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Anthony Buzzard

Echad

Excerpt from "Jesus was not a Trinitarian"  pp. 307-312

by Anthony Buzzard   

 

 

The Hebrew Word for One Means One

Faced with a traditional creed which contradicts the strict unitary monotheism of Jesus and of the Bible, some believers in Jesus as Messiah, even, remarkably, Messianic Jews, have felt compelled to find a way to justify their departure from Jesus’ creedal monotheism. This has led to one of the most bizarre exercises in the distortion of simple words known, I suppose, to the history of ideas. It needs to be exposed as a bold venture in twisting the straightforward terminology by which the God of the Bible declares that He is one single Person.

The assault on common sense, simple language facts, and biblical authority we are speaking of has to do with the Hebrew word echad, which is the cardinal number “one.” In counting in Hebrew one says echad, sh’nayim, shalosh: “one, two, three…”

Extraordinary verbal acrobatics have been performed with the word echad by some Trinitarians, in an effort to convince the public that the number one does not mean one. It is a tactic of desperation. It takes in only those who are not alert to the meaning of simple words. The obstruction of the straightforward meaning of the Hebrew echad (one) must rank amongst the most amazing pieces of bogus propaganda found in theological writing.

We cite some examples. Professor Boice attempted to find good reasons in the Hebrew Bible for believing that God is three in one. He wrote:

It has been argued that because Deuteronomy 6:4 reads “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD” that the Trinity is excluded. But in this very verse the word for “one” is echad which means not one in isolation but one in unity. In fact, the word is never used in the Hebrew Bible of a stark singular entity. It is the word used in speaking of one bunch of grapes, for example, or in saying that the people of Israel responded as one people. After God has brought his wife to him, Adam says, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:23-24). Again the word is echad. It is not suggested that the man and woman were to become one person, but rather that in a divine way they do become one. In a similar but not identical way God is one God, but also existent in three “persons.”[1]

The statement proposed by Professor Boice about the meaning of echad is completely untrue. Echad occurs 970 times in the Hebrew Bible and it is the number “one.” It means “one single.” It is a numeral adjective, the ordinary word for “one” functioning very much like our English number “one.” The Hebrew for eleven is “one (echad) plus ten.”

Lexicons of the Hebrew offer no support at all for any complication of the simple word “one.”[2] Some unsuspecting readers have been bamboozled into the fraudulent argument that because “one” in English or Hebrew can modify a compound noun, then the word “one” itself must be “compound”! One can think of humorous ways of exposing this trick. Does the word “one” mean “black and white” in the phrase “one zebra”? Does “one” mean “one single” in the phrase “one loaf of bread” and yet more than one in the phrase “one loaf of sliced bread”? We trust that the point is clear. One tripod is still one tripod, despite the three legs on the tripod. It is the noun, in these examples, which contains the idea of plurality (three legs), while the word “one” maintains, thankfully, the stable meaning of “one single.” One tripod is a single tripod. “One Lord” in the Bible does not mean two or three Lords. The meaning of “one” is precisely the same in “one rock” and “one family.” The numeral adjective “one” is not affected in any way by the collective noun “family.”

According to numerous popular websites and even a number of textbooks, the combination “one bunch,” we are invited to think, shows that “one” means more than one, so-called “compound one” or “composite one.” The mistake is quite obvious. One bunch is still in Hebrew and English one bunch and not two or more bunches! It is nonsense to suppose that the word “one” has altered its meaning when it modifies a compound noun. It is the noun which is compound and gives us the sense of plurality. The word “one” is fixed and unchanged in meaning in both “one pencil” and “one bunch.” The numerical adjective, “one,” retains its meaning always as “one single.” When Adam and Eve are “one flesh,” they are not two or more “fleshes”! One still means one. The combining of Adam and Eve as “one flesh” has not altered the meaning of “one” (echad).

On this amazing piece of verbal trickery Christians have been persuaded that in the phrase “one God” the word “one” imparts some sort of plurality to the word God. This is completely unfounded. It is plainly false. Imagine the confusion which would ensue if when we present our one-dollar purchase at the check-out counter, we are told that “one” is really “compound one.” Thus the item will cost three (or more) dollars! A compound noun is clearly made up of a number of items. But the word “one” which stands before it is not in any way changed by its proximity to the compound noun. However, the unwary have been taken in by the most amazing assertions that echad tells us that God is more than one!

Professor Boice’s assertion that echad “in fact is never used in the Hebrew Bible of a stark singular entity” cannot possibly have been checked by that author. One suspects that it is a piece of misinformation passed on uncritically as dogma. It has, however, no basis in fact.


[1]J.M. Boice, The Sovereign God, Intervarsity Press, 1978, 1:139.

[2]Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, Brown, Driver and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon of Biblical Hebrew. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament speaks of diversity within unity, but states rightly that this sense is found in its plural form achadim, an adjective never used for the One God. Abraham was viewed as “the one” (echad) and “the one father.” He was certainly not plural. The same work, however, curiously and without citing any examples, says that echad “recognizes diversity within that oneness.” Actual definitions then follow: “one single blessing,” “Solomon was alone,” “uniqueness,” “a single man,” “one voice” (Moody Press, 1980, 1:30). The word “one” displays no sense of diversity. The complaint about the popular misuse of the Hebrew word for “one” is made well in Lindsey Killian and Dr. Emily Palik, The God of the Hebrew Bible and His Relationship to Jesus, Association for Christian Development, 2005, Appendix A, 35-37.

 





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