“The Shema is the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book. It is generally one of the first prayers a Jewish child learns. The Shema defines what it means to be Jewish as it has since the days of Moses:
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad—“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4).”
If the the Shema states that God is one, doesn’t that contradict the Christian doctrine of the Trinity?
If the LORD is One, then how can He be also Three? The word “echad” (the ch is more of a throaty h sound) in the above verse is the Hebrew word for one. But, if we believe God is a Trinity how do we reconcile this apparent contradiction?
Well, in Genesis 2:24 the same word “echad” is used to describe how a husband and wife will become one flesh.
In Genesis 11:6, the tower of Babel narrative describes the people as being one (echad).
Ezra 2:64 the whole assembly is gathered together (echad). But the people in the assembly numbered 42,360. In these verses, echad represents a unified oneness, not a numerical oneness.
Now, I can’t say that echad always represents a unified oneness. Sometimes it can represent a numerical oneness (Ex. Numbers 13:2, Deut.17:6) . So how do we know the difference?
As usual, the answer lies in the context. The word for God in the Shema is plural אֱלֹהִים (‘Elohiym). Just like Genesis 2:24, chapter 11 verse 6, Ezra 2:64, and others not listed here, echad means a compound unity.
You will see the word Eloheinu above and perhaps think that’s different than the plural Elohiym. The only difference is Eloheinu means “Our God” but the root word is still the plural word Elohiym.
Therefore, we see that even before the Trinity was understood as we understand it today, the Hebrews of the Old Testament understood there was a vastness and complexity to the Godhead. The very first word used for God in the Bible (Genesis 1:1) is the plural word Elohiym.
So there is no contradiction. God does not change (Malachi 3:6).
“In the beginning You laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands.They will perish, but You remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing You will change them and they will be discarded. But You remain the same, and Your years will never end.”
There’s a popular quote by atheist Steven F. Roberts that many nonbelievers cite or paraphrase when debating Christians that says, “I contend we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer God than you do.”
The atheist is saying that since we Christians don’t believe in Baal, Zeus, Odin, Vishnu, Quetzalcoatl, or any other god other than the God of the Bible, then we assume the same lack of belief system. They just take it one deity further.
So what’s the difference ?
Well it doesn’t take much to realize that this argument is constructed in a way to throw the believer off guard. Let’s look at the two members of the argument. An atheist and a theist. The word atheist comes from the Greek atheos. The prefix a meaning “without” and theos meaning “god”. In other words atheism is the belief that there is no god or gods. No Supreme Ruler whatsoever. The atheist’s worldview is completely shrouded and perceived in the material realm. That anything outside it is pure speculation and unprovable (or not proven yet).
However, for the theist (Christian in our case) the material realm is just another dimension of reality. For us there is also the spiritual realm. The spiritual realm is, in fact, the truest reality because it existed first. God is spirit (John 4:24) and He created all that exists (Genesis 1, John 1:3) in the spiritual and material world.
Now let me point out that Christians during the 1st century were called atheists because they rejected the pantheon of greco-roman gods of the surrounding culture. This was also because the Christians of the day had no temple, priest, or sacrifice, as Romans would have recognized. Yet, believers in Christ saw Jesus as the temple. He is the only way to the Holy of Holies. Believers in Christ saw Him as priest because He is the Ultimate High Priest. Believers in Christ saw Jesus as the sacrifice because of the work He accomplished on the cross. He is the sacrificial Lamb of God and no sacrifice is needed after Him. (John 1:29; Hebrews 4:14; 10:10-11, 19-20)
After the resurrection of Jesus and the birth of the Church there was no “physical” representation of their God like the Romans had. The Romans had statues and Caesar. If you didn’t worship as they worshipped and whom they worshipped then you worshipped nothing. Therefore, the term atheist was applied to early Christians out of ignorance and out of insult.
In the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Polycarp is brought before the Roman governor for trial. The governor has the intention of making Polycarp betray his Christian brethren. Polycarp must say, “Away with the atheists” or else be condemned. He looks around at “the crowd of lawless heathen”(the pagan Romans) and says “Away with the atheists” flipping the name on to his accusers. (Martyrdom of Polycarp 9:2)
But, let’s be reminded. Atheists reject all gods. They reject false gods and the true God, Yahweh. They don’t just reject one more god than Christians. They reject THE God. The only true and living God. Even though God has made Himself plainly evident through His creation, atheists won’t come to the knowledge of the truth. (Romans 19:21)
Atheists might reject the notion of gods as supernatural, ethereal beings, but they still have gods. We all serve something or someone. We all worship something or someone. Whether it be ourselves, pleasure, fortune, fame, other people, hobbies, pets, nature, gods made of wood or gold, or the God of the Bible; something gets our worship whether we choose to accept the notion or not.
This brings us to the first two commandments:
1)You shall have no other gods before Me [Yahweh]
2)You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them. (Exodus 20:3-4a)
If we have broken these commandments, and we all have if God is not who we worship, then we make ourselves idolaters. Anything other than God that gets our worship has become an idol. These are Paul’s words in Philippians 3:18-19
18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.
If this is true of you today, please understand that God wants to be the object of your worship. He knows that anything else that competes for your attention above Him is a false god. He knows that no other god can bring you true joy and fulfillment. Anything else is an imitation and will never come close to the perfect love, holiness, and eternality of God. Don’t be blinded by passion for the things of the world. Things will break. Trends will fade. This world and everything in it will pass away. God and His Word are forever. And don’t place any person above God. Human beings are imperfect and all have fallen far short of God’s glory. But, God is not man that He should lie or change His mind. Nor will He ever leave us or forsake us. So, give your worship to God and to God alone because He alone is worthy.