DEAR FATHER PAUL: You kindly invite questions from your readers. I enjoyed your good account of the names of God. I wanted to know, please, this: Is the creed of Jesus as affirmed in Mark 12:29 a unitary, monotheistic proposition or a Trinitarian proposition? Anthony
DEAR ANTHONY: Thank you. I regularly get this question from precious members of the Jehovah Witness, Muslim and other faith communities who consider themselves strict “monotheists” (belief in One God) … and who have convinced themselves that Christians are “polytheists” (believe in many Gods) because Christians believe in what we call “The Trinity,” that is … God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit … one God in three persons.
They often quote the verse that you cite, Mark 12:29, where Jesus himself is speaking, to “prove” that the Bible says that there is but one God and one God only, not three Gods as they say Christians believe. What they persist in ignoring is that Christians ARE, in point of fact, also monotheists, we simply believe that the one, eternal God, Jehovah, manifests himself in (again) three persons … God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Here is the entire passage you reference from one of the most accepted modern Bible translations, The New International Version (NIV). I include a few verses before and after Mark 12:29 for clarity and context. Mark 12:28-31 … One of the teachers of the law came and heard them (Jewish leaders and Jesus) debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer to earlier questions, the teacher of the law asks Jesus this question. “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Jesus answers with Deuteronomy 6:4, “The most important commandment is this,” he says. Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.
The key words in this familiar verse … the words which those who do not accept the validity of the Holy Trinity often cite, are the words … “the Lord is one.” (emphasis on “one”)
After all, they ask, “God cannot be “one AND three … BOTH at the same time can he? That’s impossible!”
Well, yes he can … and he is!! And Christians, going back to the Apostles and early church fathers, believe he is indeed three in one … and, that there is extensive evidence of this fact throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments … including the above verse from Deuteronomy 6:4. The Apostles and early church fathers called it “a mystery,” but we know that, “with God, all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26.
Consider this regarding the Deuteronomy 6:4 verse Jesus quoted. There are TWO words in the Hebrew language that are BOTH usually translated into English as the word “one.” They are: “Echad” and “Yachid.”
Again, both are usually translated “one,” but with this difference … whenever Echad is used it almost always is referring to what is called “a collective or compound one,” as in this sentence, “the colonists were all united as ONE in their anger toward the British.” MANY YET ONE, BOTH at the same time! Conversely, when the Hebrew word “Yachid” is used, it means ONLY 0NE, or a singular one. An example would be, “He got the ONE gold medal awarded in wrestling at the Olympic trials.” One and ONLY One!
Deuteronomy 6:4 uses the Hebrew word “Echad!” correctly translated into English as “one!” End of story as-far-as 1.5 billion Christians are concerned.
Also, God, in Genesis 1:26 says this: “Let US make man in OUR own image … “ In Genesis 11:7 he says, “Come, let US go down and there confound their language.” Notice the plural references.
There are simply too many references in Scripture to the “One God in three persons” doctrine of the Trinity for anyone to dismiss this core Christian doctrine out of hand. Here are just a few …several with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit appearing, all three together, at the same time and in the same place. Genesis 1:1&2; John 1:1-18; Mark 1:9-11; Matthew 28:19; Luke 3:22; John 14:26; John 15:26; Acts 2:33; Acts 10:38; II Corinthians 13:14; Hebrews 9:14; I Peter 1:2.
DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION OR A COMMENT? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try to answer you in the paper.
Father Paul Massey is Pastor Emeritus of Church of the Holy Cross in Fayetteville.