I remember flying from New York City to Amarillo, Texas, more than a few years ago to speak at a church. Well … you cannot fly direct to Amarillo from LaGuardia and so I had a layover in Dallas where I met a lovely Jewish woman from Connecticut who was flying to the city to spend Passover with her daughter (yes, there are Jewish people in Amarillo!).
We talked about Jesus and she shared with me the common argument of many – “I am a Jew and we worship ONE God and YOU Christians worship 3 gods that you just call the Trinity.”
Interestingly, and as a warning to those who might fly in Texas during the spring, the weather can become extremely chaotic and we encountered a thunderstorm while flying across the plains of Texas that even frightened the flight attendants! We landed in Amarillo and as I disembarked I encountered my new Connecticut friend who was still trying to recover from the “extreme highs and lows” of the flight. I checked on her and asked, “I prayed to God the Son during the flight (i.e., Jesus). You okay with that?” She smiled and shakily said, ”Yes!”
However, the bigger question that needs to be answered is do Christians pray, believe, worship 3 gods? Do we as believers in Jesus have a misunderstanding of Biblical belief that we call the Trinity or perhaps has this concept been in the Hebrew Scriptures all along and you need to EXPLORE it now for yourself?
THE SHEMA (DEUTERONOMY 6:4) ARGUMENT
Shema, Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.
Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God the Lord is One.
Was this not the first prayer you were taught to pray? Whether you were in Yeshiva, Hebrew School or on your grandparent’s lap? The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) is the basic/foundational prayer of all Judaism … is it not? But did you know …the Shema is not really a prayer at its core – it is a command when you look at the Hebrew itself?
The word “Hear” is a command because it is in the imperative case. Moses is giving the people a series of orders in these verses and the first one is primary – DON’T WORSHIP OTHER GODS BECAUSE THERE IS ONLY ONE! The only God there is … IS ME!
But let me you in on an another important secret – there is a special meaning to Moses’ usage of this word for “ONE” that has been missed for generations upon generations upon generations…
There are two words for “One” in Hebrew – (echad – אחד) and (yachid – יָחִיד); however, their meanings are significantly different. When (or if) you go to Rosh Hashanah services, you read from The Akedah of Genesis 22 … right? The rather grisly sounding (on the surface) passage when Abraham is commanded to offer his “ONE and only son” even though in man’s eyes Abraham has another son Ishmael. Confusing? Why does God not recognize Ishmael? Is God playing favorites? Does He not recognize Ishmael? What is the answer?
In God’s eyes, Isaac is the ONE and only son of the Covenant Promise (Genesis 12, 15, and 17) and that is the key understanding of the passage. The word in Genesis 22 is yachid to show that for God – Abraham needs to be willing to give up his ONE AND ONLY covenant son to God. GULP!
Therefore, does echad of Deut. 6:4 and the Shema really mean anything different than yachid?… YEP.
Echad would be like two people getting married and the rabbi/minister/judge saying you are no longer “two people but one flesh.” You are still an individual but you are no longer alone – you are united together as one (echad). Here are some Scripture verses that show this united concept of one being more than lonely one – Ezekiel 37:17; Ezra 2:64; and Genesis 34:16. Check us out on the Hebrew if you think we are pulling a fast one. If I was searching or on a journey of exploration, I would be suspicious that someone was lying to me. I hope that you are checking us out. I want you to check us out.
So then why didn’t Moses just use the word yachid in the Shema instead of writing echad?
Perhaps it is God not so alone as we thought?
Perhaps there is a hidden message that perhaps we need to explore further about the united idea of God?
Perhaps there is a hidden message that even Maimonides himself sought to keep hidden –
“Instead of the Hebrew word echad as found in Dt 6:4, which gives the connotation of a plural or unified one, Maimonides uses the alternative of yachid which can only be define as the singular (i.e., lonely) one. Louis Goldberg who was a Jewish believer in Jesus writes this simple but clear statement—’With one neat statement, this Jewish philosopher undercut what the Council of Nicea sought to express: the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, each viewed as God, are one God, but in a Tri-unity. That is, God is one but in three persons.’” (from Amy Downey’s 2016 Ph.D. dissertation)
In other words, Maimonides, you know the “from Moses to Moses” guy you learned about in Temple, was uncomfortable with the usage of echad that the original Moses used in Deuteronomy 6:4 because of its “plural unity meaning” and sought to change the usage to yachid. Why is this? Talk to your rabbi if you have one. Talk to us because if you have been reading everything we have posted, yes, we have talked about this issue before. And so I would encourage you to talk to the Echad (because you actually can) as well and ask Him.
THE CHRISTIAN IDEA OF THE “TRINITY” IS NEVER MENTIONED IN THE HEBREW BIBLE … RIGHT?
Everyone’s life would be simpler if I could answer the question above in the affirmative because I am going to let you in on a secret – the concept of the Trinity is confusing even for those of us who believe and affirm it. It is a tough one. Trying to wrap one’s head of how God could be one and then three as well as three and then one at the same time – TOUGH.
However, the concept is present in both what is called the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures. So let’s start at the beginning and cover just two passages from both sections of the WHOLE BIBLE.
GENESIS 1:26 – “LET US MAKE MAN IN OUR IMAGE”
ויאמר אלהים נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו וירדו בדגת הים ובעוף השמים ובבהמה ובכל־הארץ ובכל־הרמש הרמש על־הארץ׃
There are many controversial passages in Scripture but it did not take very long (twenty-six verses into the first chapter!) for one of the most unique and controversial ones to be found. If God is SOLO/SINGLE/SOLITARY/ONLY, why did He say, “Let us make man in our image”? All sorts of explanations have been given throughout the ages –
HE WAS TALKING IN THE “ROYAL WE” LIKE THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND
HE WAS CONSULTING THE ANGELS LIKE ONE WOULD A BOARD OF DIRECTORS FOR ADVICE/WISDOM
HE WAS BEING DELIBERATELY OBTUSE IN CASE FUTURE GENERATIONS DECIDED TO BE HERETICAL AND BELIEVE IN SOME SORT OF TRINITARIAN NONSENSE
Yes, those explanations have been given in Rabbinic thought from Rashi to Targum Yonasan to the BT Sanhedrin to various Chumash’s from Orthodox to Reform. However, I would like to ask you (and any rabbi if he/she would like to chime into the discussion a few questions and throw out a few of our own thoughts along the way):
- Why would God need to speak in the “royal we” language? Even Richard Elliott Friedman (author of Commentary on the Torah  acknowledges that God never utilized such language for himself after this passage [and the one in Genesis 11])? Could it be that He was talking to someone other than Himself in this conversation … which leads us to Question #2
- Throughout the entirety of the Torah and the rest of Hebrew Scriptures, we never encounter God consulting the angelic host for advice. Even in Job, the angels come to report to Him and not the other way around. Why would God consult the angels in the creation of humanity, especially given that there is no actual evidence that we are anything like the angelic host? Yes, the scholar Rashi seeks to make this point but this is his view based upon what? Opinion? Conjecture? Hope…? Did God consult the angelic host before any other “big decision” in the Hebrew Scriptures? Why here? Does it make sense to you? So … who was He talking to in Genesis 1:26?
- God is seen in the Torah as a jealous God. He is seen as a patient God. He is seen as a loving God. Have you ever seen Him to be capricious and vindictive? Yet, Rashi and elsewhere in the Talmud (BT Sanhedrin 38b especially) argues that Genesis 1:26 is purposefully vague in the event that future generations saw a Trinitarian God in the verse. The exact wording from The Legend of the Jews (Midrash) by Louis Ginsberg is the following – “God replied, ‘Whoever wishes to err will err.” Does this seem like the God of Judaism to you? Or perhaps God is talking/ speaking to others involved in the act of creation. Have you considered what earlier verses in Genesis 1 state about the work of world creation – “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Gen. 1:2b) Just WHO is this Spirit? Rashi wrote – “The Throne of Glory was suspended in the air and hovered over the face of the water with the breath of the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, and with His word, like a dove, which hovers over a nest…” Very lyrical and metaphorical until one considers what Apostle John wrote of John the Baptist’s testimony concerning Jesus’ baptism, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.” (John 1:32). BTW, I haven’t even told you one of Jesus’ names in the Gospel of John yet and it will BLOW YOUR MIND!
ISAIAH 9:5 –THE LONGEST NAME IN HISTORY!
כִּי־יֶ֣לֶד יֻלַּד־לָ֗נוּ בֵּן נִתַּן־לָ֔נוּ וַתְּהִ֥י הַמִּשְׂרָ֖ה עַל־שִׁכְמ֑וֹ וַיִּקְרָ֨א שְׁמ֜וֹ
פֶּ֠לֶא יוֹעֵץ֙ אֵ֣ל גִּבּ֔וֹר אֲבִי־עַ֖ד שַׂר־שָׁלֽוֹם
You might not believe me (and please feel free to check us out on this one at http://www.breslov.com/bible/Isaiah9.htm#9) but the 1917 English edition of the Jewish Publication Society Bible translates Isaiah 9:5 in the following way:
For a child is born unto us, a son is given unto us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name is called Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom
A lot of questions could go through one’s mind right about now — Who in the world is this guy – talk about the world’s longest name tag? Why would anyone in the world give their child such a name? But the real questions are why didn’t the editors of the 1917 JPS translate it from the Hebrew? Why did they instead transliterate it? What does this name mean?
Later editions of the JPS (1999) have translated it to the following: “… He has been named ‘The Mighty God is planning grace; The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler—” NOTE: We will argue below that while this is a close translation … it is missing something intangibly and eternally important.
The Chabad version of the Tanakh (edited by Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg) translates it in the following way: “and the wondrous adviser, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, called his name, “the prince of peace.” NOTE: Now this might create a more comfortable reading for some but it goes completely against all Hebrew rules and structure in order to accomplish – read the above Hebrew if you want to double check our argument against this translation.
The 1917 JPS, the 1999 JPS and the Chabad translation all miss something, especially as they try to force interpretation that this verse is speaking of King Hezekiah because a name has meaning and purpose behind it.
For while I am not named after anyone in my family, my first name shows that I was/am beloved in my family. My middle name shows that my family wanted me to exhibit the grace of God – something that I am still working on in my life. And so if my name has a purpose how much more do you think Biblical names mean something to the world? So … let’s look at this mysterious name in the Hebrew itself:
The 1917 JPS translation is accurate in its transliteration (even while hiding its meaning) and so we will utilize for it for ease of explanation:
PELE-JOEZ = WONDERFUL COUNSELOR/ADVISOR
The word for wonderful (an adjective) is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures is to describe God alone or the actions/judgments of God – Exodus 15:11; Psalm 77:11, 14; Psalm 78;12; Psalm 88:10, 12; Psalm 89:5; Psalm 119:129; Isaiah 25:1; Lamentations 1:9; Daniel 12:6. The word for counselor/advisor simply describes what God does for us. This cannot be used to describe Hezekiah especially in light of Isaiah 39 because Hezekiah fails miserably does he not … and the adjective belongs alone to God. The 1999 JPS edition attempt to translate this passage as “is planning grace” does an injustice both to the idea of “wonderful” for while this phrase is in a verb form, it should not be translated as a passive verb concept but as an ongoing active principle.
EL-GIBBOR = MIGHTY GOD
Gibbor is an intensive adjective used to describe the noun God. Who in their right minds could believe this refers to Hezekiah? This is why the Chabad translation attempts to re-order the Hebrew in order to change the meaning of the verse to force a Hezekiah meaning into the verse; however, they fail basic translation rules in order to do so.
ABI-AD = ETERNAL/EVERLASTING FATHER
Abi is a form of Abba which means father which is common until we connect it to the adjective “Ad.” Which earthly Jewish king or any king has been everlasting or eternal? No one. Right?
SAR-SHALOM = PRINCE OF PEACE
A common enough phrase and an idea that everyone is longing for in today’s world. Hezekiah did not bring it. There was not an absence of war – spiritual or otherwise. Who has been the only one to promise a spiritual concept of peace that truly encapsulated the Hebraic idea of completeness and wholeness?
So in this mysterious verse in Isaiah, we have a child who is to be born upon whom the responsibility of the government will be laid upon his shoulders. He will have a mysterious name laden with holy connotations imbued with Godly attributes. Who has been the only child in the history of humanity that has claimed this mantle? Who has promised to bring true peace that was not simply an absence of war but wholeness/ completeness in the truest meaning of Shalom? Who alone claimed this responsibility and we as believers in Jesus affirm lived up to these attributes? Are you will to explore it even further … because after all this verse is not in the New Testament? However, we would like to ask you to examine two more verses in the rest of Scripture as well.
JOHN 1:1-3 – WHEN “WORD”(S) REALLY MEAN SOMETHING
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
In other questions and other sections, we have explained that John was the theologian of the disciples and of the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the first three verses of his Gospel.
For if you are not raised in a church/Christian setting, I could well imagine you going what in the world is John talking about – who or what is “the Word”? Glad you asked! Or even if you didn’t … we were going to tell you anyway.
The WORD if you read the rest of the passage (and please do) is Jesus and John is making some radical observations with his opening statements:
JESUS HAS BEEN AROUND SINCE THE BEGINNING (I.E., GENESIS 1:1)
JESUS WAS ACTIVE IN THE CREATION OF THE WORLD AND NOTHING COULD HAVE BEEN MADE WITHOUT JESUS
AND MOST OF ALL … JESUS IS ALSO GOD. WHOA! STOP THE PRESSES!
John makes absolutely no bones about who he believes Jesus to be. All throughout the Gospel of John we are confronted with these “I Am” statements that define exactly both Jesus’ deity and divinity.
Where did John get such an idea? Did he pull it out of the air? Was it wishful thinking or did it come from somewhere more common and personal to all Jewish people? Let’s look and at both the Hebrew Scriptures and something that preceded the Talmud and Rabbinic Judaism. Something called the Targums…
A Targum was “a way of doing theology” in the first century world when the Temple still stood and the Jewish carpenter from Nazareth was making waves in Judea and among the Pharisees. In fact, the word Targum means “interpretation” or “translation” and was used in the Synagogues by the leaders, the Pharisees and the rabbis to make the Biblical passages being read and explained understandable to the everyday Jewish person. (For more information – go to pages 5-8 of http://hdl.handle.net/10392/4948). In fact, I would argue that Jesus utilized a form of “Targumic reasoning” in his parables and the Sermon on the Mount that you can read throughout the Gospel – especially Matthew 5-7.
So what was it about John 1:1-3 (and following) that is not unusual but downright ordinary in a first-century Jewish setting? Let’s briefly discuss…
- The word for “Word” in the Greek is logos. The meaning of logos is the concept of reason, idea, doctrine, plan and even an actual written/spoken word. The concept of the “Word” is, therefore, important. This is why the modern philosopher Jacques Derrida (who was also Jewish) spent so much time seeking to deconstruct speech and the “Word.” For what is “Word” is vital to everything.
- But this emphasis on “Word” is not a modern or Greek philosophy. It is actually Hebraic in origin … for lack of a better expression.
o The word for “Word” in the Hebrew is dabar. The word for “Word” in the Aramaic, which was the street language in first-century Judea and the language of the Targums, is memra. We are going to focus on a few examples when it is memra (מימרא) as you shall come to understand why. Memra means more than just spoken word and has a richer connotation—it means also the voice and presence of someone in the sense that it MEANS something (summary of pages 37-38 — http://hdl.handle.net/10392/4948).
o Even the no-nonsense Online Jewish Encyclopedia and anti-Christian (http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10618-memra) acknowledges that the first-century Targums provide an uncomfortable insight into the idea of “Word” that is definitely anti-Rabbinical in thought but fit very nicely with the view of Messiah Jesus and John 1:1-3
o So let’s consider just one quick Targum example for space sake but more examples are available at http://hdl.handle.net/10392/4948:
Targum Pseudo-Jonathan Numbers 21:8-9 – This is one of my favorite passages from the Torah because my own father preached from this passage quite often—even though it sounds like a rather odd story on first glance. Here is my summary of the original Numbers account, the Israelites are kvetching (again!) and so God punishes them with poisonous snakes. The only cure for the snakes is a bronze serpent placed upon a pole and the faith of the people to look at it and believe they will be cured. The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan writes the following: “And it shall come about that all whom the serpent bites should look at it and live, if he turns his heart to the name of the Memra [Word] of the Lord.”
Now this would just an interesting story if one did not connect it again back to the disciple John and his account of the encounter between Jesus and the Pharisee Nicodemus (John 3:1-18, esp. 14-15: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Interesting is it not? Coincidence … I think not.
1 PETER 3:18 – ALL THREE PLAYERS OF THE TRINITY WORKING TOGETHER AT ONCE
The entirety of the section of 1 Peter from verse 15 to verse 18 is really fascinating because one begins with a chicken/egg question – which came first the words of Peter or the saying found in the Pirkei Avot 2:14 or 2:19. I would argue the words of Peter but the correlation is fascinating and just goes to show a reader that the New Testament is anything but anti-Semitic:
I Peter 3:15 — But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;
Pirkei Avot 2:14 or 2:19 — “Rabbi Elazar said: ‘Be eager to study the Torah: Know what to respond to a heretic. Know before who you toil and who is your employer who shall pay you the reward of your labor.’”
So what we find in this 1 Peter section is a very Jewish concept in verse 15 as well as Peter utilizing all 3 members of what the Christian Church calls the Trinity – God the Father who will be the receiver of the action of God the Son who died for both the just and the unjust but who was brought back to life by God the Holy Spirit. It is almost as if Peter is trying to bring the recipients of his epistle/letter who coincidentally Jewish believers back to the idea of the Shema and true unity. Hmm…
YES, I WAS UBER NERDY ON THIS SECTION. I WROTE ENTIRELY TOO MUCH! I promise that I wasn’t trying to be arrogant or anything. We just wanted to give you the whole story on this really important issue.
It would be unfair to cater to the lowest common denominator of discussion. We get that enough from the news and politics these days. We know that those who come to this website want to be engaged in thoughtful consideration of eternal issues or you would not be on this exploration for the identity of the Messiah. However, we will continue to seek to find ways to be less verbose! Perhaps on the next section about “Original Sin.”