One God & One Lord an essay in three-parts by Dwight A. Pryor
The restoration of the Jewish homeland, Israel, and the reconnection of the Church to its Jewish roots are not unrelated phenomena. Many sectors of the Body of Messiah today are being stimulated and enriched by the “nourishing sap” of Israel’s faith, scriptures and scholarship. We are discovering that there is scarcely a single NT subject that cannot be amplified, deepened, or balanced by a Hebraic perspective. As disciples of Yeshua, we are deeply indebted to Israel.
At the root of this renewal of the Church stands a Jewish man, Jesus of Nazareth – Rav Yeshua. This itinerant first-century teacher with a keen sense of “high self-awareness” surely is the cornerstone of the living temple God continues to build in our time. It is imperative and in every way advantageous therefore that we understand Yeshua—his person and his work, his mission and his message—in the full frame of his original Jewish matrix.
So compelling is his full humanity when seen in its Jewish setting that some people, in their explorations of their Jewish roots, have come to question the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God. Some even have dismissed this central Christian claim on the grounds that it is ‘Hellenistic’ and not authentically ‘Hebraic’. They charge that an alien, Greco-Roman accretion was added to the authentic Jewish faith Jesus passed on to his apostles and disciples. Is this true?
In a twenty-year journey as part of what I would call the Hebraic Renewal community, I too have wrestled with this most pivotal of claims: that Yeshua was fully man and yet fully God-in-man reconciling the world to himself. In other words, that the NT claim of the One God as Father-Son-Holy Spirit does not violate (but amplifies) the central tenet of the Hebrew Scriptures and the core of Judaism’s ethical monotheism, the Shema of Deuteronomy 6.4. Whatever our views regarding the status of Jesus as the Son of God, all can agree that “the Lord is one (ehad)” must be the starting point in our confession of faith, as well as the anchor to which we always return.
Multiple Meanings of Ehad
At least twice daily, morning and evening, a faithful Jew engages in the the recitation of the Shema (K’riat Sh’ma) with its regal opening: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” In this article we will look at three dimensions of the word ehad (one) and relate them to how the first, Jewish church handled the issue of Jesus’ divinity within the boundaries of exclusive monotheism.
The Uniqueness of Ehad
When Israel affirms the Shema it declares that Y/H/W/H and he alone is God. Said another way, Y/H/W/H is utterly unique because he alone is altogether holy. “Who is like you among the gods, O LORD? Who is like you, majestic in holiness (ne’dar ba-kodesh)?” In fact, there are no other gods (though many are pretenders to the Throne). The LORD alone is the supreme God, the Most High, the One, True, and Only Elohim.
The ehad in the Shema, therefore, speaks of God’s holiness, which is related to his very being or ontological essence. Holy (Kadosh) has an array of implications, applications and manifestations, but at root it refers to the Eternal One being marked off, set apart and distinguished from all else that exists—precisely because he is the Source of existence itself. Kodesh or holiness speaks of his radical transcendence and his unrivaled otherness. He is wholly ‘other than’ all that we can conceive or conjecture. He is immeasurable, incomparable and indivisible.
Philosophers have conjectured the Divine to be the “Ground of Being,” the “Unmoved Mover,” or the “First Cause.” Mystical medieval Judaism speaks of the Ein Sof, the unbounded infinity of existence. But the God of the Shema is personal with a name above every other name, Y/H/W/H. He is the self-existent One that causes all else to exist, and he will be there for his people. All that was, is, or will be has its being from, through, and ultimately for him. He is the One.
The ultimate doxological predicate then is to declare that Y/H/W/H is holy. First and finally, the truth of his existence and essence is that the God of Israel is “Holy, Holy, Holy!” No higher truth can be told, no deeper affirmation can be attested. The angelic hosts, with fervent intention and unflagging enthusiasm, are compelled to proclaim perpetually in antiphonal affirmation: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God Almighty" (Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh! Adonai Tz’vaot!)
No other attribute of Y/H/W/H is emphasized in such a three-fold repetition of praise and adoration. Nowhere, for instance, does the Scripture declare the LORD to be “gracious, gracious, gracious” or “omnipotent, omnipotent, omnipotent”. Only “kadosh” is accorded this triple Hebraic intensification. Why? Because holiness is not just one of God’s many and glorious attributes. “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh” signs the very ground and the grandeur of his Being, the very mystery of who he is, in and of himself.
Only He is holiness intrinsic. For everything or anyone else, holiness is derivative. Whether it be in space, time or people, holiness comes only in relationship with the Holy One of Israel, by being set apart from the common for his exclusive purposes, privileges and presence. Holiness in God’s people requires sanctity or separation from sin and impurity, because they are to reflect the One in whom there is no darkness or turning, just the effulgence of truth and light.
Because Y/H/W/H is holy, His essence is impenetrable and His name, ineffable. Apart from the Almighty’s self-disclosure, we could only speculate about his divine nature and eternal power. We might believe in Elohim’s existence, but apart from his self-disclosure in word and deed we would never come to know the character of Y/H/W/H as good and abounding in loving kindness, as faithful and righteous, as loving, merciful and forgiving.
The inner being or essence of God remains impenetrable ultimately. He is too radically “kadosh” for us to see his unguarded face, his unbounded infinity, and not be consumed in the blaze of his holiness. Moses, a friend of God, asked to see Y/H/W/H’s face–i.e., to behold God’s essence. But God instead displayed his character: “I myself will make all my goodness pass before you.” The Holy One dwells in unapproachable light. His character however is fully displayed in his declarations and documented in his deeds. We know who he is and what he has done by his words and his wondrous acts. In his love and covenant faithfulness, the LORD causes his Name to dwell near us. But in his infinite Being, the One who is-was-will be, forever remains “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh.”
The “ehad” of Israel’s Shema reminds us of this. When we affirm it, we confess that Y/H/W/H is and always shall be absolutely, wholly unique. (end of part one)