JESUS CHRIST: THE ONE LORD OF THE SHEMA

At the heart of the Hebrew Bible is the affirmation that only Jehovah is Israel’s God and that he alone is the Creator and Sustainer of all creation. What makes this interesting is that the Greek version of the OT Scriptures (commonly referred to as the Septuagint [LXX]) render the Hebrew expressions used to affirm that Jehovah is the only one as Kyrios heis/monos:

“Listen (Shema), O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah (YHVH echad).” Deuteronomy 6:4 New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (2013 Revision) (NWT)

“Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord.”

Akoue, Israel Kyrios ho Theos hemon Kyrios heis esti.

You alone are Jehovah (YHVH labaddeka); you made the heavens, yes, the heaven of the heavens and all their army, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. And you preserve all of them alive, and the army of the heavens are bowing down to you.” Nehemiah 9:6 NWT

“And Esdras said, Thou art the only true Lord (su ei autos Kyrios monos); thou madest the heaven, and the heaven of heavens, and all their array, the earth, and all things that are in it, the seas, and all things in them; and thou quickenest all things, and the hosts of heaven worship thee.”

“And Jehovah will be King over all the earth. In that day Jehovah will be one (YHVH echad), and his name one.” Zechariah 14:9 NWT

“And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day there shall be one Lord, and his name one (Kyrios heis kai to onoma autou hen),”

The foregoing shows that a Greek-speaking Jew whose ears were sensitive to the Greek pronunciation of the Hebrew Bible would have taken the phrase Kyrios heis/monos or heis/monos Kyrios as equivalent to saying YHVH echad/labaddeka, e.g. Jehovah is the one and only. This is especially true when an individual employed this Greek phraseology to refer to the One who created and gives life to all things. Compare, for instance, the following:

“This is what Jehovah says, your Repurchaser, Who formed you since you were in the womb: ‘I am Jehovah, who made everything. I stretched out the heavens BY MYSELF, And I spread out the earth. Who was with me?’” Isaiah 44:24 NWT

“Thus saith the Lord (Kyrios) that redeems thee, and who formed thee from the womb, I am the Lord (ego Kyrios) that performs all things: I stretched out the heaven alone, and established the earth.” LXX  

This is where it gets rather remarkable.

The inspired New Testament writings identify Jesus as that very one Lord through and for whom all things were created!

“Now concerning the eating of food offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world and that there is no God but one (kai hoti oudeis Theos, ei me heis). For even though there are so-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 (heis Theos, ho Pater), from whom all things are and we for him; and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ (heis Kyrios ‘Iesous Christos), through whom all things are and we through him.” 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 NWT

Therefore, a Greek speaking Jew would have understood the proclamation that Jesus is the heis Kyrios through and for whom everything exists as an affirmation that Christ is none other than the human incarnation of that very Jehovah God that the Israelites had to love with their whole being!

What this means is that the first Christians saw within the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4 a clear testimony to the Father and the Son being the Lord God whom the Israelites were commanded to profess and worship.

In other words, within less than twenty years of our Lord’s physical and bodily resurrection and heavenly ascension, both Jewish and Gentile Christians were professing the Father as the Eloheinu (“our God”) of the Shema while also worshiping Jesus as that one and only YHVH of that very same Shema!

As the late Princeton theologian Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield put it:

“In the very act of asserting his monotheism Paul takes our Lord up into this unique Godhead. ‘There is no God but one,’ he roundly asserts, and then illustrates and proves this assertion by remarking that the heathen may have ‘gods many, and lords many,’ but ‘to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him’ (I Cor. vii. 6). Obviously, this ‘one God, the Father,’ and ‘one Lord, Jesus Christ,’ are embraced together in the one God who alone is. Paul’s conception of the one God, whom alone he worships, includes, in other words, a recognition that within the unity of His being, there exists such a distinction of Persons as is given us in the ‘one God, the Father’ and the ‘one Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Trinity

; bold emphasis mine)

AN OBJECTION REFUTED

Here I would like to address the claim made by a New Testament professor named James F. McGrath in regards to the foregoing passage from Paul.

In his book, McGrath writes:

“As far as grammatical considerations are concerned, there is a sense in which either part of Paul’s statement could be taken on its own as a paraphrase of the Shema. The combination ‘one God and . . .’ suggests that we are dealing with a paraphrase of the Shema with an additional affirmation added alongside it—otherwise we would surely have expected Paul to express himself differently. Theoretically, he could have written, ‘There is one God: the Father, from whom are all things, and the Son, through whom are all things.’ This would have emphasized the oneness of God while including Jesus clearly within that one God. Instead, Paul uses a statement about one God, which itself is sufficient to reiterate the point of the Shema, and then goes further to talk about ‘one Lord.’ When the oneness of God is coupled with another assertion of oneness in this way, we must look carefully to determine whether we are indeed dealing with a splitting of the Shema that is without parallel, or an addition of a second clause alongside the Shema, which is not in fact unparalleled in Jewish literature.

“We are of course in no way denying that the Shema is in mind in 1 Corinthians 8, and that Jesus is being related to it. However, the nature of the relationship has for too long been assumed, and is in desperate need of clarification. The first part of Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 8:6 resembles the statement of faith, probably itself a paraphrase of the Shema, found in Philo’s writings: ‘Let us, then, engrave deep in our hearts this as the first and most sacred of commandments, to acknowledge and honor one God who is above all, and let the idea that gods are many never even reach the ears of the man whose rule of life it is to seek for truth in purity and goodness.’5 The point here is that there is one God who is incomparably ‘above all.’ Such language in early Judaism rarely if ever means that no other being may be referred to as ‘god,’ but simply that all others are (to use Paul’s own phrase) merely ‘so called gods’ who are not worthy of comparison with the one true God. Similarly, Paul’s statement slightly earlier that “there is no God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4) closely resembles the statement in the Sibylline Oracles (3.629) that ‘He alone is God and there is no other.’ Mention may also be made of Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 5.112, which refers either to one God who is common to all Hebrews, or perhaps to the affirmation ‘God is one’ as being common to all Hebrews. At any rate, it seems clear that the language of ‘one God’ was already a well-known way of summarizing this aspect of Jewish belief. Paul uses this language of ‘one God’ and adds to it a reference to “one Lord.” It is thus the addition of another element alongside this traditional affirmation of Jewish monotheistic faith that we must attempt to understand.

“The contrast Paul makes—between many gods and one God and many lords and one Lord—sounds like it is referring to figures in the heavenly and earthly realms, respectively, to divine beings and their earthly representatives or mediators. Paul had just referred to ‘so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth’ (1 Cor. 8:5), and his reference to ‘many gods’ and ‘many lords’ appears to be an expansion or clarification of what Paul had in mind in referring to both heavenly and earthly ‘so-called gods.’6 The flow of the sentence and the parallels within it become clearer when outlined as follows:

One God vs. many gods

(whether in heaven or on earth)

many gods many lords

One God One Lord

“Thus the ‘many gods’ are best understood as a reference to the gods which are thought to exist in the heaven, and the ‘many lords’ are then the rulers or lords on the earth, who represented the authority of the gods in the sphere of human existence.7

“Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 8:6 is best interpreted over against this aspect of contemporary Greco-Roman belief. For Christians, says Paul, there is only one God in heaven, and there is only one Lord, one agent and mediator, who rules on his behalf over all creation. That Paul is speaking about one God, the ultimate authority and source of all things, and one mediator of that authority and creative activity, is made clear by the prepositions used: ‘One God, from whom . . . and one Lord, through whom . . .’ Paul has already affirmed that there is ‘no God but one,’ and verse 6 expands and comments on this affirmation of monotheistic faith by adding that there is also one figure appointed by God as ruler over all things.8” (McGrath, The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism In Its Jewish Context [University of Illinois Press, 2009], pp. 40-41; bold emphasis mine)

There are several problems with McGrath’s assertions.

The first problem is that Jesus wasn’t ruling as Lord while on earth, but only did so after his physical ascension into heaven. As Paul and the rest of the NT writers affirm, in coming to the earth to become human Christ assumed the role and status of a slave:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8 New International Version (NIV)

Therefore, Paul could not be envisioning the risen Christ as the earthly representative and mediator of God since the Apostle is referring to Jesus’ position in heaven. As such, this would actually prove that Paul is assigning to Jesus the status of one of the so-called heavenly “gods.” I.e., Christ is not a mere human lord on earth who represents the deity in heaven. Rather, Jesus is the divine Lord of heaven who reigns alongside of God the Father. 

This leads to the second problem with McGrath’s claims. McGrath’s argument that Paul’s reference to the “gods” includes both the heavenly gods and their earthly representatives essentially implies that even the earthly lords are divine beings in some sense. Therefore, even if it were true that Paul was assigning to Jesus the status of one of these earthly lords this would still invariably mean that the Apostle was depicting Jesus not as a mere human creature, but rather as a divine Being who had become human.

To put this simply, McGrath’s reasoning goes something like this: “gods” = heavenly gods and earthly lords. As such, McGrath’s argument actually ends up proving that both the Father and Jesus make up the identity of the God who is one. This in turn confirms that the passage from Corinthians is in fact a Christianization, a Christian reformulation of the Shema, where Jesus is identified with the one Lord of the Shema.

In other words, contrary to McGrath the early followers of Christ began proclaiming that Israel’s one Lord had become incarnate in the Person of Christ, that Jesus is the human enfleshment of Jehovah God Almighty (even though he isn’t the Father or the Holy Spirit).  

This point is further established by the fact that McGrath cannot find an example within the theology of second temple Judaism of a belief that some other Lord besides the one true God was responsible for creating all things. Nor will he be able to show that the Judaism of that time held to a notion of God having created all things through the agency of some lesser divine being or angelic creature, and who was now using that created entity to sustain creation.

Both the Hebrew Bible and Jewish literature clearly attest that Jehovah alone created and sustains all things:

“He spreads out the heavens BY HIMSELF, And he treads upon the high waves of the sea.” Job 9:8 NWT

“This is what Jehovah says, your Repurchaser, Who formed you since you were in the womb: ‘I am Jehovah, who made everything. I stretched out the heavens BY MYSELF, And I spread out the earth. Who was with me?’” Isaiah 44:24 NWT

“Because of him his messenger finds the way, and by his word all things hold together.” Sirach 43:26 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

“O sovereign Lord, didst thou not speak at the beginning when thou didst form the earth — AND THAT WITHOUT HELP— and didst command the dust and it gave thee Adam, a lifeless body? Yet he was the workmanship of thy hands, and thou didst breathe into him the breath of life, and he was made alive in thy presence.” 4 Ezra 3:4-5 RSV

“then I planned these things, and they were made THROUGH ME AND NOT THROUGH ANOTHER, just as the end shall come through me and not through another.” 4 Ezra 6:6 RSV

“This name was very appropriately bestowed upon him by our first ancestors, in order to signify that He THROUGH whom all things are endowed with life and come into being, is necessarily the ruler and lord of the Universe. Set all mankind an example of magnanimity by releasing those who are held in bondage.” Letter of Aristeas 16 RSV

The God who made the world and all the things in it, being, as he is, Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in handmade temples; nor is he served by human hands as if he needed anything, because he himself gives to all people life and breath and all things. And he made out of one man every nation of men to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he decreed the appointed times and the set limits of where men would dwell, so that they would seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us. For by him we have life and move and exist, even as some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his children.’” Acts 17:24-28 NWT

And yet the earliest Christians described Jesus as the Agent by and for whom all creation was brought into being!

“This one was in the beginning with God. All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence. What has come into existence by means of him was life, and the life was the light of men… The true light that gives light to every sort of man was about to come into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into existence through him, but the world did not know him… So the Word became flesh and resided among us, and we had a view of his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father; and he was full of divine favor and truth.” John 1:2-4, 9-10, 14 NWT

“who delivered you out of the jurisdiction of darkness and transferred you into the kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption, the pardon of sins,—Who is image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation, because IN HIM everything was created in the heavens and on earth, the visible and the invisible, be it thrones or lordships or governments or dominions—everything has been created THROUGH HIM and to come TO HIM, and before everything HE IS, and IN HIM everything holds together.” Colossians 1:15-17 The Bible in Living English

“Long ago God spoke to our forefathers by means of the prophets on many occasions and in many ways. Now at the end of these days he has spoken to us by means of a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the systems of things. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact representation of his very being, and he sustains all things by the word of his power. And after he had made a purification for our sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Hebrews 1:1-3 NWT

For Paul and the early Christians to identify Jesus as the one Lord through and for whom all things were created would be in direct opposition to the beliefs of second temple Judaism. That is, unless, of course, these Christians weren’t depicting the man Jesus as a mere creature but rather as a divine Person who intrinsically belongs within the identity of the one true God of Israel.   

This explains why Hebrews has God the Father citing the following reference, which describes Jehovah as the immutable Creator and Sustainer of all creation,

“O Jehovah, hear my prayer; Let my cry for help reach you… But you remain forever, O Jehovah, And your fame will endure for all generations… I said: ‘O my God, Do not do away with me in the middle of my life, You whose years span all generations. Long ago you laid the foundations of the earth, And the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; Just like a garment they will all wear out. Just like clothing you will replace them, and they will pass away. But you are the same, and your years will never end.” Psalm 102:1, 12, 24-27 NWT

And attributing it to his glorious Son! 

But about the Son, he says: ‘God is your throne forever and ever, and the scepter of your Kingdom is the scepter of uprightness.’…  And: ‘At the beginning, O Lord [the Son], you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; and just like a garment, they will all wear out, and you will wrap them up just as a cloak, as a garment, and they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never come to an end.’” Hebrews 1:8, 10-12 NWT

Therefore, McGrath is simply wrong since Christ isn’t simply the mediator of God’s rule and creative activity that has been added on to the Shema. Rather, Jesus is the one Lord professed within the Shema, being the human incarnation of Jehovah God Almighty who is personally distinct from both the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The following Evangelical scholars explain it best:

“Assuming these statements cohere with the Jewish doctrine that YHWH, the Lord God, is the sole Creator and Maker of all things, the clear implication is that Jesus Christ, the Son, is himself the Lord God. Francis Beckwith expressed the reasoning that leads to this conclusion as a simple syllogism:

Yahweh is the only one who participated in creation;

Christ is one who participated in creation;

Therefore, Christ is Yahweh.4

“The only way to challenge the soundness of this argument is to challenge one or both of its two premises. As we have seen, the Old and New Testaments explicitly teach the first premise, that Yahweh, the Lord God, is the only one who participated in creation (Neh. 9:6; Isa. 37:16; 40:25–26; 44:24; Rev. 4:11). The New Testament also explicitly teaches the second premise (John 1:3, 10; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). The conclusion follows necessarily from the premises; and since the premises are true, the argument is sound.” (Robert M. Bowman Jr. & J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ [Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 2007], 15. Meet Your Maker, p. 188)

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