What is the meaning of “Jehovah our God is one Jehovah” (Deut. 6: 4, my emphasis)?
The Deuteronomy 6: 4 is repeated in the NT by the Lord Himself: “Hear, Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord” (Mark 12: 29). Astonishingly, some dismiss this Scripture by saying that the words “Hear, Israel” prove that it was intended for Jews, and that therefore it forms no part of what is to be believed by Christians. Now of course the verse is addressed to Israelites (both when uttered by Moses and when spoken by the Lord), and it is also true that what has been made known to us as Christians regarding the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit far exceeds anything previously revealed to God’s earthly people. However, Scripture also teaches that “I Jehovah change not” (Mal. 3: 6), and thus what is revealed in the NT about God does not somehow militate against, weaken or cancel what has been made known in the OT. God is what He is and He does not change. It is significant that having said that God “is one, and there is none other besides him” (Mark 12: 32), the scribe in the passage in Mark is looked on by the Lord as having spoken “intelligently” (v34).
So what does the word one mean in this context? Some, in focusing on the fact that Scripture makes known God to be a plurality of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, will have it that the word one here cannot mean one in the sense of singular, but merely one in the sense of a unity of persons. Now while this interpretation may be theologically convenient, it ought not to satisfy the believer. As ever, the question must be ‘Is it true?’ The Greek word used for one (eis) in Mark 12: 29 occurs thirty or so times elsewhere in the Gospel of Mark and in every instance means one in number, that is, a singularity. On either side of the contested passage, one has its plain and obvious meaning: “one of the scribes” (v28) and “one of his disciples” (Mark 13: 1). The same is true in Deuteronomy—every instance of the word one throughout the book means one in the sense of one in number. The Jews listening to the Lord in Mark would understand one to mean a singularity, and there is no evidence whatsoever that the Lord meant the word to convey anything else. Nor will it do to appeal to the NT Scriptures concerning marriage such as Matthew 19: 5, 6. The man and the woman (two separate individuals) are united together in order that they might become one (a singularity).
A fundamental tenet of Judaism was belief in one God in contrast to the rampant polytheism with which Israel was surrounded. He was not many Jehovahs, but one Jehovah. The twelve tribes were, however, warned about an intellectual belief without faith in God: “thou believest that God is one” (eis) “Thou doest well. The demons even believe, and tremble” (James 2: 19). However, the apostle does not say that believing that “God is one”—a singularity—is an error. God is a singularity, hence “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4: 8, my emphasis). Does this truth conflict with what we read in the NT about the plurality in the Godhead suggested by Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Only if we think that God lies within the bounds of that which is explainable! We shall learn nothing by prying into the ark (see 1 Sam. 6: 19)—except perhaps the foolishness of going beyond what God has been pleased to reveal.
What in fact do those who say that one signifies a unity mean? Of whom does this unity consist? The usual answer is that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one God. However, while certainly true, this is not the language that Scripture uses. Turn to that part of Scripture which is undeniably Christian in character—the epistles of the apostle Paul: “there [is] no other God save one … yet to us [there is] one God, the Father, of whom all things, and we for him … One God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all” (1 Cor. 8: 4, 6; Eph. 4: 6; eis throughout). Here we have God in His oneness spoken of again, but He is not presented as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit united together in one. Christ came to make known God as Father—the revelation of plurality in the Godhead comes in almost incidentally. Worshipping the Father in spirit and truth (see John 4: 23) necessitates a knowledge on our part of the Holy Spirit as well as the Son, but the primary objective of divine revelation is to make known God as Father. Time and time again in the epistles we have the expression “God our Father” (Rom. 1: 7 etc.), “God [the] Father” (Gal. 1: 3 etc.) or “God and Father” (1 Pet. 1: 3). As a matter of fact, Scripture never directly says that God is three—but it uses explicit terms to assert that God is one. Those who read the Bible through theological spectacles need to remember that divine revelation is just that—a revelation. It is the height of folly to try to mould it to suit our own thoughts.