Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Founder/Director of Ariel Ministries
Adonai Elochenu Adonai Echad"
(Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.)
Stanley Greenberg of Temple Sinai in Philadelphia wrote:
are, of course, entitled to believe in a Trinitarian conception of God.
but their effort to base this conception on the Hebrew Bible must fly in
of the overwhelming testimony of that Bible. Hebrew Scriptures are clear
unequivocal on the oneness of God The Hebrew Bible affirms the one God
unmistakable clarity Monotheism, an uncompromising belief in one God, is
hallmark of the Hebrew Bible, the unwavering affirmation of Judaism and
the unshakable faith of the Jew."
Whether Christians are accused of being polytheists or
tritheists and whether or not it is admitted that the Christian concept
of the Tri-unity is a form of monotheism, one element always appears:
one cannot believe in the Trinity and be Jewish. Even if what Christians
believe is monotheistic, it still does not seem to be monotheistic
enough to qualify as true Jewishness. Rabbi Greenberg's article tends to
reflect that thinking.
He went on to say, "... under no circumstances can a
concept of a plurality of the Godhead or a trinity of the Godhead ever
be based upon the Hebrew Bible." It is perhaps best to begin with
the very source of Jewish theology and the only means of testing it:
Hebrew Scriptures. Since so much relies on Hebrew Scripture usage, then
to the Hebrew we should turn.
IS A PLURALITY
It is generally agreed that Elohim is a plural noun having the masculine
plural ending "im." The very word Elohim used of the true God
in Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heavens and
the earth," is also used in Exodus 20:3, "You shall
have no other gods (Elohim) before Me," and in Deuteronomy
13:2, "Let us go after other gods (Elohim)... ."
While the use of the plural Elohim does not prove a Tri-unity, it
certainly opens the door to a doctrine of plurality in the Godhead since
it is the word that is used for the one true God as well as for the many
Verbs Used With Elohim
Virtually all Hebrew scholars do recognize that the word Elohim, as it
stands by itself, is a plural noun. Nevertheless, they wish to deny that
it allows for any plurality in the Godhead whatsoever. Their line of
reasoning usually goes like this: When "Elohim" is used of the
true God, it is followed by a singular verb; when it is used of false
gods, it is followed by the plural verb. Rabbi Greenberg states it as
in fact, the verb used in the opening verse of Genesis is "bara,"
which means "he created" - singular. One need not be too
profound a student of Hebrew to understand that the opening verse of
Genesis clearly speaks of a singular God."
point made, of course, is generally true because the Bible does teach
that God is only one God and, therefore, the general pattern is to have
the plural noun followed by the singular verb when it speaks of the one
true God. However, there are places where the word is used of the true
God and yet it is followed by a plural verb:
20:13: And it came to pass, when God (Elohim) caused me to wander
(Literally: THEY caused me to wander) from my father's house ...
35:7: ... because there God (Elohim) appeared to him ...
(Literally: THEY appeared to him.)
7:23: ... God (Elohim) went ... (Literally: THEY went.)
Psalm 58 Surely
He is God who judges ... (Literally: THEY judge.)
The Name Eloah
If the plural form Elohim was the only form available for a reference to
God, then conceivably the argument might be made that the writers of the
Hebrew Scriptures had no other alternative but to use the word Elohim
for both the one true God and the many false gods. However, the singular
form for Elohim (Eloah) exists and is used in such passages as
Deuteronomy 32:15-17 and Habakkuk 3:3. This singular form could easily
have been used consistently. Yet it is only used 250 times, while the
plural form is used 2,500 times. The far greater use of the plural form
again turns the argument in favor of plurality in the Godhead rather
than against it.
Another case in point regarding Hebrew grammar is that often when God
speaks of himself, he clearly uses the plural pronoun:
Gen. 1:26: Then God (Elohim) said, "Let Us
make man in Our image, according to Our likeness"
He could hardly have made reference to angels
since man was created in the image of God and not of angels. The Midrash
Rabbah on Genesis recognizes the strength of this passage and comments
Rabbi Samuel Bar Hanman in the name of Rabbi
Jonathan said, that at the time when Moses wrote the Torah, writing a
portion of it daily, when he came to the verse which says, "And
Elohim said, let us make man in our image after our likeness,"
Moses said, "Master of the universe, why do you give here with an
excuse to the sectarians (who believe in the Tri-unity of God)" God
answered Moses, "You write and whoever wants to err, let him
err." (Midrash Rabbah on Genesis 1:26 [New York NOP Press, N.D.])
It is obvious that the Midrash Rabbah is simply
trying to get around the problem and fails to answer adequately why God
refers to himself in the plural.
The use of the plural pronoun can also be seen
In the following:
Gen. 3:22: Then the LORD God (YHVH Elohim) said,
"Behold, the man has become like one of Us''
11:7: "Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language.''
6:8: Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: "Whom shall I
send, and who will go for Us?"
last passage would appear contradictory with the singular "I"
and the plural "us'' except as viewed as a plurality (us) in a
Plural Descriptions of God
Another point that also comes out of Hebrew is the fact that often nouns
and adjectives used in speaking of God are plural. Some examples are as
12:1: Remember now your Creator ... (Literally: CREATORS.)
149:2: Let Israel rejoice in their Maker. (Literally: MAKERS.)
24:19: ... holy God ... (Literally: HOLY GODS.)
54:5: For your Maker is your husband. (Literally: MAKERS,
we have said so far rests firmly on the Hebrew language of the
Scriptures. If we are to base our theology on the Scriptures alone, we
have to say that on the one hand they affirm God's unity, while at the
same time they tend towards the concept of a compound unity allowing for
a plurality in the Godhead.
6:4: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!
Deuteronomy 6:4, known as the SHEMA, has always
been Israel's great confession. It is this verse more than any other
that is used to affirm the fact that God is one and is often used to
contradict the concept of plurality in the Godhead. But is it a valid
use of this verse?
the one hand it should be noted that the very words "our God"
are in the plural in the Hebrew text and literally mean "our
Gods." However, the main argument lies in the word "one,"
which is the Hebrew word, ECHAD. A glance through the Hebrew text where
the word is used elsewhere can quickly show that the word echad does not
mean an absolute "one" but a compound "one."
For instance, in
Genesis 1:5 the combination of evening and morning comprise one (echad)
day. In Genesis 2:24 a man and a woman come together in marriage and the
two "shall become one (echad) flesh." In Ezra 2:64 we are told
that the whole assembly was as one (echad), though, of course, it was
composed of numerous people. Ezekiel 37:17 provides a rather striking
example where two sticks are combined to become one (echad). Thus, use
of the word echad in Scripture shows it to be a compound and not an
There is a Hebrew word that does
mean an absolute unity and that is YACHID, which is found in many
Scripture passages, (Genesis 22:2,12; Judges 11:34; Psalm 22:21: 25:16;
Proverbs 4:3; Jeremiah 6:26; Amos 8:10; Zechariah 12:10) the emphasis
being on the meaning of "only." If Moses intended to teach
God's absolute oneness as over against a compound unity, this would have
been a far more appropriate word. In fact, Maimonides noted the strength
of "yachid' and chose to use that word in his "Thirteen
Articles of Faith'' in place of echad. However, Deuteronomy 6:4 (the
Shema) does not use "yachid" in reference to God.
GOD IS AT
and YHVH Applied to Two Personalities
To make the case for plurality even stronger, there
are situations in the Hebrew Scriptures where the term Elohim is applied
to two personalities in the same verse. One example is Psalm 45:6-7:
throne, O God, is forever and ever: A scepter of righteousness is the
scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more
than Your companions."
should be noted that the first Elohim is being addressed and the second
Elohim is the God of the first Elohim. And so God's God has anointed him
with the oil of gladness.
second example is Hosea 1:7:
I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the LORD
their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by
horses or horsemen."
speaker is Elohim who says he will have mercy on the house of Judah and
will save them by the instrumentality of YHVH, their Elohim. So Elohim
number one will save Israel by means of Elohim number two.
only is Elohim applied to two personalities in the same verse, but so is
the very name of God. One example is Genesis 19:24:
he LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah from the LORD
out of the heavens."
we have YHVH number one raining fire and brimstone from a second YHVH
who is in heaven, the first one being on earth.
example is Zechariah 2:8-9:
thus says the LORD of hosts: "He sent Me after glory, to the
nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of
His eye. For surely I will shake My hand against them, and they shall
become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the LORD of
hosts has sent Me."
we have one YHVH sending another YHVH to perform a specific task.
author of the Zohar sensed plurality in the Tetragrammaton (1) and
and see the mystery of the word YHVH: there are three steps, each
existing by itself: nevertheless they are One, and so united that one
cannot be separated from the other. The Ancient Holy One is revealed
with three heads, which are united into one, and that head is three
exalted. The Ancient One is described as being three: because the other
lights emanating from him are included in the three. But how can three
names be one? Are they really one because we call them one? How three
can be one can only be known through the revelation of the Holy Spirit
." (Zohar, Vol III, 288; Vol II, 43, Hebrew editions. (See also
Sonclno Press edition, Vol III, 134.)
Many Persons are There?
If the Hebrew Scriptures truly do point to plurality, the question
arises, how many personalities exist in the Godhead? We have already
seen the names of God applied to at least two different personalities.
Going through the Hebrew Scriptures we find that three, and only three,
distinct personalities are ever considered divine.
First, there are the numerous times when there is a reference to the
Lord YHVH. This usage is so frequent that there is no need to devote
space to it.
A second personality is referred to as the Angel of YHVH. This
individual is always considered distinct from all other angels and is
unique. In almost every passage where he is found he is referred to as
both the Angel of YHVH and YHVH himself. For instance in Genesis 16:7 he
is referred to as the Angel of YHVH, but then in 16:13 as YHVH himself.
In Genesis 22:11 he is the Angel of YHVH, but God himself in 22:12.
Other examples could be given. (2)
very interesting passage is Exodus 23:20-23 where this angel has the
power to pardon sin because God's own name YHVH is in him, and,
therefore, he is to be obeyed without question. This can hardly be said
of any ordinary angel. But the very fact that God's own name is in this
angel shows his divine status.
A third major personality that comes through is the Spirit of God, often
referred to simply as the Ruach Ha-kodesh. There are a good number of
references to the Spirit of God among which are Genesis 1:2; 6:3; Job
33:4; Psalm 51:11; 139:7; Isaiah 11:2; 63:10,14. The Holy Spirit cannot
be a mere emanation because he has all the characteristics of
personality (intellect, emotion and will) and is considered divine.
then, from various sections of the Hebrew Scriptures there is a clear
showing that three personalities are referred to as divine and as being
God: the Lord YHVH, the Angel of YHVH and the Spirit of God.
Personalities in the Same Passage
the Hebrew Scriptures you will also find all three personalities of the
Godhead referred to in single passages. Two examples are Isaiah 48:12-16
of the significance of the first passage, it will be quoted:
to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am
also the Last. Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and
My right hand has stretched out the heavens; when I call to them, they
stand up together. All of you, assemble yourselves, and hear! Who among
them has declared these things? The LORD loves him; he shall do His
pleasure on Babylon, and His arm shall be against the Chaldeans. I, even
I, have spoken; yes, I have called him, I have brought him, and his way
will prosper. Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret
from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there. And now the
Lord GOD and His Spirit have sent Me."
should be noted that the speaker refers to himself as the one who is
responsible for the creation of the heavens and the earth. It is clear
that he cannot be speaking of anyone other than God. But then in verse
16, the speaker refers to himself using the pronouns of "I"
and "me" and then distinguishes himself from two other
personalities. He distinguishes himself from the Lord YHVH and then from
the Spirit of God. Here is the Tri-unity as clearly defined as the
Hebrew Scriptures make it.
the second passage, there is a reflection back to the time of the Exodus
where all three personalities were present and active. The Lord YHVH is
referred to in verse seven, the Angel of YHVH in verse nine and the
Spirit of God in verses 10, 11 and 14. While often throughout the Hebrew
Scriptures God refers to himself as being the one solely responsible for
Israel's redemption from Egypt, in this passage three personalities are
given credit for it. Yet no contradiction is seen since all three
comprise the unity of the one Godhead.
The teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures, then is
that there is a plurality of the Godhead. The first person is
consistently called YHVH, while the second person is given the names of
YHVH, the Angel of YHVH and the Servant of YHVH. Consistently and
without fail, the second person is sent by the first person. The third
person is referred to as the Spirit of YHVH or the Spirit of God or the
Holy Spirit. He, too, is sent by the first person but is continually
related to the ministry of the second person.
If the concept of the Tri-unity of God is not
Jewish according to modern rabbis, then neither are the Hebrew
Scriptures. Jewish Christians cannot be accused of having slipped into
paganism when they hold to the fact that Jesus is the divine Son of God.
He is the same one of whom Moses wrote when the Lord said:
I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into
the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do
not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name
is in Him. But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak,
then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your
adversaries For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the
Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the
Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off'' (Exodus
In keeping with the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures, the New
Testament clearly recognizes that there are three persons in the
Godhead, although it becomes quite a bit more specific. The first person
is called the Father while the second person is called the Son. The New
Testament answers the question of Proverbs 30:4: "What is His
name, and what is His Son's name If you know?'' His Son's name is
Yeshua (Jesus). In accordance with the Hebrew Scriptures, he is sent by
God to be the Messiah, but this time as a man instead of as an angel.
he is sent for a specific purpose: to die for our sins. In essence, what
happened is that God became a man (not that man became God) in order to
accomplish the work of atonement.
New Testament calls the third person of the Godhead the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the New Testament He is related to the work of the second
person, in keeping with the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures. We see,
then, that there is a continuous body of teaching in both the Hebrew
Scriptures and the New Testament relating to the Tri-unity of God.
"Personal Name of God of Israel," written in Hebrew Bible with
the four consonants YHWH. Pronunciation of name has been avoided since
at least 3rd c. B.C.E.; initial substitute was "Adonai"
("the Lord"), itself later replaced by "ha-Shem"
(the Name). The name Jehovah is a hybrid misreading of the original
Hebrew letters with the vowels of "Adonai." Encyclopedia
Dictionary of Judaica, 593.
In Genesis 31 he is the Angel of God in verse 11, but then he is the God
of Bethel in verse 13. In Exodus 3 he is the Angel of YHVH in verse two
and he is both YHVH and God in verse four. In Judges 6 he is the Angel
of YHVH in verses 11,12, 20 and 21, but is YHVH himself in verses 14,
16, 22 and 23. Then in Judges 13:3 and 21 he is the Angel of YHVH but is
referred to as God himself in verse 22.
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