The Bible’s View
“One Jehovah”—In What Sense?
TO Israelites on the threshold of the Promised Land, Moses declared: “Listen, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.” (Deut. 6:4) What did Moses mean by that?
Before answering this question, it will be worth while to examine the view of persons who claim that Moses’ statement means that God is a “trinity” of three coequal, coeternal persons combined into one God.
They seek proof for this from the word rendered “God” (elohim), which in Hebrew is plural. Supposedly the plural indicates that God is more than one person. Further support for this view is sought from the Hebrew word for “one” (ehhad). On occasion, Bible writers use this term for a unity of more than one person, as in the case of a husband and wife being “one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24) On such a basis it is argued that the expression “one Jehovah” means a “compound unity” of three persons in one.
Let us consider the assertion based on the plural word for God in Hebrew, namely, elohim. By no means does this have to mean that God is more than one person. Frequently a plural word in Hebrew designates a single thing or person. Aaron Ember writes in The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures (Vol. XXI, July 1905): “Several phenomena in the universe were designated in Hebrew by plural expressions because they inspired the Hebrew mind with the idea of greatness, majesty, grandeur, and holiness.” By way of illustration, Ember points out that “the Persian king . . . is designated in a number of passages in the O[ld] T[estament] by the pl[ural] melakhim ‘kings,’ i.e., The Great King, and the Persian Empire by the pl[ural] mamlakhoth, ‘kingdoms,’ i.e., The Great Kingdom.” With regard to the Hebrew word for God, the same author states:
“Various theories have been advanced to explain the use of the plural form elohim as a designation of the God of Israel. Least plausible is the view of the old theologians, beginning with Peter Lombard (12th century), that we have in the plural form a reference to the Trinity. . . . That the language of the O[ld] T[estament] has entirely given up the idea of plurality in elohim (as applied to the God of Israel) is especially shown by the fact that it is almost invariably construed with a singular verbal predicate, and takes a singular adjectival attribute. . . . elohim must rather be explained as an intensive plural, denoting greatness and majesty, being equal to The Great God. It ranks with the plurals adonim [“master”] and baalim [“owner,” “lord”] employed with reference to human beings.”
So there is no basis for arguing from the plural Hebrew word elohim that God is more than one person.
What about the claim that the Hebrew word for “one” at Deuteronomy 6:4 indicates that God is a combination of more than one person? This too lacks solid foundation, since “one” in the Scriptures frequently means one exclusive of others. For instance: “There exists one, but not a second one”; “two are better than one”; “one there is who is my dove, my blameless one. One there is who belongs to her mother.”—Eccl. 4:8, 9; Song of Sol. 6:9.
We can now return to the question raised at the start of this article: What is meant by the statement, “Jehovah our God is one Jehovah?”
The context reveals that Moses had just finished rehearsing to “all Israel” the Ten Commandments. (Deut. 5:1-22) The first of these required that Israel “never have any other gods against my face.” (Deut. 5:7) When declaring that Israel’s God was “one Jehovah,” Moses evidently was opposing two aspects of false worship by Gentile nations. How so?
First of all, those nations were polytheists, worshipers of many gods. In contrast, Israel had only one God, Jehovah. The apostle Paul well expressed this when he said: “Even though there are those who are called ‘gods,’ whether in heaven or on earth, just as there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords,’ there is actually to us one God the Father.”—1 Cor. 8:5, 6.
Secondly, even when the Gentiles worshiped one particular god, often the god was divided up into numerous aspects, each of which was peculiar to a certain locality. For example, Baal was a single god. But the Scriptures reveal that different localities had different Baals, such as Baal of Peor at Moab, Baal-berith at Shechem and Baal-zebub at Ekron. (Num. 25:3, 5; Judg. 8:33; 2 Ki. 1:2-6) As to the effect that this had on the unity of the god reverenced, early in the 19th century Orientalist E. F. C. Rosenmüller pointed out that “not only [did the Gentiles worship] many gods, but by a foolish religious practice even one and the same god was venerated as if multiplied by different names into many other widely diverse gods.”* When people of different localities worshiped various “Baals,” each with its own peculiarities, it was as if Baal were many gods. A reference work of more recent times illustrates it in this way:
“The many ‘local’ representations of Baal worship could be compared with those of the Roman Catholic Mary worship. Just as one can speak of Notre Dame (Our Lady) of Paris, or of Lourdes, or of the North, one can also speak of the Lord [Baal] of Sapān, or of Sidon, or of Ugarit, even though one has in mind merely variations of a single figure.”—Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Vol. II (1975), p. 186.
In opposition to such superstitions, Moses declared that Israel’s god was “one Jehovah.” This meant that Jehovah was the one and only God, and was to be worshiped as one only, not as divided into a group of aspects, or local ‘Jehovah’s,’ as happened with “the Baals.”—Judg. 2:11; 3:7; 8:33.
According to the Scriptures, the day is fast approaching when all mankind will recognize the oneness of Jehovah. In this regard, God declared through the prophet Zechariah: “Jehovah must become king over all the earth. In that day Jehovah will prove to be one, and his name one.” (Zech. 14:9) This means that the whole human family will acknowledge the sovereignty of Jehovah. He will be the only God worshiped. And people will render sacred service to Jehovah, not as if divided into numerous aspects that differ from one locality to another, but as a single person and with one united form of worship world wide. (See Ephesians 4:4-6.) At that time there will be unanimous agreement throughout the earth: “Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.”
From Rosenmüller’s Scholia in Deuteronomium (“Notes to Deuteronomy”). The quotation is translated from Latin.