Jesus the Messiah is Lord! (part 3)
One God & One Lord an essay in three-parts by Dwight A. Pryor
Point 1: 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. The ehad in the Shema, therefore, speaks of God’s holiness, which is related to his very being or ontological essence. (Click the banner to read part one). Click here to read more. Point 2: The Exclusiveness of Ehad When Israel affirms the Shema it pledges its exclusive allegiance to Y/H/W/H.More than a declaration of faith, the Shema is a summons to Israel’s faithfulness. It is a call to worship and serve the God of Israel and him alone. The justification for the Lord’s exclusive demands on Israel is two-fold: who he is, and what he has done. Click here to read more. Point 3: The Unity of Ehad When Israel affirms the Shema it acknowledges the indivisible unity of Y/H/W/H. The Hebrew word ehad speaks of unity not singularity. The One and Only God is a unity of all that he is-was-will be, of all his attributes, actions and appearances. Though he has many names, there are not many gods. The plural noun, Elohim, always takes a singular verb in the Hebrew when referring to the God of Israel. God’s majesties are many and his manifestations manifold, but in himself he is indivisibly One.
Ehad, Jesus & the Early Jewish Church
What might these multiple dimensions of ehad in the Shema mean for our understanding of the divinity of Jesus? The implications and applications are many indeed. Given the purpose and limits of this article, however, we will close with some hints, suggestions and recommendations that may be catalytic to our considerations.
It is clear is that Jesus, Paul, and the early Jewish church operated fully within the exclusive monotheism of Second Temple Judaism. It is equally clear, in the light of the sources available to us today, that a well-worn assumption entrenched since at least the 19th century must be jettisoned. It is almost axiomatic in Jewish and liberal Christian scholarship that the ‘god-man’ view of Jesus came into the church much later, under the corrupting influences of Hellenism. A common corollary is that this high Christology came into the Jesus movement through the Hellenized Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus. In other words, the apostle Paul, not Jesus, was the founder of Christianity as we know it.
To the contrary, Hellenism cannot sustain the NT view of the incarnation – of a divine being or supernatural agent, yes, but of the incarnation of the One God, no; of a ‘god-man’, yes, but of ‘God-in-man’, no.
A reading of the (early) Synoptic gospels, through the lenses of the Hebraic first-century mind and milieu supports, not diminishes, the evidence for Yeshua’s own high self-awareness and Messianic identity.
The NT letters provide impressive evidence that the earliest (Jewish) church had the highest Christology. It is not decades or centuries later that these high views of Messiah and the unity of Father-Son infiltrate the Church; they are voiced, in classic Jewish expression, at the earliest stratum of Church worship. The exalted view of Jesus as the Son of God, therefore, was an understanding and a tradition that the Jewish apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, drew upon but did not create.
When the first believers in Yeshua assembled as the church their worship typically included “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Many of these hymn-like compositions and creedal-like confessions are preserved within the Pauline corpus and have been identified by textual scholars. Philippians 2.5-11 is perhaps the best known example. Many of these date to the first two decades after the resurrection of Jesus, and they tell us much about the mindset of the early church regarding the divinity of Jesus.
While fully affirming the ehad of the Shema, the first-generation Jewish believers unequivocally experience and venerate the risen Lord Jesus as the Son of God. Almost programmatically they unite him in their worship of Y/H/W/H and venerate him in unprecedented ways as inseparable from and identified with God. In hymns they celebrate the work and person of Messiah; in prayers they sometimes address the Lord Jesus directly; they “call upon” the name of Yeshua like Y/H/W/H, including being baptized into his name; they “confess” that Y/H/W/H is God and “Jesus is Lord”; and they commemorate a covenant meal in his honor. These liturgical acts all go beyond the bounds of anything previously witnessed in Israel’s worship.
How do they explain theologically this devotion to a man and their veneration of him with God? They don’t – to the frustration of our western minds! These Jewish believers expressed their monotheism in the same manner Israel had done from the beginning – in their worship. Not abstractly with theological speculations, but with actions demonstrating loyalty, veneration and service. Not so much with propositional truths as with liturgical exclamations.
For them the relationship of Jesus and God focused more on identity than divinity, and the truth was framed in textual associations more than theological affirmations. For example, scriptures that apply to Y/H/W/H are now, in the light of the resurrection, applied to the Lord Jesus. The exclusive prerogatives of Adonai, such as creation and kingship, are now extended to Jesus – not as some external, albeit divine agent, but as someone within the very identity and oneness of God himself. This is a crucial point. This veneration of Yeshua with and connected to Y/H/W/H is permissible only if he in some way is within the ehad of God. Otherwise such attributions of scriptures, functions, authority, power, and identity to him that apply exclusively to the God of Israel would violate the Shema’s monotheism.
If in any way Jesus as the Son, the Word made flesh, is outside the sphere of God’s ehad – whether as a godly man ‘adopted’ by God and elevated to the highest place; or as a supernatural, ‘divine agent’, maybe even the first-born of all creation, come down from heaven as a man; in either case Yeshua as the Son remains outside the ehad of God and compromises his uniqueness, exclusiveness and indivisible unity. Quite simply, within a Jewish frame of reference, the risen Lord Jesus can be worshipped with HaShem only if in some ontological sense he operates within the oneness of God, i.e., is divine. Y/H/W/H shares his glory with no one; worship/service is reserved exclusively for him alone.
Only in this light can we fully appreciate – and account for – the first church co-opting one of the strongest statements of exclusive monotheism in all the Tanakh, Isaiah 45.23, and applying it verbatim (from the Lxx) to Jesus in Philippians 2.10-11, an early hymn of exaltation. But note the concluding words, which are typically Jewish in their tension-yet-balance: “Jesus the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Perhaps the most direct and dramatic illustration of the early church’s amplified monotheism is to be found in 1 Corinthians 8.4-6. First, Paul affirms the classic Jewish view by referencing the Shema: “We know that there is no God but one.” Then he enlarges that foundational truth by declaring, “Yet for us, there is but one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus the Messiah …”
In this remarkable confession of faith, the apostle takes the three key words from the Septuagintal rendering of Deuteronomy 6.4 – God (Theos), Lord (Kyrios), and One (Eis) – and applies “God” to the Father, “Lord” to the Son, and “One” to both! This NT magnification of the Shema is possible within the multiple dimensions of ehad, but permitted only if the Yeshua is within the sphere of Y/H/W/H’s unity-in-plurality.
When it comes to the ah’dut or unity of the ehad of God, we stand at the foothills of a mountain range of revelation. We can never explain the inner reality of God’s essence, anymore than the infinite can be circumscribed within the finite. We can try, however, to define it as rationally and faithfully as the witness of Scripture permits. A discerning study of the Church Fathers will be helpful in this regard. Attempts by some within the Jewish roots movement to reformulate the unity of the Godhead in less ‘Hellenistic’ and more ‘Hebraic’ categories can be problematic. Unwittingly they may recapitulate ancient heresies, just clothing them in Hebraic dress. In defense of the Shema they may be attracted to revived versions of Adoptionism, Modalism or even Arianism. But all these ‘explanations’ were rejected by the Church Fathers for good reasons – because each in its own way fails to do justice to the person of Jesus of Nazareth as revealed in the Scriptures and/or compromises the work of the cross.
In view of the uniqueness, the exclusiveness, and the unity of the ehad of Y/H/W/H declared in Israel’s Shema–the Torah’s supreme affirmation of ethical monotheism–and in the light of the astonishing life, atoning death, and Spirit-empowered resurrection of Yeshua, let us never settle for flawed explanations. Let us ask for wonder. And let us worship. With one voice and united hearts, let us join with the first Jewish church that confidently exclaimed, “Jesus the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!”
For those of you who wrote asking to go deeper into this particular study, here is my recommendation. Recorded at a seminar in Jerusalem attended by Jews and Christians, Dwight gave one of the finest teachings of his productive career. This is an in-depth look at how the early, Jewish church came to the Spirit-inspired revelation of Yeshua's divine sonship.
Click on the image to go to our secured store where I discounted it especially for you, no need for a coupon. Enjoy! ~ James Whitman