The statement “Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one,” is difficult to interpret for several reasons.
Published on: 11-28-2022
Q: What does “The Lord [Yahweh] is one” (Deut. 6:4) mean?
Here is the full quotation: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord [Yahweh] our God [’elohim], the Lord [Yahweh] is one!” (Deut. 6:4). This verse, called the Shema, is of fundamental importance in the Jewish faith—shema‘ is the Hebrew word translated “hear.” It’s an appeal to Israel to listen/ obey the Lord. The meaning of the rest of the verse is a matter of debate.
The statement “Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one,” is difficult to interpret for several reasons: we don’t have another biblical nominal sentence like this one; the numeral one (’ekhad) is not normally used with a personal name; and the full statement lacks a verb. In nominal clauses one usually supplies the verb “to be.” Based on scholarly consensus, the most probable translation is “Yahweh [is] our God/Yahweh our God, Yahweh [is] one.” What does that mean? Some would argue that this is about monotheism—there is only one God, Yahweh. Others find here the exclusive worship of Yahweh (“Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone/only” or “the One Yahweh”). Some of those retaining the translation “Yahweh is one” understand it to mean that Yahweh is not a regional God (e.g., the God of Samaria; the God of Jerusalem) worshipped in different ways— Yahweh is one and the same everywhere.
Is There a Way Out?
Given the difficulties associated with the passage, scholars suggest only possible readings. If the most natural translation is “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one,” it’s clear that we are dealing here with two statements or predicates about God: He “is our God” and He “is one.” Perhaps the first leads to what the text goes on to say: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (verse 5). The second one is probably about the unity and uniqueness of Yahweh. The verbal root ’akhad, related to the numeral “one/’ekhad,” means “to be united.” Perhaps the emphasis would be on the oneness and uniqueness of God in the sense that there is no one like Him; He is the one of His kind. This is basically biblical monotheism (Deut. 4:35) and is supported by Zechariah 14:9, that, echoing the Shema, envisions a future when anyone competing with God for supremacy will be overcome, and then “the Lord is [Yahweh will be] one and His name one.” He will be worshipped as the one whose very nature (i.e., His name) is one (Ex. 3:13-17); there is no other like Him.
The Shema is alluded to in the New Testament affirming the fact that God is indeed one (e.g., Mark 12:29; 1 Tim. 2:5; James 2:19). Such declaration is a biblical nonnegotiable conviction that has been affirmed without questions by Christianity while teaching a plurality within the Godhead. This is possible because the numeral “one” could be used to designate a single unity that includes within itself a plurality. The best well-known passage is Genesis 2:24: The man will “be joined to his wife, and they shall become one [’ekhad]”; where one is constituted by two persons. Perhaps the most amazing allusion to the Shema is found in 1 Corinthians 8:6, where Paul identifies the “one God” with the Father and the “one Lord” (Greek kurios) with Jesus Christ, specifying that Jesus belongs to the biblical understanding of the unity of the one God.*
* See Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), pp. 210-218.