָאָרֶץבַּיּוֹםהַהוּאיִהְיֶהיְהוָהאֶחָדוּשְׁמוֹ

אֶחָד׃14:9



Conclusion:I suspect that the more astute Trinitarian scholars have abandoned this argument altogether. See Rob Bowman’s admission in a Facebook post below in April of 2021…https://www.facebook.com/groups/trinities/permalink/2880802035573077/ [17]


As the substance of this address Israel hears that YHWH is fully the single monad God of Israel. YHWH, the one who makes and keeps prom­ises, the one who has delivered from slavery, is the reference point that characterizes the life of Israel.





 

References:


[1] Excerpt from: "The God of Jesus: A Comprehensive Examination of the Nature of the Father, Son and Spirit" by David A. Kroll. Pg. 39: “This word is felt to express “compound unity.” It is argued that echad, when modifying a collective noun such as “cluster,” implies a plurality in echad. An example that is used is Numbers 13:23b, “they cut off a branch bearing a single (echad) cluster of grapes.” Since the word “cluster” is a collective noun in so much as it implies more than one entity making up the cluster, it is felt echad, in modifying the noun, implies more than one entity. Some other Scriptures used to suggest echad implies a “compound unity” are as follows: Genesis 2:24, Genesis 34:16, Ezra 2:6, etc..”


[2] Ibid pg. 39


[3] Barrick & Busenitz notes "The attributive adjective qualifies (or, modifies) the noun to which it is related. When the adjective functions as a qualifier, it adheres to the following grammatical structure."…"The attributive adjective always agrees with the noun it qualifies in gender and number. If the noun is feminine singular, the adjective qualifying it also must be feminine singular. If the noun is masculine plural, the adjective qualifying it also must be masculine plural.” [Note that אֶחָד in Deut. 6:4 is functioning as a attributive adjective] A Masters Seminary: A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew by Barrick & Busenitz, Revised Edition © 2011 Grace Books International Sun Valley, CA


[4] For a basic discorse on cardinal and Ordinal numbers see Zondervan Academic blog “The Basics of Hebrew Numbers”; "The number one is used like an adjective.It follows the noun it modifies and agrees in gender and definiteness [and number]. When used in the construct state, “one” will precede an absolute noun that is usually plural." :Basics of Biblical Hebrew, the Zondervan Academic online course by Miles Van Pelt (Ph.D., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), and Gary D. Pratico (Th.D., Harvard Divinity School) pg.73 {emphasis mine}


[5] Dr. Thomas L. Constable insightfully notes "The idea in verse 4 is not just that Yahweh is the only God, but that He is also one unified person",Notes on

Deuteronomy 2009 Edition:Published by Sonic Light: http://www.soniclight.com/


[6] "The Book of Judges: A Study in Prophetic History" pg. 250 by Martin Sicker


[7] Barrick & Busenitz comments in their section On Cardinal Numbers 2B. ‘echad, (m.), echat (f.); constructs: echad; and echat.; This cardinal number behaves like an attributive adjective. It agrees with the noun it modifies in gender, number, and definiteness. It also follows that noun:’ A Masters Seminary: A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew by Barrick & Busenitz, pg. 128 Revised Edition © 2011 Grace Books International Sun Valley, CA


[8] Christian apologist Rev. Anthony Rogers seems to suggest this assertion in his blog piece in https://www.answering-islam.org/authors/rogers/shema.htmlHe erroneously notes “Third, the Shema says that Yahweh is one: “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one [Heb. echad].” Unlike the Hebrew word yachid, which corresponds to the Islamic notion of an abstract numerical oneness, tawhid from the Arabic, the Bible uses the word echad for God”


[9] See Anthony Buzzard’s section The God of the Jews “The Doctrine Of The Trinity: Christianity’s Self-Inflicted Wound” pg. 28, Anthony Buzzard and Charles Hunting; International Scholars Publications, Lanham *New York Times


[10]“The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God”; by Margaret Barker (pp. 25-26).


[11] καὶ εἶπεν λαβὲ τὸν υἱόν σου τὸν ἀγαπητόν ὃν ἠγάπησας τὸν Ισαακ καὶ πορεύθητι εἰς τὴν γῆν τὴν ὑψηλὴν καὶ ἀνένεγκον αὐτὸν ἐκεῖ εἰς ὁλοκάρπωσιν ἐφ᾽ ἓν τῶν ὀρέων ὧν ἄν σοι εἴπω (Gen 22:2 LXX)


[12] John A. L. Lee , History of New Testament Lexicography (Peter Lang, 2014), pp. 193-211


[13] “And the whole earth was of one language and of one (Heb.אֲחָדִים) speech.” (Gen. 11:1)


[14] See Steve Rudd for a dogmatic thesis here https://www.bible.ca/trinity/trinity-oneness-unity-yachid-vs-echad.htm



[16] See Mark D. Futato in his piece ask a scholar [what does YHWH Elohim mean]“https://www.nas.org/blogs/article/ask_a_scholar_what_does_yhwh_elohim_mean, He answers “the relationship between YHWH and Elohim in the combination YHWH Elohim is one of apposition, that is to say the second noun is placed immediately after the first noun to provide some sort of further definition or explanation.”


[17] “I've been telling my fellow evangelicals for something like 35 years not to use that argument from echad. It's a bad argument, not only because echad just means "one" and not "compound unity," but also because in orthodox theology the triune God is not a compound unity, which would be a unity of multiple finite entities. That's not Trinitarian theology.


Whenever I have explained this to someone who had been using the argument, that individual has understood and agreed that the argument should be abandoned. I can't recall a single instance of someone disagreeing.”- Dr. Rob Bowman



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