The Lord Our God is One: Thoughts on Deuteronomy 6:4

Deuteronomy chapter six, verses four and five, are often called the Shema, from the Hebrew word meaning “to hear” (Strong), (e.g., “Hear, O Israel…”). They are considered some of the most important words revealed in Deuteronomy and the entire Bible. The Shema begins with this statement: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD [Yahweh] our God [Elohim] is one LORD [Yahweh].” Some believe this verse could be better translated as “Hear, O Israel: ‘Yahweh (is) our God, Yahweh (is) one’” (Cloud 482). The Hebrew word YHWH is usually spelled as “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.” YHWH is called the tetragrammaton and “comes from the verb ‘to be’ meaning simply, but very profoundly, ‘He is’” (Laws 385).

The word Elohim is in plural form and sometimes refers to “gods” in general, angels, or men in authority (translated as “judges” in verses like Exodus 22:9). Jesus pointed out that men are called “gods” (Elohim) in Psalm 82 (vv. 1, 6; cf. John 10:34-36). Elohim can also refer to the true God in a “plural intensive” manner (Brown, Driver, Briggs).

When Elohim is used of Deity, it does not necessarily include multiple Godhead Members. For example, in Psalm 45:6, Elohim is Jesus, and in Psalm 45:7, Elohim is God the Father. In Genesis 1:26 there are plural pronouns referring to Deity, and in that verse “God” (Elohim) seems to represent the “First Person of the Godhead” speaking to the Second and Third Persons (1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 3:9; Heb. 1:1-2).

Brown, Driver, and Briggs take the view that it [Elohim, JPH] is a derivative of Alah “to be strong” and thus the essential meaning of the three forms, El, Eloah, and Elohim. This would make its root meaning refer to might or power…However, the plural form of the term should not cause confusion. Both the Old and New Testament state clearly that there is one God. Deuteronomy 6:4…1 Corinthians 8:6 states, “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ…”…even though the term [Elohim, JPH] employs the plural form it is translated in the singular and it is basically understood that the plural use of the term is an ancient near eastern way of suggesting majesty or “all-mightiness” (Laws 388-389).

Mark 12:29-32 contains a quotation of Deuteronomy 6:4 in Greek which should be consulted for better understanding. Jesus said to a scribe, “The first of all the commandments is, Hear O Israel, The Lord [kurios] our God [theos] is one Lord [kurios]…” (Mark 12:29). It is interesting that the word Yahweh is not found in the New Testament Scriptures. Some may say it is because the New Testament was written in Greek, but Yahweh could have been a part of the New Testament Scriptures if God had so desired, just as phrases like “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani” or “Anathema Maranatha” are (Mat. 27:46, 1 Cor. 16:22).

The scribe of Mark 12 understood Deuteronomy 6:4 in this manner: “Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God [theos]; and there is none other but he” (Mark 12:32; cf. Deu. 4:35, 39). Mark 12:34 indicates that the scribe answered correctly—that there is only one true God, and He is exclusive in His supreme reign. The question is, “Who is the one God who reigns supreme over all?”

Christians understand that there are three eternally divine Persons possessing Godhood, denoted by the word “Godhead” (Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:20; Col. 2:9; cf. John 1:1-3, 14; Heb. 9:14). They are “one” in nature and mindset, and they are eternally self-existent, thus fitting the name “Yahweh,” but how would the Israelites of Moses’ day have understood Deuteronomy 6:4? They surely would have contrasted the one true God with the multitude of pagan gods, which is exactly what God had been emphasizing in earlier chapters, including chapter five with the Ten Commandments, and in verses following this section (cf. 3:24; 4:35, 39; 6:14-15; 7:4, 16, etc.). There are scholarly disagreements about whether to translate the verse as “…Yahweh is one” or “…Yahweh alone” (Cloud 482-485), but “Whichever one is correct, the idea of one God (monotheism) is obviously in this phrase. There is, was, and always will be only one true God. See Deuteronomy 4:35,39; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; and 1 Corinthians 8:4” (Oberst 108, quoted by Coffman).

Peter said that God (the Father) was the God of their Hebrew fathers: “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus…The God of our fathers raised up Jesus…” (Acts 3:13-14, 5:30; cf. Deu. 26:7, 1 Chr. 12:17, 2 Chr. 20:6, Ezr. 7:27). Ananias, also a Jew, described God (the Father) as the God of their fathers: “…The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth” (Acts 22:14; cf. 3:13-14, 5:30). Paul, an inspired Jew and an expert on the Old Testament, repeatedly described the Father as the “one God” (1 Cor. 8:4, 6; Eph. 4:6; 1 Tim. 2:5; cf. Gal. 3:20). To the Athenians Paul described the Father as “the unknown God” who “will judge the world…by that man whom He hath ordained” (Acts 17:22-31). Paul said the Thessalonians had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son…” (1 The. 1:9-10). Although Jesus and the Spirit are also eternally divine and an essential part of the Old Testament Scriptures (Gen. 1:2, 26; Psa. 45:6-7; Isa. 6; 40:3; Mic. 5:2, etc.), the Father was apparently more generally known by the Jews as the God of the Old Testament.

When Jesus came to Earth and said that He was the Son of “God,” the Jews would have understood “God” in that statement as the one now known as the “First Person of the Godhead” (cf. 1 The. 1:9-10). When John called Jesus the Lamb of “God,” both John and the other Jews would have understood “God” to be the one known as “God the Father” (John 1:29, cf. Exo. 4:22-23, Deu. 32:6, 2 Sam. 7:14, 1 Chr. 28:6, Psa. 68:5, 103:13, Jer. 31:9, Mal. 2:10). Again, He is who they generally thought of as “God.” Many more examples could be given. Although the Greek term theos (God) can refer to Jesus or the Spirit, it predominantly refers to the Father in the New Testament Scriptures.

God the Father is not only the one most often called “God” (theos), but He is repeatedly described as “the one God” in the New Testament (John 17:3, 1 Cor. 8:4-6, Eph. 4:6, 1 Tim. 2:5, etc.). Bobby Liddell wrote regarding Ephesians 4:6:

There IS one God. This fact is the basis of unity. The word which signifies the singularity of God shows the exclusiveness of God. He is; that is, He exists and He is the one God, and there is no other (1 Cor. 8:4). God the Father is the one God Who was the God of Adam…the God of Noah…the God of Abraham…the God of Moses…the God of David…the God of Daniel…the God of John the immerser…the God of Paul…the God of John the apostle (Liddell 114, emp. His; cf. Acts 3:13-14; 5:30; 22:14).

Not only is the Father the God of all those mentioned above from the Old Testament, but He is also the God of Jesus Christ! Jesus said, “…I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17, cf. 10:29, 14:28, 17:3, Mat. 27:46, 1 Cor. 11:3, 2 Cor. 11:31, Eph. 1:3, Heb. 1:9, 1 Pet. 1:3). Jesus was called “God” in Old Testament Scriptures such as Psalm 45:6, but in the same passage the Father was called the God of Jesus: “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever…God, thy God, hath anointed thee…” (Psa. 45:6-7, cf. Heb. 1:8-9). When Jesus came to Earth, He affirmed that He was God’s Son, while also being eternally divine Himself (Mark 14:61-6, John 1:1-3, 10:36). Jesus had existed in eternal past in the equal “form” of glory with God the Father but took the humble “form” of a man to save sinful men (Php. 2:5-9, cf. Mic. 5:2).

Now that Christ is back in Heaven, He has been exalted to glory, but is still subject to the First Person (1 Cor. 11:3), as He apparently was even before His incarnation. If phrases such as “God…reconciled us…by Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18, cf. Eph. 1:5, 1 The. 5:9), God speaking “by His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2), and God judging the world “by Jesus Christ” (Rom. 2:16; cf. John 5:22, 27; Acts 17:31) indicate God’s Headship over Christ (with Jesus carrying out God’s will), then so does this statement: “God…created all things by Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:9, cf. Gen. 1:26). If Jesus submitted to God’s plan in creation, Jesus was being submissive to the First Person of the Godhead before the Second Person came to Earth (cf. Eph. 3:11). See principles of authority in John 4:1-2 and 13:16. The One in authority is given credit, although the one(s) underneath Him are the ones actually carrying out the work by executing his commands (John 4:1-2, cf. 3:17, 13:16, 14:28, Eph. 3:9).

“There is one God! So state the Scriptures (Mal. 2:10; Mark 12:32; Rom. 3:30; 1 Cor. 8:6; 1 Tim. 2:5; James 2:19). Paul wrote, by inspiration, in the context of a discussion of unity, that there is: “’One God and Father of all, who is above all…’ (Eph. 4:6)…one Supreme Being” (Liddell 113). The eternally divine nature of Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit is unquestionable, but only one Being is literally supreme over all others in authority, and we call Him God the Father. There is no other like Him. Neither Jesus nor the Holy Spirit is over God the Father in authority, but the Father is “the one God” who is truly “above all.” He has titles of superiority over Jesus, such as the Father of Jesus, the Head of Jesus, and the God of Jesus, and any who deny the Father such distinctions are guilty of opposing the unity desired and expressed in Ephesians 4:1-6.

God is the Father…in the Godhead of three divine persons Who share one divine nature, and essence…He is above all reigning supreme for there is none above him. He is sovereign, expressing His will, ruling in His own right. God is sitting on the throne of the universe, exalted, uplifted, and unchallenged. There is no other like Him. ‘Hear O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD (Deut. 6:4) (Liddell 117, 2003).

Even if the Hebrew word echad (translated as “one” in Deuteronomy 6:4) implies “a compound unity” rather than a literal number one (such as two people becoming “one flesh” in marriage), and even though Jesus and the Holy Spirit can rightfully be called “God” or “Yahweh,” nothing changes the fact that the New Testament specifies the First Person of the Godhead as the one God who is above all. The same prayer in which Jesus requested that all His followers be one, as He and the Father are one (John 17:11, 22), is also a prayer in which Jesus described the Father as “the only true God” separately from Jesus Himself: “…that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3, cf. 13:16, 14:28, 1 Cor. 8:4-6, Eph. 4:6, 1 The. 1:9-10, 1 Tim. 2:5). Perhaps Jesus said this because the Father is the only Being with no other being over Him in authority.

Some brethren have run so far from the “Jehovah’s Witnesses’” errors of denying Jesus’ deity that they have run into the error of placing Jesus on equal authority with God the Father, claiming that the Godhead Members are “equal in all aspects.” They assert that since Jesus has returned to Heaven, He has equal authority with the Father. However, Paul wrote these words after Jesus’ ascension to Heaven: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3, cf. 15:24-28). The Father and Son do not have the same authority. Note that a father and mother are both parents (having parenthood), but the father is the head of his wife, having God-given authority over her. In a similar way, Members of the Godhead are all Deity (having Godhood), but the Father is the Head, above all (1 Cor. 11:3, Eph. 4:4-6). One wonders why many manuscripts and entire books have been written on the Godhead which never address this crucial truth from God’s Holy Word.

Some in the brotherhood seem to have an unbalanced view of the Godhead that slants everything towards Jesus. They seem to only talk about Jesus, and some have even publicly expressed that they could be perfectly happy if only Jesus were in Heaven with them. What an insult that must be to the Father, the Giver of every good and perfect gift, that some of His children could be perfectly happy without ever being in His presence or meeting Him at all! (Jam. 1:17, cf. Mat. 6:4, 7:11, 20:23, 22:36-38). Jesus is absolutely worthy of adoration and anticipation, and inspired writers like Paul looked forward to being with Christ, but not to the exclusion of the Father.

Being with the Father should be an essential part of the Christian’s hope and view of Heaven. After all, the very reason Jesus died on the cross was to reconcile men to the Father! (Rom. 5:10; 1 Tim. 2:5, 6; 1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus Himself emphasized that He would prepare a place where men can be with the Father: “…ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions…no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:1-6). It is a very unbalanced view of the Scriptures to place all emphasis on Jesus or the Spirit, as Pentecostals often do, to the exclusion of our loving, giving Father.

Some brethren have concluded that since Jesus and the Father are “one” and can both be called Yahweh, that the Godhead Members must be the same Spirit, the same Being. However, an earthly father and son may wear the same name and be united in nature and mindset, but that certainly does not make them the same spirit, being, or person; nor does it give them the same authority or roles. The Godhead Members have had different roles in creation, revelation, salvation, and acts of worship such as prayer. Jesus wants Christians to be one in the same way that He and the Father are one—in mindset (and in nature, of course). Jesus prayed to the Father, “that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:22; cf. 10:29-30; 14:28; 17:3, 11, 17; 1 Cor. 1:10; 2:16). Christians are not all the same person, and neither are Jesus and the Father the same Person, although they are united as “one.” “We do not affirm that Jesus is the Father. We simply recognize the fact that inspired writers ascribe the descriptive noun Jehovah to all three persons of the sacred Godhead. The word Jehovah describes a person who is eternal and self-existent. This is true of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Waddey 141). In fact, it is only true of those three, and no other, for no other being could rightfully be called Yahweh, eternally self-existent.

If one infers from Deuteronomy 6:4 that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same divine Person, he has misinterpreted this verse. Is Jesus sitting on His own right hand? (Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 12:2). If they are the same Being, how could Jesus be “with God”? (John 1:1). If Jesus and the Father are the same Being, why did Jesus say the Father taught Him? (John 8:28). Why did Jesus not know what the Father knew? (Mark 13:32). When Jesus was baptized, was He saying that He was pleased with Himself, or was a different Being speaking from Heaven? (Mat. 3:17, cf. 17:5). How can God be the Father and the God of Christ, with authority over Christ, if they are both the same Being? (John 20:17). Was Jesus constantly praying to Himself while on earth? (Mat. 26:39, Luke 6:12, John 17). If Jesus is the one Mediator “between” God and men, does that not distinguish Him from God the Father? (1 Tim. 2:5). John used the phrase “both the Father and the Son,” so what does “both” mean? (2 John 9). After Jesus “came down from Heaven,” why did He tell His followers to pray to their Father, who was in Heaven? (Mat. 6:9; Luke 11:1, 2; John 6:38). Why would Jesus say to ask Him nothing, but to ask the Father, if they are both the same? (John 16:23). Can the Father be called “Christ” (Anointed One), when the Father is the one who anointed Jesus, and nobody anointed the Father? (Acts 4:27, 10:38). Was God the Father “made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death”? (Heb. 2:9, cf. Luke 24:39, John 4:23-24). Why did Jesus say, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” if they are both the same Spirit? (Luke 23:46, cf. Mat. 27:46, Eph. 4:4-6). More questions could be asked, and much more could be said about the Godhead Members, but a Scripturally balanced view of the Godhead with the One God and Father being “above all” is greatly needed.

WORKS CITED

Brown, Francis. The Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. e-Sword Software. Franklin, TN: Rick Meyers, 2000-2019.

Cloud, Rodney. “The Shema—The Heart of the Message.” Hear O Israel. The Seventy-First Annual Freed-Hardeman Lectures. Ed. David Lipe. Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University, 2007.

Coffman, James Burton. Coffman Commentaries on the Bible.
https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/exodus-20.html 2021

Gill, John. “Commentary on Deuteronomy 6:4.” The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible. e-Sword Software. Franklin, TN: Rick Meyers, 2000-2019.

Hilburn, Jason. “The Head of Christ is God.” TheBibleDomain.com.
www.thebibledomain.com/docs/HeadofChristisGod.pdf

Laws, Jim. “The Names of God.” The Godhead—A Study of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Power Lectures. Ed. B.J. Clarke. Southaven, MS: POWER Publications, 1998.

Liddell, Bobby. “There is One God.” God the Father. Memphis School of Preaching Lectureship. Memphis, TN: Memphis School of Preaching, 2003.

Oberst, Bruce. Deuteronomy. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1968. Quoted by James Burton Coffman. Coffman Commentaries on the Bible.
www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/deuteronomy-6.html 2021

Waddey, John. “Who Was the ‘Angel of Jehovah’ in the Old Testament?”. Difficult Texts of the Old Testament Explained. The Fifteenth Annual Fort Worth Lectures. Ed. Wendell Winkler. Tuscaloosa, AL: Winkler Publications, Inc., 1982.

Note: This article is an excerpt from the manuscript “Deuteronomy: Chapters Five and Six” in the 2021 Schertz, TX Lectures on Numbers and Deuteronomy. This was the final lectureship book published in the Denton/Schertz Lectureship series. With the completion of this last book, the lectures have now covered every book of the Bible.

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