(Deut. 6:4) Does this passage invalidate the Trinity?

CLAIM: Deuteronomy records, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deut. 6:4) This passage—often called the Shema—is recited daily by Orthodox Jewish believers as a reminder of the uniqueness and exclusivity of God. Orthodox Jewish interpreters often argue that this passage claims that God is “one” in essence and “one” in person—thus contradicting the NT doctrine of the Trinity. Is this the case?

RESPONSE: A number of responses can be made.

First, the New Testament cites this passage, and it affirms that only one God exists. For instance, Jesus quoted this passage in Mark 12:29, so he was obviously familiar with it, as was every Jew in Israel at the time. Therefore, even though the early Christians affirmed the plurality of God in persons, they affirmed his unified essence. Moreover, the rest of the NT also affirms that there is only one God (Jas. 2:19; Jn. 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; 1 Thess. 1:9-10).

Second, the Hebrew word for “one” (echad) is used in some cases to refer to a plurality within one unity. Consider a few examples:

  • Day and night (two parts) were called “one” (echad) day (Gen. 1:5).
  • The first human couple (two humans) are called “one flesh” (echad, Gen. 2:24).
  • Fifty gold clasps are called “one” (echad) unit (Ex. 26:6, 11).
  • A cluster of grapes (many parts) was called “one” (echad) cluster (Num. 13:23).
  • The two separated nations of Israel were called “one” (echad) nation (Ezek. 37:17, 22).

We are not claiming that the term echad must refer to multiple components. Instead, we are merely making the claim that the term allows for this.

Third, early Jewish interpreters allowed for diversity within unity for the term echad. The Zohar (a highly revered Jewish text) explains, “These three are one… So it is with the mystery of the threefold Divine manifestations designated by ‘the Lord, our God, the Lord’—three modes which yet form one unity.”[1] This is not to say that this text affirms three persons in the Godhead. Rather, it shows that the term echad can allow for plurality.

However, some Jewish scholars hold that ancient rabbis held to a binitarian view of God (i.e. two persons in the one God) before the time of Jesus.[2] It was only after the spread of Christianity that later rabbis rejected this notion.

Fourth, the purpose of the Shema was to remind the people that God was to be worshipped alone (c.f. Ex. 20:2-3; 23:24; Josh. 23:7). This is why the NJPSV renders this passage as, “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” Brown cites medieval Jewish interpreters that also had this view—such as Abraham Ibn Ezra and Rashbam.[3]

For more on the Trinity, see our earlier article “Defending the Trinity.”

[1] Zohar, Bo, 2:43b; found in The Zohar, ed. M. Berg (New York: Kabbalah Centre International, 2003), 121. Cited in footnote of Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016) 297.

[2] Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism (Waco, TX: Baylor Univ. Press, 2012), 150; Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania, 2004), 89–111. Cited in footnote of Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016) 297-298.

[3] I am indebted to Michael Brown for his insights in his book for the contents of this entire article. Brown, Michael L. Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Theological Objections. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003. 6.