Echad and the Trinity

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one [אֶחָֽד]" (Deut. 6:4 ESV; cf. "the LORD alone," NRSV, NLT -- the verb "is" cannot be found in the Hebrew text). The great Shema (שְׁמַ֖ע, to hear) of Israel was a affirmation of her one and only God, the LORD [YHWH, cf. Exodus 3:14, 15]. The Hebrew word אֶחָֽד, echad, refers to one, one or two, one and the same, as one man together (not only one man together), united, or one as an ordinal first. (link) Unitarians misuse this verse in order to assume their case that God is not merely one Being but also one Person. This is a lexicographical error. 

The Jewish people of the Hebrew scriptures and the followers of Christ Jesus in the Christian scriptures all worship one God. There is only one God, as God declares, "I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me there is no god." (Isa. 45:5 NRSV) If other people claim to worship a God who is not the God of both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, then they worship a false god, for there is only one God. But can this one God exist in three Persons without contorting the image into Tritheism (three Gods)?

By way of answer we need to examine carefully the Hebrew word echad. At Genesis 1:5 we find in the first (echad) day, a single (echad) day, two aspects to this one (echad) day: evening and morning. At Genesis 2:24 we find that Adam and Eve become one (echad) flesh. At Genesis 3:22 the man and woman "have become like one [echad] of us," confessed God. Dr. Robert Morey comments: "But they did not lose their personhood when they became 'one' with God."1

At Genesis 11:6 all of the people were one (echad), united, yet remained many. At Genesis 34:16, 22, the Shechemites desired to become one (echad) people with the Jews. At 2 Chronicles 30:12 the LORD granted the people one (echad) heart in a compound sense (cf. Jer. 32:39). At Ezra 2:64 the Israelites (numbering 42,360) were described as one (echad).

The conclusion should be obvious: "The passages above are just a small sampling of the many times אֶחָֽד [echad] is used of compound oneness. But it is enough to demonstrate beyond all doubt that the Old Testament, from the Law to the Prophets, used אֶחָֽד [echad] to express a unified or compound oneness."2 Dr. Morey asks, "Who would use אֶחָֽד?"
A Unitarian would never apply the Hebrew word אֶחָֽד [echad] to God because it means a compound or unified oneness. If the authors of the Bible were Unitarians, we would not expect to find אֶחָֽד applied to God.

On the other hand, if the writers of Scripture believed that God was multi-personal, then we would expect to find that they would apply אֶחָֽד to God because this would mean that God is "one" in a composite or compound sense. As a matter of fact, אֶחָֽד is the only available Hebrew word they could use to express this idea.

When we open the Bible, what do we find? We find that אֶחָֽד is applied to God. He is "one" in the sense of compound oneness. This is so central to the Old Testament concept of God that it is found in Israel's Great Confession [at Deuteronomy 6:4].3
Dr. Morey continues his argument, noting that the Hebrew authors had available to them no other way "to indicate to the reader that God is a composite unity of several Persons and not just a solitary person"; repeating the fact that there are "no other words in the Hebrew language by which such an idea could be expressed."4 Had the authors of the Hebrew scriptures intended to refer to God as one Being and one in Person, they would have used the Hebrew word יָחִיד֙ [yachid], which refers to one in an absolute and not a compound sense. This word, however, is not once used to refer to God -- not once!

God refers to Himself using plural pronouns (Gen. 1:26, 27; 3:22; 11:7, 8, 9; 19:24; Isa. 6:8). The anti-Trinitarian principle pluralis majestaticus is a late British motif entirely irrelevant to the Hebrew culture. In other words, the Hebrew people did not speak using plural pronouns to refer to themselves in their culture and time, as did English people during the Elizabethan or Shakespearean era, or throughout England today. For Unitarians to suggest that plural pronouns referring to God are supposed to explain a plurality of majesty is merely a diversion predicated not upon lexicographic or exegetical integrity but only due to the presupposition that God cannot exist in three Persons. This is hardly credible. Their presupposition is driving their interpretation.

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah poses a devastating blow to Unitarianism, since we have in the text to YHWHs dealing out judgment: "Then the LORD [YHWH] rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD [YHWH] out of heaven." (Gen. 19:24 NRSV, emphases added) One YHWH is raining sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah in the earthly sphere, and this judgment is also said to derive from the YHWH in or out of the heaven(s) or sky. Dr. Morey notes that the Council of Sirmium decreed: "the Son of God brought down the rain from God the Father" -- a notion accepted by the early Church. He then quotes Martin Luther:
We may note also the fact that Moses here says that the Lord (Jehovah) rained fire and brimstone from the Lord (Jehovah). This mode of speaking greatly irks the Jews and they try in vain to explain it. But Moses mentions Jehovah twice to show that there is but one God, but that in this one God there are three distinct persons.5
The verse is complicated, no doubt. But to suggest that the second YHWH merely refers to the first YHWH poses interpretive problems, notes Dr. Morey:
First, is it not clear that Moses is contrasting heaven and earth? Yes! Can anyone deny that they are juxtaposed? The fire comes down from the heavens to the earth below.

Is it not also clear that the two Yahwehs are part of this contrast? Yes. Are not the two Yahwehs clearly juxtaposed in the text? Yes. Just as the heavens cannot be interpreted as a repetition of the earth, neither can the first Yahweh be interpreted as a repetition of the second Yahweh.

The second problem with this interpretation is that there are no other passages in the Pentateuch where a name is repeated once at the beginning and again at the end for emphasis sake. Thus there is no evidence that Moses ever used such a literary device.6
Yes, there is but one (echad) God, and we worship but one (echad) God. Yet this one God exists in three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the creation account we have God, אֱלֹהִ֑ים [elohim, plural], at work: assuming the reference is to God the Father, we learn elsewhere that the Holy Spirit was at work (Gen. 1:2), and is Creator (Job 33:4), and that Jesus was at work (Col. 1:16), and is also Creator (John 1:3). We do not have three Creators, but one Creator in three Persons.

This אֶחָֽד (echad) God works in unity in the earth, as well. God the Father and the Holy Spirit sent Isaiah the prophet into ministry (Isa. 48:16); referring to Jesus, the confession was made that the Holy Spirit, in conjunction with the Father, moved mightily upon Him, He having been anointed for the work of Messiah (Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18); God the Father said to King David's Lord, God the Son, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool." (Ps. 110:1). The Hebrew scriptures, as do the Christian scriptures, explicitly tell of God the Father (cf. Isa. 63:16; Mal. 2:10), God the Son (Ps. 2:6, 7, 12; 45:6, 7; Prov. 30:4; Isa. 7:14; 9:6), and God the Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2; 6:3;  Isa. 11:1, 2, 3; 48:16; 61:1; 63:10).7

We are left with only two options: 1) we reinterpret and/or conflate the three persons mentioned in the Bible as God, namely, Father, Son, and Spirit, a concept that would render us Modalists at best; or 2) we understand and receive by faith that there is only one (echad) God, united as three equally divine Persons, namely, Father, Son, and Spirit. What we cannot deny is that the Bible refers to three equally divine Persons, forcing us to reconcile one God in three Persons. The Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit; the Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit; and the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. All three divine Persons, however, are eternally united and operate at all times with one heart and one mind in what God sovereignly proposes. This is our triune God. 


1 Robert Morey, The Trinity: Evidence and Issues (Iowa Falls: World Bible Publishers, Inc., 1996), 88. The references used in this paragraph are taken from the same.

2 Ibid., 89.

3 Ibid. 

4 Ibid. When asked why modern Jewish persons reject the notion of the unity of God in two or more Persons, Morey quotes Hebrew scholar David Cooper: "Prior to the days of Moses Maimonides [1135-1204 CE], the unity of God was expressed by אֶחָֽד [echad] which, as has been proved beyond a doubt, has as its primary meaning that of a compound unity. Maimonides, who drafted the thirteen articles of faith, in the second one sets forth the unity of God, using the word יָחִיד֙ [yachid] which in the Tenach is never used to express God's unity. From these facts it is evident that a new idea was injected into this confession by substituting יָחִיד֙ [yachid] which in every passage carries the primary idea of oneness in the absolute sense for אֶחָֽד [echad] which primarily means a compound unity. Hence from the days of Maimonides on, an interpretation different from the ancient one was placed upon this most important passage." (90)

5 Ibid., 97.

6 Ibid.

7 Kevin J. Conner, The Foundations of Christian Doctrine: A Practical Guide to Christian Belief (Portland: City Christian Publishing, 1980), 57-58.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.