Elohim And Other Key Terms
Hymnotheo poet, wks., 1727, Ill, 335: "Strange generation this? Father and Son coeval: two distinct and yet but one." "It is difficult to place three billiard balls on one spot" (JAT. Robinson).
1720: Waterland Sermons: "The Arians had some plausible things to urge particularly in respect of the generation of the Son."
1848: Wilberforce on the Incarnation: "Origen introduced the phrase 'the Son's eternal generation.' "
Professor Colin Brown, general editor of THE NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY OF NEW TESTAMENT THEOLOGY: "To be called Son of God in the NT means that you are not God. . . To read John 1:1 as though it means 'In the beginning was the Son' is patently wrong."!
"God is one WHAT in three WHO's" — Hank Hanegraaf, Bible Answer Man.
"The New Testament offers no new doctrine of God, but simply proclaims that the Old Testament God has now acted definitively. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is now the God and Father of Jesus Christ. Even the fatherhood of God is not new (Isaiah 64:8). Thus all Old Testament theology is implied in the New Testament: God is the creator and Lord of history, the God who acts, who calls Israel into covenant, who promises the redemption of his people. The New Testament proclaims that these promises have now been fulfilled, or rather are now in the process of being fulfilled" (Oxford Companion to the Bible, "Biblical Theology," NT).
Professor Mauch, Trinity College, CT: "These [traditional] ways of reading the Philippian hymn contain an emphasis on Jesus Christ as a divine being who previously was with God, emptied himself of his pre-existent divinity, became a man on earth, and then went back up where he properly belonged. When people do read Philippians 2, the 'heavy hand of tradition' keeps them reading along these lines. The Fathers, countering the Arian dilution of Christ's divinity, clarified the terms 'in the form of God' and 'he emptied himself' to show that Christ is fully equal and co-existent with God. This dominant theology is evident in Calvin's explanation of Philippians 2, 'For a time his Divine glory was invisible, and nothing appeared but the human form, in a mean and abject condition.' "
Defining God in the Bible:
"It is as dangerous to get it wrong as it is difficult to get it right"—Morgridge
"At the Trinity reason stands aghast and faith itself is half confounded "—Bishop Hurd
"Nothing to support the dogma [of the Trinity] can be pointed out in Scripture "—Luther
The importance of Our Topic
At present the world is deeply divided over who God is. Millions of Jews and over a billion Muslims are alike repelled by the historic Christian doctrine that God is Three in One. As long as that central tenet is maintained, it fosters a religious hostility between peoples of the world-faiths. Our difficulties as a human race are firstly theological. Collectively we do not know who God is and which God to serve. And we have apparently forgotten that Jesus was a Jew reciting as his most precious doctrine the Shema ("Hear 0 Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord") of Deut. 6:4 (cp. Mark 12:28ff.) which as everyone should know is a Unitarian creed. At stake is the question of obeying and following the teaching of Jesus. If our God is not the God of the Hebrew Bible, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and of Jesus himself, are we floundering in the chaos of polytheism? It is at least worthwhile exploring that threatening possibility. In so doing we may be able to confirm our salvation and rejoice in the truth as Jesus taught it. No considerations of party loyalty, "what we have always believed," or fear of standing alone should deter us for one second from the Berean exercise to which we are all committed (Acts 17:11). God is to be worshiped, Jesus said, "in spirit and truth." Error can only obstruct our relationship with God.
"Distinguished but undivided, bound together in otherness, one in three: that is the Godhead and the three are one (Credo of Gregory of Nazianzus, Jan. 6, 381). This language is still heard in Roman Catholic liturgy. Thus Hans Kueng has spoken of 'the unbiblical very abstractly constructed speculation of the Roman Catholic treatises' and 'the Hellenization of the Christian primordial message by Greek theology' and expresses 'the genuine concern of many Christians and the justified frustration of Jews and Muslims in trying to find in such formulas the pure faith in One God.' Claus Westermann said, 'the question of relationships of the persons in the Trinity to one another and the question of the divinity and humanity in the person of Christ as a question of ontic [having to do with 'essence'] relationships could only arise when the Old Testament had lost its significance for the early church. The Christological and Trinitarian questions structurally correspond to the mythological questions into relationships of the gods to one another in a pantheon'" (From Jewish Monotheism and Christian Trinitarian Doctrine, A Dialogue Between Pinchas Lapide and Jurgen Moltmann, Fortress Press, 1981, pp. 40, 41).
A Mother of Muddles: A Confusion Over the Bible's Word for God
One does not have to advance very far into Scripture to arrive at the word God, with capital G (although in the original there are no capitals as distinct from lower case).
"In the beginning God created . . ."
We confront here the Hebrew word Elohim followed by a verb which is singular ("he," not "they," created).
In G.T. Armstrong's paperback of 1977, The Real Jesus, the author announces that "it is time you met the real Jesus" (p. 1). After a spirited description of the human being, Jesus of Nazareth, we learn that the Creator, obviously here not Jesus but the Father, was announcing the birth of His Son through three different groups of individuals. Surprisingly the visitation of Gabriel to Mary declaring the basis on which Jesus might be called Son of God, that is, by the procreating activity of the Father (Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:20), is bypassed in our author's account. We are immediately, however, plunged into a chapter entitled "Jesus the Creator-His Former Life."
Jesus in his former life, we are told, had spoken to Abraham in Genesis 18. Jesus, said Mr. Armstrong, was not understood by his opponents when he spoke of Abraham having looked forward to his appearance (p. 14). "Jesus was thinking in another dimension-the full knowledge and awareness of who and what he was, of his spiritual background and timelessness." Mr. Armstrong then moves from Abraham to John 1:1: "There are two other important Scriptures relative to Christ's preexistence: 'In the beginning God created. . . ' (Gen. 1:1) and 'in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.' "
Now I do not wish in any way to come over as "smart" or condemning, but what follows in The Real Jesus sets out a whole theology which has had dramatic consequences for the education and spiritual journeys of countless people over some 70 years. G.T. Armstrong says: "The Hebrew word for God is Elohim. It is an interesting word with a plural form (the -im ending)." "A little research," says Mr. Armstrong, "demonstrates that Elohim can indicate more than one person; and can be taken to mean a family of persons." Our author goes on. "Elohim means more than one and while not necessarily limiting the number, many other texts prove there was the Father (whom no man has ever seen at any time) and the Son. Therefore in our modern English language, the beginning text of the Bible would be more understandable if it were written thus: 'In the beginning the family of God consisting of the Father and the Son, created the heaven and the earth.' "
Presumably it would follow that the thousands of appearances of that same word Elohim in the Hebrew Bible are likewise, according to the Armstrong scheme, mistranslated, and really mean "the one God Family." The proposal is surely a momentous one setting the standard for an entire theology. At the same time this proposal corrects all the standard translations of the Scripture.
The die is now set. We are launched, I think, into polytheism—based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts of the Hebrew Language—the use of the word Elohim.
I would invite you to pause and reflect on what is happening here. Let us ask this question: Since the Bible was translated into English from Hebrew and Greek in hundreds and hundreds of translations into hundreds and hundreds of languages, has any single translator or committee of scholars who rendered the sacred text from the Hebrew, at any time, proposed or sanctioned that translation, which our author, who would claim no specialist training in language modern or ancient, offers us: "In the beginning the family of God, Father and Son, created the heavens and the earth'?
He goes on: "The Hebrew word elohim in Genesis 1:1 means that there was more than one member of the God family involved in the creating. . . The Word of John 1 was the executive member of the Godhead of whom the Bible says all things were made by him. Perhaps the clearest description absolutely proving that the Jesus Christ of the New Testament was the same Being who was the Eternal Creator of the OT, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is Col. l: 16 . . . . The Bible clearly shows, without any interpretation or exegesis, that the creator being who is called 'God' (Elohim or Yahweh) in the Old Testament is the same individual who became the Jesus Christ of the New Testament . . . The personage who emptied himself and became flesh, born of the virgin Mary to become the baby Jesus in Bethlehem was the same individual who created Adam, who saved Noah, who appeared to Abraham. He was the same personality of the Godhead or God family who wrote the 10 commandments and ruled Israel. The Bible absolutely proves the fact that Jesus Christ of the NT is the same person as the God of the Old'" (p. 18).
If we now review the information presented in The Real Jesus, we have been told that:
1) Elohim is plural in meaning.
2) It means the Family of God.
3) It means one member of that family, the one who became Jesus. There are a number of serious problems with these declarations.
If Elohim is plural in meaning then it should always be translated Gods. In this case it would refer to two or more Gods. A word cannot mean both God and Family. This would be to assign two completely different meanings to the same word. If the Bible wanted to speak of the Family of God it could do this quite easily, as for example in the "family of David," "family of Egypt." There is a perfectly good Hebrew word for family, but the Creator is nowhere said to be a Family of Persons.
However, if Elohim means "family," and yet is a plural word, why should it not be rendered "families"? And if it means in Gen. 1: 1 "Gods," or Family of God, how can it also refer to one single member of that family, Jesus Christ?
A number of more serious problems arise on these premises:
If Elohim is plural and thus means Gods then what is the significance of the singular verb following? ("he [not they] created"). We would have to translate, "In the beginning Gods, he created" or "Gods was the creator."
We are rapidly reducing the sacred text to nonsense.
What we are seeing here is a highly problematic shifting of definitions, which in every other field would be recognized as a form of confusion and deception. What Mr. Armstrong presents is a grammatical method in which all sorts of grammatical laws, rules and definitions are thrown aside. Dictionaries and lexicons are discarded as unnecessary and imagination is given free rein. A kind of mystical grammatical category is created by which an innocent word like Elohim has taken on a speculative new dimension, allowing this disaster: that precious monotheism is undermined—and the evidence of standard lexicons and commentaries is allowed no place. Moreover, the Jewish understanding of God (remembering that the sacred oracles were committed to Jews) is overthrown.
Unfortunately, it is by changing, or interchanging, the meaning of words, without notice, that disinformation can be created.
Firstly, then, Elohim cannot mean at the same time in Gen. 1: 1 three different things:
1) Gods, 2) Family of God, and 3) One member of that Family. Gods is of course plural, family is a singular word and one member of the family is also singular. To ask the same word in Gen. 1:1 to have all three definitions is utterly impossible. God and family are quite distinct ideas and cannot possibly be covered by the one term Elohim. Now one could argue that Elohim is a collective noun, like team, family, committee. But in that case it is not plural—not like teams, families or committees. A collective noun denotes a collection of persons, places or things regarded as one (flock, forest, crowd, committee, jury, class, herd, covey, legislature, battalion, squad, and squadron). The objects collected into one term have some characteristics in common, enabling us to regard them as a group. The word "audience" or "congregation" enables us to gather individuals into a single unit.
But the fact needs to be stated clearly: Elohim is never in the Bible a collective noun—never. It is not a "group" word when used of the One God. It does not function like the word family. No lexicon lists it as a collective noun.
Peloubet's Dictionary of the Bible (F.N. Peloubet, D.D. and Alice Adams, MA, 1947) stated the truth: "The fanciful idea that Elohim referred to a Trinity [or we could add Binity) of persons in the Godhead hardly finds now a supporter among scholars."
In presenting what Mr. Armstrong called The Real Jesus we were introduced into the realm of grammatical fiction and fancy. We were invited in fact under the guise of intelligent Bible study to embrace a pagan godhead consisting of more than one Person.
Twenty years later, when Ernest Martin issued his comprehensive account of the Essentials of New Testament Doctrine in 1999, the same confusion over God was reinforced and with a greater degree of dogmatism:
It is worth observing first, though, an extraordinary assertion of E.L. Martin in regard to the status of the teaching of Jesus. His ultra-dispensationalist point of view represents, I think, a dangerous rejection of Jesus:
"All the teachings Christ gave to the Jews during his earthly ministry within the Old Covenant framework were of no importance to Paul (in matters relating to salvation). Paul did not refer to any of Christ's teachings (other than the bread and wine) given by Christ while in the flesh" (p. 78).
This amazing dictum would mean that the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of the sower and the rest of Jesus' precious utterances (including his affirmation of the creed of Israel) are of no interest to the Christian.
This confusion is compounded when ELM declares: "We need to know what 'God' signifies in Scripture. . . It will be found that both God the Father and His Son are 'God,' yet they are both separate personalities united together in a singular purpose." Martin then speaks of "confusion regarding who or what 'God' really is" (p. 450). "This misjudgment occurs because most people assume the term 'God' always means a singu1ar and exclusive Supreme Being" (ibid). Now this: "Whether the Greek word theos is used to describe the Deity or the Hebrew word elohim, it was fully accepted [by the writers of the Bible) that there existed more than one 'god'" (p. 451). "Elohim is clearly a plural word. The two terminal letters 'im' make the word to be plural. . . Since Elohim is plural, the simple meaning of Elohim is 'Powers,' or 'powerful ones.' However, we will see that when Elohim is governed by a singular verb (which occurs often in Scripture) the stress coalesces the plural meaning into a singular understanding (but still with plural significance)" (p. 488). "The plural is fused into meaning a singular 'group of powers,' or worded differently 'a Congregation of Powers.'" "No matter what we have been taught over the years about the singularity of God, the word Elohim is a simple plural. If we wish to use the English word 'God' as its translation, we must (to be grammatically harmonious and consistent) place the letter 's' on our word God throughout the Hebrew Scriptures" (p. 488).
Martin here proposes a corruption of the Hebrew Bible and accuses, by implication, the writers of the NT of ignorance. No NT writer ever rendered the Hebrew word for the One God as "theoi" (Gods).
Elohim when referring to the One God comes into the inspired Greek of the NT (some 1320 times) as theos (singular). This proves of course that the translations are all correct when they say "in the beginning GOD created the heavens and the earth." Thousands of singular personal pronouns standing for Elohim, and His other names, can only affirm, massively, the fact that God is a Single Personal Being.
Martin repeats himself: "If one wishes to retain the English word 'God' one must put an 's' on 'God' each time it is used. By stating this I would normally be subjected to ridicule by those who read and know the Hebrew language, because it is evident that in the great majority of cases Elohim, though plural in grammatical construction, is governed by singular verbs and must be understood in a singular manner. Yes, but I state dogmatically [here ELM goes into bold print) that the only way to make sense out of the Hebrew in regard to understanding the Godhead is to put the letter 's' on the end of every word translated 'God' in the English language if the Hebrew word is Elohim" (p. 490). "[In the Shema) the very text itself says that Elohim ('Gods') is ONE. This cardinal point emphasizes the singularity of the plural word Elohim." "The Hebrew word 'one' can actually carry the meaning of more than 'one' (a single person). Note carefully when Adam was married to Eve they became 'one flesh' (echad) though they represented two separate personalities (Gen. 2:24)" (p. 495). "The Hebrew word echad is more expansive in the plural meaning than that . . . ." "So the plural Elohim refers to ONE Godhead made up of many individuals (the Father, the Firstborn and other Sons of God, along with female members, see Proverbs 8:2-31)" (p. 495). "Just what is God? Elohim is the One divine family to which all of us belong" (p. 499).
All this prodigious effort to turn One into Two or Three, of course, began early in church history and continues unabated in some evangelical Trinitarian and especially Messianic Jewish Trinitarian circles. By the time of Origen (c. 185-254) a confusion over God was in full swing. The historical Son of God had been turned into the "eternally generated" Son. This concept was at the heart of the whole traditional creedal system of Roman Catholics and Protestants. It produced the problem that though God is One, yet since the Son is God, somehow Two has to be One.
Ernest Martin and Ted Armstrong were unwittingly in the Roman Catholic tradition—a tradition, however, based on arguments about Elohim constantly, in fact, rejected by the best Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars of the biblical languages, for many centuries.
Before illustrating some of the ancient debate over Elohim and the supposed plurality in the Godhead (Binity or Trinity), here is the state of play in the 3rd century (a papyrus first published in 1949): Origen is discussing the Godhead with a certain Bishop Heraclides. He wants to check him out and verify his "orthodoxy."
"Since the bishops present had raised questions about the faith of the bishop Heraclides, so that in the presence of all he might acknowledge his faith, and each of them had made remarks and had raised the question, the bishop Heraclides said: 'And I too believe exactly what the divine Scriptures say: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into existence through him, and nothing came into existence apart from him.' So we agree in the faith and, furthermore, we believe that the Christ assumed flesh, that he was born, that he ascended into the heavens with the flesh in which he arose, and that he is seated at the right hand of the Father, whence he is going to come and judge the living and the dead, being God and man.'
"Origen said: 'Since a debate is now beginning and one may speak on the subject of the debate, I will speak. The whole church is here to listen. One church should not differ from another in knowledge, since you are not the false community. I ask you, Father Heraclides, God is the Almighty, the uncreated, the supreme one who made all things. Do you agree?'
"Heraclides said: 'I agree; for this I too believe.'
"Origen said: 'Christ Jesus, who exists in the form of God, though he is distinct from God in the form in which he existed, was he God before he entered a body or not?'
"Heraclides said: 'He was God before.'
"Origen said: 'He was God before he entered a body, or not?'
"Heraclides said: 'Yes.'
"Origen said: 'God distinct from this God in whose form he existed?'
"Heraclides said: 'Obviously distinct from any other, since he is in the form of that one who created everything.'
"Origen said: 'Was there not a God, Son of God, the only-begotten of God, the first-born of all creation, and do we not devoutly say that in one sense there are two Gods and, in another, one God?'
"Heraclides said: 'What you say is clear; but we say that there is God, the Almighty, without beginning and without end, containing all things but not contained, and there is his Word, Son of the living God, God and man, through whom all things came into existence, God in relation to the Spirit and man in that he was born of Mary.'
"Origen said: 'You do not seem to have answered my question. Make it clear, perhaps I did not follow you. Is the Father God?'
"Heraclides said: 'Certainly.'
"Origen said: 'Is the Son distinct from the Father?'
"Heraclides said: 'How can he be Son if he is also Father?'
"Origen said: 'While distinct :from the Father, is the Son himself also God?'
"Heraclides said: 'He himself is also God.'
"Origen said: 'And the two Gods become one?'
"Heraclides said: 'Yes.'
"Origen said: 'Do we acknowledge two Gods?'
"Heraclides said: 'Yes; the power is one.'
"Origen said: 'But since our brethren are shocked by the affirmation that there are two Gods, the subject must be examined with care in order to show in what respect they are two and in what respect the two are one God.'"
This today remains the problem for all those who propose that God is in some sense more than One. Once the unitary nature of God slipped from the church's grasp, and once a Trinity or Binity is embraced, it becomes necessary to force that idea back on to the Bible. Elohim is the point of attack in this procedure.
(For a full history of the protests of good scholars about the futility of arguing for the Trinity [or Binity] from Elohim, please see the Appendix, p. 18 of this handout.)
Lexical Facts about Elohim
Elohim, in fact, is singular in meaning when referred to the One God. This is shown by the singular verbs which normally follow. And by thousands of singular personal pronouns.
Elohim has a plural meaning when it refers to pagan "gods." Elohim has a singular meaning when designating a single pagan god, Milchom, Astarte, etc.
Elohim, El, Eloah, and Yahweh are identical in meaning and singular in meaning when referring to the one true God. They are replaced by singular personal pronouns.
This information can be inspected in the Hebrew text, in translations and in all the standard Hebrew Lexicons (Brown, Driver and Briggs, Kohler Baumgartner, Jenni and Westermann, etc.).
Those of us who followed the Armstrongs in defining God rejected the testimony of history, of the Hebrew text and the Hebrew lexicons and grammarians. We preferred to believe the teaching of those who had no training in languages, biblical or otherwise.
The Problem: How to Reconcile One with Two or One with Three
We have seen that Elohim meaning the One God will not yield to any attempts to force it into a support for a Trinity or God-Family of two or more. The fundamental problem remains for all subscribers to the Trinity or Binity as to how Three X's can be One X. This is logically impossible. But the Athanasian creed which speaks of the Father being God, the Son being God and the Holy Spirit being God, "and yet these are not three Gods but One God" asks us to indulge in illogical nonsense. As Geoffrey Lampe, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, remarked with restrained British humor: "The classical statement of the doctrine of the Trinity, the so-called Athanasian creed, ends: 'This is the Catholick Faith, which unless a man believes it faithfully he cannot be saved.' This has been paraphrased in less dignified language: 'Accept my model or I'll do you,' or rather, 'This is God's model: accept it or He will do you' " ("What Future for the Trinity," Explorations in Theology, 8, SCM Press, 1981, p. 31).
The churches have been amazingly cruel to those noble souls who challenged the extraordinary proposition that God is more than One Person and that Jesus is 100% God and 100% Man. They burned dissenters, exiled them, defrocked them and passed laws of Parliament against them.
Back to our subject: What then if the Trinity or Binity means 3 X's or 2 X's = 1 Y. This is logically feasible, but what does it mean in terms of defining X and Y?
On the admission of the best contemporary Trinitarian experts, no one has ever been able to explain in what sense they mean God is one and in what different sense more than one. Thus the leading exponent of the Trinity among contemporary evangelicals admits the desperation of the situation:
Professor Erickson (God in Three Persons, 1993): First he comments on the state of the Trinity in the mind of an average churchgoer: It is "a matter of not knowing whether they believe or disbelieve the Trinity because they do not know what the doctrine says" (p. 46). No one has preached to them on this central doctrine.
"Christians who believe this strange doctrine seem incoherent. . ." "We can make it partially understandable. . ."
Erickson continues: "Stephen Davis (a logician) does not say the doctrine can never be shown to be coherent but this has not yet been achieved."
"Davis the logician has examined the major contemporary explanations and having found them not to accomplish what they claim to do has been honest in acknowledging that he feels he is dealing with a mystery. In so doing, he has perhaps been more candid than many of us who when pressed may have to admit that we really do not know in what way God is one and in what different way He is three" (Erickson, p. 258).
"To say the doctrine has been revealed is a bit too strong, however, at least with respect to the biblical revelation" (p. 258).
"It simply is not possible to explain the Trinity unequivocally. What must be done is to offer a series, a whole assortment of illustrations and analogies with the hope that some discernment will take place. We must approach the matter from various angles, 'nibbling at the meaning' of the doctrine as it were. . . It may be necessary, in order to convey the unusual meaning involved in this doctrine, to utilize what analytical philosophers would term 'logically odd language.' This means using language in such a way as intentionally to commit grammatical errors. Thus, I have said of the Trinity, 'He are three,' or 'They is one.' For we have here a being whose nature fans outside our usual understanding of persons, and that nature can perhaps be adequately expressed by using language that calls attention to the almost paradoxical character of the concepts" (p. 270).
But this is desperation. Where does the Bible say that God breaks the rules of grammar in order to reveal Himself? Erickson has surrendered the grammatical method. God speaks to us in terms which are meant to reveal truth, not confuse us. We are reminded here of GTA's assertion that Elohim must be taken as plural resulting in "Gods, he created."
It is customary for some Binitarians and most evangelical Trinitarians (especially Messianics) to propose that the Hebrew word for one, the numeral one (echad), is really "compound one." This is a clever device which confuses logical thought. Echad occurs some 960 times in the Hebrew Bible, and it is the numeral "one." It is a numeral adjective when it modifies a noun. "One day," "one person," etc. Echad is the ordinary cardinal number, "one." Eleven in Hebrew is ten and one. Abraham "was only one," said Ezekiel 33:24 (NASU), "only one man" (NIV).
Just as the famous Armstrongian term "uniplural" does not appear in the Webster's (thus it represents the DIY grammatical venture on which Worldwide theology was done in respect to defining God), "compound one" as a definition of echad is also not recognized in standard texts describing the grammar of the Hebrew language. It is an invented grammatical category which confuses and divides.
The Hebrew word for one operates as does the word "one" in English. You can have one thing, one person. And of course the noun modified by echad may be collective, one family, one people, one flesh, as a single unit composed of two-Adam and Eve, in that case. But to say that "one" carries the meaning of "compound one" is misleading in the extreme. The basic meaning of echad given by the lexicons is "one single," even the indefinite article "a." Sometimes "the only one," or even "unique," is the proper translation of echad.
Suppose now we say that "one" implies more than one. We could prove our point like this: In the phrase "one tripod," is it not obvious that one really implies three? Does not one dozen mean that one is really 12? Or one million? Is one equivalent to a million? Does this not suggest the plurality of "one"? What about "one quartet" or "one duplex"? To carry this madness to an extreme, we could argue that in the phrase "one zebra," the word one really means "black and white."
What is happening here? We are being asked to believe that in the phrase "the Lord our God is one Lord," that "one" is "compound." That "Lord" is more than one Lord, perhaps two or perhaps three. We are being lured into a complete falsehood that "one" implies plurality. We are asked to believe this on the basis of a tiny fraction of the appearances of echad when it modifies a compound noun (the vast majority of the occurrences of echad when it does not modify a compound noun are left unmentioned). Even when "one" modifies a compound noun—one family, one cluster—the word "one" retains its meaning as, "one single . . ." There is no such thing as "compound one" as a definition of echad.
This procedure is to confuse the numeral adjective "one" with the noun it modifies. It is to "bleed" the meaning of a compound noun back into the numeral. This will take the unwary by surprise. Thus "one flesh" is supposed to mean that one can mean more than one. The point, obviously, is that "flesh" as a combination of Adam and Eve does have a collective, family sense. But one is still one: "one flesh and not two fleshes." "One cluster (singular) of grapes" does not in any way illustrate a plural meaning for the word "one." "Cluster" has indeed a collective, plural sense. But one is still one: "one cluster" and not "two clusters." Just imagine if at the check-out the clerk announces that your one dollar purchase is really "compound one." You could become bankrupt.
So then, Yahweh, the personal name of the One God, occurs some 6,800 times. In no case does it have a plural verb, or adjective. And never is a plural pronoun put in its place. Pronouns are most useful grammatical markers, since they tell us about the nouns they stand for. The very fact that the God who is Yahweh speaks of Himself as "I" and "Me" and is referred to as "You" (singular) and "He" and "Him" thousands upon thousands of times should convince all Bible readers of the singularity of God. The fact that God further speaks of Himself in every exclusive fashion known to language—"by myself," "all alone" etc. only adds to this proof. "There is none besides Me," "none before Me" and "none after Me." "I alone am Elohim, and Yahweh." "I created the heavens and the earth by Myself; none was with Me."
A Sample of the Use of 'echad' (one)
Genesis 42: 13: "Joseph's brothers said, 'We are 12 brothers, sons of one (echad) man, in the land of Canaan. The youngest is this day with our father and one (echad) is not.'" Verse 16: "Send one (echad) of you." Verse 19: "Let one (echad) of your brothers. .." Verse 27: "One (echad) of them opened his sack" Verse 32: "One (echad) is not." Verse 33: "One (echad) of your brothers." There are well over 900 other examples in the OT.
Elohim, El, Yahweh are different names for the same One Person. Furthermore: Ps. 83:13: "Let them know that Thou alone, whose name is Yahweh, art the Most High over all the earth." Neh. 9:6: "Thou art Yahweh, thou alone. Thou hast made the heavens, the heaven of heavens, with all their hosts, the earth and all that is in it, the seas and all that is in them." II Sam. 22:32: "For who is El but Yahweh? And who is a rock except our Elobim?" Isa. 43: 10, 11: "You, Jacob, are my witnesses, says Yahweh, and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before Me no El was formed nor shall there be after Me, I, I am Yahweh, and besides Me there is no Savior." Isa. 45:42: "For I am El and there is no other." Ps. 18:31: "For who is Eloah [singular form of Elohim] but Yahweh? And who is a rock except our Elohim?" Ps. 114:7: "Tremble, 0 earth, at the presence of Yahweh, at the presence of the Eloah of Jacob." Jer 10: 10: "But Yahweh is the true Elohim, he is the living Elohim and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble and the nations will not be able to abide his indignation."
Then consider this: Of the 4,400 occurrences of the world Elohim (God) or theos (Gk. God), not one of them can be shown to mean "The Triune God" or "The Biune God." Never, in fact, in Scripture when men wrote about their God did they ever imagine a tripersonal or bipersonal God. Such a God is foreign to Scripture and to Jesus. Is it surprising then that the end-products of a theology of God-Family, of uniplural God(s) do not demonstrate the unity of the spirit to which the Bible directs and exhorts us?
We have the strange paradox in churches (speaking generally) that the most important of all doctrines that God is two or three is seldom if ever preached on. But if these strange concepts are challenged, then the full force of dogma comes into play and threats of excommunication and heresy go flying. When the detail of the argument for a Triune God emerges, the questioner is invited to believe that:
1) "Today" ("You are My Son: Today I have begotten you"-Ps. 2;7) means "In eternity you are My Son." In this church-speak, which is at the root of all our problems, "today = in eternity."
How then could God say "today" if He meant "today"? God here is being muzzled and told what He can say and what not.
2) "Person" in Trinitarian definitions does not mean person. Beget does not mean beget, bring into existence. God is one OUSIA (essence or substance) existing in three HYPOSTASES (subsistencies). The term OUSIA is never used of God in the Bible. Hypostasis is not used to describe Jesus or the Holy Spirit.
3) "I will be his Father" (II Sam. 7: 14) really means "I have always been his Father." Note how history is replaced by timelessness.
Augustine (On the Trinity): "Human learning is scanty and affords no terms to express it. It is therefore answered 'three Persons,' not as if that was to the purpose [had any meaning] but something must be said and we must not be silent" (De Trinitate, Bk 5, ch. 9). The same Augustine in his Homilies on John felt it necessary to tamper with the sacred text of John 17:3, declaring that Jesus had said: "This is eternal life: that they believe in You and Jesus Christ whom You sent, as the One True God" Note the complete alteration here in the interests of squeezing the Messiah into the Godhead. Jesus in fact described the Father here as "the only one who is truly God"
Professor Stuart of Yale and Andover (1780-1852), one of the most learned Trinitarians in the world, speaking of the definition of Person in the Trinity said: "I do not and cannot understand them. And to a definition I cannot consent, still less defend it, until I do understand what it signifies. I have no hesitation in saying that my mind is absolutely unable to elicit any distinct and certain ideas from any of the definitions of Person which I have ever examined."
It is a relief to turn from this strange grammar and "church-speak" to some sound facts, from standard authorities:
The Truth about God Has Been Clearly Stated by Good Scholars
Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels: "The relation of Christ to the Father is that of a real Son, including dependence and subordination (I Cor 3:23; 11:3; 15:24-28)."
This brings refreshing and brilliant light.
What, Then, Went Wrong?
Martin Werner, DD, Prof., University of Bern: "There was certainly no justification for substituting, in the interpretation of the person of Jesus, for the original concept of the Messiah, simply a Hellenistic analogy such as that of a redeeming divine being. The analogy was no more appropriate or proper than that which had become problematical, and it did not deserve to serve as a substitute for it. It was a myth behind which the historical Jesus completely disappeared, because there was nothing common between them" (Formation of Christian Dogma, Harper Bros., 1957, p. 298).
He spoke also of "The transformation of the eschatological Primitive Christianity into the Hellenistic mystery-religion of Early Catholicism" (p. vii).
Professor Loofs: How the Church, from the second century AD, lost sight of the historical Jesus and replaced him with a spirit-being who took on human flesh, but was not really a human being! How the unity of God, the first and most important of all commandments (Mark 12:28ff.), was permanently damaged because of the speculative Greek philosophical influence which invaded the original church. Our contemporary problems, in the church and the nation, go back to the drastically weakening process that began when the poison of Greek philosophy mounted a kind of terrorist attack on the supreme unity of the One God of the Bible.
Friedrich Loofs (church historian and theologian, 1858-1928): "The Apologists ['church fathers' like Justin Martyr, mid-2nd century] laid the foundation for the perversion/corruption (Verkehrung) of Christianity into a revealed [philosophical] teaching. Specifically, their Christology affected the later development disastrously. By taking for granted the transfer of the concept of Son of God onto the preexisting Christ, they were the cause of the Christological problem of the 4 th century. They caused a shift in the point of departure of Christological thinking —away from the historical Christ and onto the issue of preexistence. They thus shifted attention away from the historical life of Jesus, putting it into the shadow and promoting instead the Incarnation. They tied Christology to cosmology and could not tie it to soteriology. The Logos teaching is not a 'higher' Christology than the customary one. It lags in fact far behind the genuine appreciation of Christ. According to their teaching it is no longer God who reveals Himself in Christ, but the Logos, the inferior God, a God who as God is subordinated to the Highest God (inferiorism or subordinationism).
"In addition, the suppression of economic-trinitarian ideas by metaphysical-pluralistic concepts of the divine triad (trias) can be traced to the Apologists" (Friedrich Loofs, Leitfaden zum Studium des Dogmengeschichte [Manual for the Study of the History of Dogma] (1890), part 1 ch. 2, section 18: "Christianity as a Revealed Philosophy.
The Greek Apologists," Niemeyer Verlag, 1951, p. 97). 2
This disastrous development is reflected exactly in modern popular evangelism:
James Kennedy says: "Many people today think that the essence of Christianity is Jesus' teaching, but that is not so . . . Christianity centers not in the teachings of Jesus, but in the person of Jesus as Incarnate God who came into the world to take upon Himself our guilt and die in our place" ("How I know Jesus is God," Truths that Transform, 11th Nov., 1989).
The proposition that" Jesus is God" is impossible, since God cannot die. He is immortal ( I Tim 6:16). Holy angels cannot die ( Luke 20:35 ). Thus Jesus cannot be Michael the Archangel either. Only a mortal human being can die, and only a mortal human Son of God died for the sins of the world. Jesus died. We, too, die, but we can be brought back from death to life, as was Jesus.
Oxford Companion to the Bible (Metzger, Coogan, eds.): "Because the Trinity is such an important part of later Christian doctrine it is striking that the term does not appear in the NT. Likewise the developed concept of 3 coequal partners in the Godhead found in later creedal formulations cannot be clearly detected within the confines of the canon" (Art. "Trinity").
JAT. Robinson of Cambridge: "John is as undeviating a witness as any NT writer to the unitary monotheism of Judaism."
The Bampton lectures for 1818, said to have been "full of abuse, bigotry and dogmatism, rudeness, misunderstanding and ignorance" were in response to the growing protest by Unitarians. The official Church replied in its annual lecture with "The Doctrines of Unitarians Examined and Opposed to the Church of England." The Bampton Lectures of 1976, 1980 and 1984 promoted, by contrast, a rather severe criticism of plurality in the Godhead. They were Unitarian in substance as was the famous series of essays which appeared in The Myth of God Incarnate in 1977. The light of the central doctrine of1he Bible is perhaps returning.
Copyright © 2003 Anthony Buzzard. All rights reserved.
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