The Shema

While the Tanakh provides evidence of the complex, indivisible unity of God, it never teaches polytheism – a number of gods. However, the fact that this unity is complex and indivisible is apparent, even in statements that stress that there is only one God, such as the Shema. Here is Deuteronomy 6:4 as rendered by the Tanakh version:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.[1]

The Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation includes a footnote to Deuteronomy 6:4 that is important to notice. The footnote reads:

Cf. Rashbam and Ibn Ezra. See Zech. 14:9 others The LORD our God the LORD is one.[2]

“The LORD our GOD the LORD is one” is the classic translation of the verse. That rendering stresses God’s unity, and takes the literal meaning of the word “one” which has a numerical meaning. The numerical meaning designated the quantity. As Encyclopedia Judaica (EJ) says:

The Shema is in Jewish thought the supreme affirmation of the unity of God and is frequently called ‘the acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.’ The original meaning of the first verse may have been that, unlike the pagan gods who have different guises and localities, God is one. At first the main emphasis in the Shema was seen to be in opposition to polytheism; there is only one God, not many gods.[3]

The verse appears to argue against the complex, indivisible unity of God. However, the verse actually supports the concept in a number of ways. First, the English translation “The LORD out God” appears in the singular. However, the literal form of the word God is plural, “The LORD our Gods…” Second, the most significant word to look at is the final word translated “one” (literally) or “alone” (as above). The word is echad. The range of meaning found in echad contains a clear and unmistakable sense of complex unity.

One example is found in Genesis 2:24. There, when two persons (a man and a woman) marry, they become “one flesh” (basar echad). In addition to the excerpt above, the Encyclopedia Judaica goes on to cite additional interpretations of this verse. The most interesting is the mention of the Rabbinic work called the Zohar:

Very curious are the references in the Zohar to the three divine names in the first verse of the Shema. These represent the unity of three powers in the Godhead, that is the Sefirot of Lovingkindness, Judgment, and Beauty (Hesed, Gevurah, Tiferet), symbolized by the colors white, red, and green, or the Sefirot of Wisdom, Understanding, and Beauty (Hokhmah, Binah, Tiferet; Zohar 1:18b, 3:263a). The Zohar is strongly anti-Christian in intent and repeatedly stresses that all the Ten Sefirot are a unity with Ein Sof.[4]

Three powers, three colors, three Sefirot – more “trinities.” Amazing! Then the Encyclopedia Judaica goes on to say that the Zohar takes pains to “repeatedly stress(es) that all the Ten Sefirot are a unity with Ein Sof. The Zohar seems to think that God can be complex, indivisible unity with ten identifiable Sefirot.

Here are three more quick examples:

  • On the word (Elohim) Simeon Ben Joachi says: ‘Come and see the mystery of the word (Elohim) there are three degrees, and each degree is by itself alone, and yet they are all one, and joined together in one, and are not divided from each other.[5]

  • …the union is expressed in the sentence: ‘Hear O Israel, TETRAGRAMMATON Elohenu TETRAGRAMMATON is one.’ These three are one…[6]

  • Even so it’s with the mystery of the threefold Divine manifestations designated by TETRAGRAMMATON Elohenu TETRAGRAMMATON three modes yet they form one unity.[7]

Is the concept of the Trinity a pagan concept? We think not. Is evidence for complex, indivisible unity in the Godhead present in Scripture? The writer of the Zohar seemed to think so. The statements in the Zohar sound like they come right out of the Brit Chadashah. If the Zohar is “strongly anti-Christian in intent,” it is speaking against a misunderstanding of what the Brit Chadashah actually teaches. We run into this misunderstanding repeatedly. The misunderstanding is most often seen in the use of the word “separate.” The Brit Chadashah does not teach that there are three, separate, divine entities – three gods (as Saadya’s misunderstanding stated above). The New Testament teaches that there is one God. The one God is a complex, indivisible unity of three distinguishable persons.

  1. ^ Ibid, Deuteronomy 6:4

  2. ^ Ibid

  3. ^ Encyclopedia Judaica, CD ROM Edition (Jerusalem, Israel: Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd., 1972)

  4. ^ Ibid

  5. ^ The Treasure of Scripture Knowledge: Five Hundred Thousand Scripture References and Parallel Passages, Introduction by R. A. Torrey (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995), Electronic edition

  6. ^ Soncino Zohar, CD ROM Edition (Shemoth, Raya Mehemna), p. 43b

  7. ^ Ibid