One and Only One

One and Only One May 15, 2013

Three options: first, there are many gods and YHWH, God of Israel, is one among many; second, there are many God but YHWH is superior to all other gods; third, there is one and only one God, and YHWH is that God. Polytheism, henotheism and monotheism, roughly. The dominant theme of the Old Testament is monotheism though it is abundantly clear that at times ancient Israelites affirmed either the first or the second options. The theme of one God is sketched by Ronald Heine in his book Classical Christian Doctrine: Introducing the Essentials of the Ancient Faith.

A central affirmation along this line is the Shema; Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. This is an affirmation that YHWH is the one and only God. Creation, calling of Abraham, the exodus, as well as pre-exile and post-exile teachings reveal this emphasis — and it is a growing emphasis (as Isa 40–55 make clear).

What do you think of a routine recitation or confession of the Shema in Christian public assemblies? I say Yes, what say you? What would we gain? Do you see problems? What are they?

Earliest Christians affirmed one God, even if many Christians died at the hand of Romans for their belief in one God.

I consider this affirmation was a particularly stretching or challenging element of faith for the early Christians who quickly began to affirm the deity and worship Jesus alongside the Father, the one God of Israel. Here are some important considerations:

1. The early Christians affirmed one God. This connected the Christians to the faith of Israel — continuity frames this whole theme.

2. A particularly interesting text in this theme is 1 Corinthians 8:4-6. Here’s the text:

1Cor. 8:4    So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

First, one God is affirmed in v. 4. That is, Paul affirms his God is the God of Israel. Continuity theme.
Second, others may believe in more than one God but Paul doesn’t.
Third, Paul is “exegeting” the Shema, where two names for God are given: Lord (YHWH) and God. This observation is fundamental to what is happening in this text.
Fourth, astoundingly, Paul sees “God” (Elohim) as the Father and he sees “Lord” (YHWH) as Jesus.

The affirmation of one God entails belief that the Father is Elohim and the Son is YHWH.

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