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The Oneness of God and The Doctrine of the Trinity
By Kulwant Singh Boora
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2009 Kulwant Singh Boora
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Chapter OneTHE SHEMA - DEUTERONOMY 6:4 MONOTHEISM
"The doctrine of the Trinity is not taught in the Old Testament" New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, Vol. XIV, p. 306
The beginning of beginnings must be the Old Testament, since this was the foundation of the early Church long before the doctrine of Trinity and as the highly esteemed Professor Marvin N. Wilson has stated: "... Thus knowledge of beginnings is central to biblical thought...." Maintaining a clear understanding of Old Testament teachings will demonstrate how it has survived in the New Testament period right up until the death of the Apostles who were pioneers and practitioners of the sacred written text.
What is about to follow in the forthcoming paragraphs will ultimately challenge as well as reinforce a oneness understanding. Sadly beneath the once held belief of a single unique God, a trend is emerging that falls foul to misguided theological interpretations. Only those who desire to bridge the gap of faith-based teaching with the scholarship arena will see a gradual departure in this post-modern era of what Judaism sought to protect and religiously embrace, as practicedand taught by the Apostles.
Not surprisingly then, Western scholars have sought little dialogue in embracing Jewish exegesis with devastating consequences, which have distanced themselves from Jewish roots and religious practices. To the extent that some modern Western scholars are forced to recognize that expertise of Old Testament beliefs, customs and practices are dominantly a field to which the Jewish scholars dominate. Professor of New Testament Studies, Richard N. Longnecker of McMaster University and University of Toronto, Canada alludes to this view.
His study entitled, Biblical Exegesis In The Apostolic Period, explicitly recognizes that: "Jewish scholars usually evidence a greater expertise than Christians in dealing with data of Early Judaism...." Western civilization is plagued with so much dogma about the Trinity that even Jewish literature of Middle Eastern origin is generally viewed through the spectacles of Western presuppositions of Trinitarian philosophies and ideologies thereby avoiding impartial evaluations of the text.
It is for this very reason that even scholars in this post modern era echo warnings that seek to safeguard students from absorbing erroneous theories and hidden agendas of interpretations that seek to read out of the Bible ideas, which are in fact catapulted into it that subtly promote steady departure from Biblical doctrines. This very issue underlines the importance that what was once accepted as a genuine practice and belief is now rejected on the basis of scientific knowledge and data.
One esteemed scholar, Professor Gerald Bray, Professor of Anglican Studies at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, Alabama points out that: "Recent publications also indicate that more and more scholars are bringing their own fairly well-defined agendas to the biblical text, seeking to read out of it the ideas which in fact they are importing into it." Putting this another way is what the late Rudolf Bultman (1884-1976) insisted. Bultman insisted that exegesis without presupposition is impossible, especially if you are presupposing the results of the exegesis inside defined Trinitarian agendas and dogmas.
As will be seen in this Chapter what was once a fortified doctrine and belief is now labeled under the auspices of problematic and unreliable. It is for this very reason that Jewish literature must take precedence in explaining Old Testament understanding of Israelite and Jewish theology. One thing that many Christian believers seem to forget with regards to Jewish data, material and literature is that the early Church was predominantly Jewish, which relied heavily on Old Testament texts.
It is not surprising that Professor Wilson is right to point out that the Church has neglected its Jewish roots, which may provide the answer as to why there is also a departure from New Testament understanding, beliefs and practices regarding Jewish and Hebraic roots. He alludes to the belief that: "The roots of Christianity run deep into Hebrew soil. Though the Hebrew heritage of the Church is rich and extensive, many Christians are regrettably uninformed about it."
Another scholar, Professor Darrell L. Bock, Professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, equally supports Professor Wilson's comments by acknowledging that: "Evangelicals have often neglected the role of Jewish theology as the framework of theological discussion in the first century." Neglecting Jewish theology ultimately has adverse consequences that run over into New Testament theology.
Again this may be the reason as to why biblical scholarship and individuals have shown a gradual departure from Old Testament thinking. Yet, it must be borne in mind as the late renowned world British New Testament scholar Professor F.F. Bruce put it:
"Christianity was regarded as nothing more than a new sect of Judaism...."
Bruce recognizes one important factor that many overlook. If Christianity was regarded as nothing more that a new sect of Judaism, it is reasonable to assume that texts and passages, such as Deuteronomy 6:4, played a dominant feature of first century Christianity. It is no wonder that Professor L.W. Hurtado stated: "how early Christians such as Paul were quite able to refer to their beliefs in monotheistic language."
The preceding paragraphs have briefly set the platform in understanding why Deuteronomy 6:4 is potentially at risk and under theological scrutiny in this post modern era by individuals who have sought to depart from accepted Jewish exegetical and hermeneutical practices. With this in mind we now turn our discussion to Deuteronomy 6:4, the Shema.
It is stimulating and reassuring to know that the Bible makes a clear declaration that God is one, Deuteronomy 6:4. In Hebrew this is generally quoted as: "Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonia ehad" "Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God is one LORD," and is referred to in Judaism as the Shema taken from the very first word, "hear." This biblical principle then is a direct command of the 'Monotheistic' belief and practice of the early Israelites.
Before engaging on a critical evaluation of this verse, it is needful to consider present day understandings. It should be borne in mind that many preachers and teachers argue that scripture interprets scripture, but if you do not understand the present scripture and its interpretation, how then can you call upon another to interpret the one that you are facing difficulty with understanding. As a practical point, first try to understand the scripture verse before trying to interpret it using another one.
Within the twentieth century we have seen a number of scholars who are suggesting that Deuteronomy 6:4 is nothing more than a declaration of allegiance to the one God and this is premised on the precise meaning of the Shema. For instance, in a highly controversial piece of work undertaken by Professor Daniel I. Block, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, Illinois suggests a number of renderings of the Shema.
Despite the importance of the Shema Professor Block recognizes that discussions around this vitally important topic: "has fueled scholarly discussions out of all proportions to these six small words." The crux of the argument suggests that the construction of the Shema is difficult and without a parallel version in the entire Old Testament, the following, in his point of view, represent the main possibilities:
1. "Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God is one Yahweh."
2. "Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one."
3. "Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one/Unique."
4. "Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is our God; Yahweh alone."
After careful analysis and while acknowledging a variety of interpretations, the main alternatives of the Shema rest primarily on two and four, interestingly Professor Block, presumably a Trinitarian at his core, raises primary arguments in favor of two and four. Firstly, he interprets the word 'ehãd as 'one' by following the normal use of the cardinal number, which is a primary principle of the Apostolic doctrine that God is absolutely numerically one.
And secondly he argues that if 'alone' had been intended the author would have been expected to say YHWH lebaddoÈ "Yahweh by himself." Citing other academic sources in his work, namely, J.G. Janzen referenced below, Professor Block provides a compelling reference regarding the meaning of the Shema: "... this is a declaration of the integrity of Yahweh, a cryptic reference to his internal consistency and fidelity, that is, morally and spiritually he is one...."
Though Professor Block believes in his opinion it to be a declaration of allegiance-surmising specifically to a covenantal theological evaluation of the text which is based upon his specific rendering of the text-J. G. Janzen on the other hand states that: "God's 'oneness' is the unity between desire and action, between intention and execution." Thus in the second part of the Shema Israel is called upon to reflect God's spiritual uniqueness and moral oneness.
Here is evidence upon which scholars suggest that the Shema is taken to mean reference to the one Supreme Being who is one in essence, spirituality and substance. While there have been scholarly discussions out of all proportions, it is needful to say a vast majority of these scholarly discussions have not rejected or objected that Deuteronomy 6:4 is in all intents and purposes a scripture that imports the divine singularity of one God. Nevertheless, Deuteronomy 6:4 has also been quoted within mainstream Judaism to oppose the concept and notion of the doctrine of the Trinity, which was affirmed at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. The world renowned Jewish lecturer, RabbiTovi Singer has argued that Deuteronomy 6:4 is the very foundation and strength upon which Jews are commanded to worship one single creator, thereby affirming the monotheistic approach of the text by embracing the divine singularity of God.
Despite Rabbi Tovi's argumentation to the singularity of one God there are other factors in the equation, namely, the meaning and understanding of the Hebrew word 'echad.' While considering Jewish bias in favor of the monotheistic approach, the word echad does pose some potential for alternative pluralistic interpretations. This stems largely from the Hebrew word echad, which is very much like the English word one; however echad can mean a compound unity or the numerical singular one.
Conversely, Hebrew unlike English does have several terms for one and more importantly as with any other interpretation, context will and must determine its proper usage. It has been suggested that the medieval Sage Maimonidies (Moses Ben Maimon) in his Thirteen Articles of Faith replaces the word echad with the word Yachid, such bias is ill-founded and without merit.
Rather it should be noted that such criticism is void of any evidence to suggest that Maimonidies is in fact quoting directly from the Shema with a view and an attempt to replace the word echad with yachid. Rather Maimonidies is echoing and summarizing the tenets of Judaism into thirteen principles of faith; he does not render the word echad theologically redundant but simply clarifies its meaning, rendition, usage and theological application.
The differencing theological opinions surrounding the word echad are relevant, but other considerations regarding the text are also prevalent and apparently problematic. Similarly, the need to understand the Shema and Deuteronomy 6:4 and its correct exegetical and hermeneutical interpretation has prompted a series of theological debates and endless scholastic interpretations.
These debates are bewildering and conflicting to the extent that some have questioned whether or not it can be interpreted with some degree of theological certainty. In support of this the Jewish scholar Professor Jefffrey H. Tigay, Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages at the University of Pennsylvania authored an article entitled Deuteronomy 6:4 ("The Shema") in which he stated that: "The precise meaning of the Shema is uncertain."
Notwithstanding this Professor Tigay provides an interesting analysis and provocative thought regarding Deuteronomy 6:4. He states that: "Hebrew does not have a present-tense verb meaning "is" to link the subject and predicate, the link must be supplied by the listener or reader and where to do so depends on context and is sometimes uncertain." Three theories however are propounded by Professor Tigay, YWVH is our God, YWVH alone; YWVH our God, YWVH is one and YWVH our God is one YWVH.
Even though Professor Tigay prefers the first rendition, he states with caution that the first translation seems the most likely, in that, the rendition would suggest that Yahweh alone is God. Equally Professor Tigay provides another widely recognized and accepted view-YWVH our God, YWVH is one-which does import the notion conceptually, operationally and theologically that the text can refer to the nature and divine singularity of God.
Importantly, the original text would have omitted the English grammatical additions leaving the meaning clearly as a matter of interpretation to the original audience. Equally, to understand the meaning as Professor Tigay points out, it would need a verb to bring action to the statement, yet, as discussed earlier four possible meanings emerged that were narrowed down to two. While the placing of the verb can become a contentious matter, it does have the effect of altering the entire meaning and significance.
The remaining possibilities rest on it being a relationship to Yahweh or a statement about the actual nature of Yahweh or the possibility of a combination of the two. These two interpretations could also mean one and of the same thing, interestingly in the opinion of the renowned Professor R. W. L. Moberly cited by C. Wright, who argues against Tigay's position and alludes to it being a reference to Yahweh's nature. He uses Moberly's argument as expounded in Zechariah 14:9.
Stating that Zechariah 14:9 evidences a rendition that is purely numerically one, thus, confirming Professor Janzen's position as evidenced later. Moberly's argumentation takes the position that making predicative use of elohenu is a grammatical idiom that is not found anywhere else in Deuteronomy, in which there are 300 instances in which it might be used and that it is exceptionally rare throughout the Old Testament, see 2 Chronicles 13:10. Similarly, Bruce E. Willoughby's article provides impetus to the notion that Deuteronomy 6:4 is problematic when he opines: "Although the rabbinic tradition consistently proposes that the passage affirms the universal oneness of God, there are grammatical and theological implications." He, like Professor Tigay argues that there are multiplicities of interpretations both grammatical and theological.
He alludes to rendering that "Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one" is certainly arguable stating that the Septuagint and the Nash Papyrus support this translation, but errs that their reading is considered prosaic and secondary. It is not surprising that he evaluates the term echad in the Shema with the conclusion that:
"Since all grammatical evidence is inconclusive, one turns to the realm of theology for the solution to the interpretation of verse 4. The phrase Yhwh 'Elohenu Yhwh 'echadh is either a declaration of monotheism, a statement of God's unity, an oath of allegiance to Yahweh alone or a combination of the three. Rabbinic tradition, the Nash Papyrus and the Septuagint consider the phrase a declaration of monotheism."
Equally, Professor Mark S. Smith, Skirbay Professor of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern studies at New York University in his book, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism, is unopposed to the position that Tigray, Wright, Moberly and Willoughby allude to, and that is, that the rendering may well mean, "Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one." While Professor Smith may take an alternative position, he certainly does not deny that it cannot be rendered in such a way. He states that:
"The possible interpretation of monotheism here hinges especially on the semantics of ehad, literally "one." The question is the significance of this "one-ness" it might be interpreted as a statement of exclusivity ("the only one"). Zechariah 14:9 envisions only one deity ruling the world, and it would seem also to envision worship of Yahweh only ... Thus, monotheism is not a new stage of religion...."
Professor Smith is promising when he also points out that: "... believers read for the Monotheistic God across the wide narrative contexts of the priestly work in the Pentateuch...." Thus suggesting that Deuteronomy 6:4 must have been one of those books that they read when seeking the monotheistic God of Moses. The eagerness with which they read must have been a dominant factor in seeking the one true God of Israel.
On contrast, a more elaborate position is presented by Dr. J. Gerald Janzen's study, An Echo of the Shema in Isaiah 51:1-3, who employs the theological position that Isaiah 51:1-3 resembles in identical terms that which was addressed in the theological part of the Shema, which is 'Yahweh our God, Yahweh is ehad.' His assessment draws upon the conclusion that Isaiah 51:1-3 echoes the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, as an affirmation about the divine character of Yahweh by which he appeals to the hearers for an appropriate response. He remarks that:
"The conclusion to which I will argue is that in its use of the term ehad Isaiah 51.2 echoes the Shema ... The above construal of ehad in the Shema-affirming the internal undividedness of Yahweh...."
Excerpted from The Oneness of God and The Doctrine of the Trinity by Kulwant Singh Boora Copyright © 2009 by Kulwant Singh Boora. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
1. The Shema - Deuteronomy 6:4 Monotheism....................1
2. The Trinity 4....................1
3. Council Of Nicea And Beyond 12....................8
4. Selected Passage Of The Old Testament - Genesis 1:26 14....................9
5. Debate: Trinitarians V. Non-Triniatrians An Oxford Theologican Study....................159