Saul of Tarsus was a Jewish religious zealot who opposed the new Jesus Movement. He was going about trying to get Jewish Christians arrested and thrown into prison. On his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to do just that, he had a vision that caused him to dramatically convert to faith in Jesus (Acts 9.1-19; 22.3-21; 26.4-18). After that, as the Apostle Paul, this indefatigable worker had a most profound impact on Christianity. He traveled as a missionary throughout much of the Roman Empire, spreading the gospel.
As a former Pharisee, Paul used his knowledge of scripture (Old Testament= OT) to become an astute Christian theologian. The OT was a very important source of teaching for him and the other, early, Jewish Christians. Paul’s doctrines of the one God and his Messiah were firmly rooted in the OT. That is partly why Paul is never accused in the New Testament (NT) book of Acts of abandoning his monotheistic, ancestral tradition. Vincent Taylor states, “First, we note the dominating place of monotheism in St. Paul’s Christology…. Always in his Christological statements the emphasis is upon God.” Thus, Hans Kung concludes, “Paul can only be understood from his origin in Judaism.”
The Apostle Paul affirms the Shema in some of his NT epistles. To this day, the Shema is still the Jews’ sole religious creed. It declares, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6.4). Traditionalist Christians often argue that “one,” here, allows for their Trinitarian belief by claiming it means a composite unity. But it seems pretty obvious that in this text echad, the Hebrew word here translated “one,” is meant numerically. That is largely what defined Jews of antiquity. Their worship of only one God distinguished them from the polytheistic Gentiles round about who worshipped many gods.
Thus, Paul wrote to the saints at Rome that “God … is one” (Romans 3.30). And he completed this epistle with the doxology, “to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever” (16.27). Notice herein how Paul distinguishes between the only God and Jesus Christ. Paul also wrote to the Galatians that “God is only one” (Galatians 3.20). And in his first epistle to Timothy, Paul describes the Father as “the only God,” and more explicitly, “for there is one God” (1 Timothy 1.17; 2.5).
The following Pauline statements reflect the Shema and establish that (1) there is one God, the God of the OT, (2) this one God is the Father only, and (3) this one God and Jesus Christ are to be distinguished as two separate beings, so that Jesus is not God:
- “We know that … there is no God but one…. there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (1 Corinthians 8.4, 6).
- “There is … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4.4-6)
Some scholars think these two passages may be pre-Pauline confessional statements. Frances Young rightly concludes from them about Paul and his converts, “their God was the God of the Old Testament and their Lord, Jesus, was ‘God’s Vicegerent [sic].’”
So, all of the above allusions to the Shema are clear evidence that the Apostle Paul never recoiled from his strict monotheistic background—that there is numerically only one God. As Vincent Taylor rather cleverly says of this dedicated apostle of Christ, “He will not compromise his belief that God is One God, not even for Christ’s sake.”
In recent decades, a few NT scholars, especially Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham, have claimed that in 1 Corinthians 8.4 and v. 6, Paul “reworks the Shema” by adding Jesus to it. This interpretation has become known as “splitting the Shema.” In doing so, these two scholars seem to purposely avoid calling Jesus “God” by coining their own expression for what they believe is Jesus divine status. And they do so constantly, and monotonously I think, in their writings. Hurtado calls it a “mutation” of monotheism; Bauckham calls it “the unique divine identity.”
On the contrary, Paul clearly states in the two texts quoted above that the Father is the one God and Jesus is the one Lord. It is a peculiarity of Paul that he distinguishes Jesus from God the Father by identifying Jesus as “Lord.” But for our purposes here, the main point is that it should be concluded from these texts that Paul believed only the Father was God, so that Jesus was not God. And despite the phrases coined by Hurtado and Bauckham, they still fail to escape the charge of teaching two gods/Gods.Besides, reworking the Shema is changing it, and the Bible forbids such a thing. Jude, the brother of Jesus, wrote, “I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).
Paul repeatedly states elsewhere that Jesus has a God, who is the Father (Romans 15.6; 2 Corinthians 1.3; 11.31; Ephesians 1.3, 17; Colossians 1.3). And in every salutation of Paul’s ten letters, he juxtaposes “God the Father” and “Jesus Christ,” yet no Holy Spirit.
So, Paul’s teaching on the unity or oneness of God does not allow for the later church doctrines of either Binitarianism or Trinitarianism. Preeminent Jewish scholar Joseph Klausner well states, “Paul the Jew did not go so far as to call Jesus ‘God.’”
But what about other Pauline texts that traditionalists cite to the contrary? Foremost among them is Romans 9.5, which has a grammatical problem. It is because early, Greek, NT manuscripts are uncials (all capitals with no punctuation or spaces between words). So, the question arises about how to punctuate the last portion in Romans 9.5. Some English versions have “Christ … who is over all, God blessed forever,” or words to that affect, which calls Jesus “God;” other versions have “Christ. God who is over all be blessed forever,” or similarly, which does not call Jesus “God.” A survey of modern NT scholars shows that they are evenly divided about this even though the large majority believes the NT elsewhere calls Jesus “God.”
Traditionalists cite other Pauline passages to support their view that Jesus is God. But a survey of Bible versions, New Testament grammarians, and commentators usually shows that they, too, are divided as to whether these texts portray only Jesus, called “the one Person view,” in which Jesus is called “God,” or that they mention both God the Father and Jesus, called “the two Person view,” in which Jesus is not called “God.”
For example, traditionalists claim that Paul calls Jesus “our God” in 2 Thessalonians 1.12. But most modern English Bibles translate it “our God and the Lord Jesus Christ,” thus the two Persons view, so that it does not call Jesus “God.
(The notorious and complex hymn in Philippians 2.6-11 should be treated separately.)
Another formidable text is Titus 2.13. Most Bible versions have “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,” calling Jesus “God.” Most scholars agree. But some Bible versions have “the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ,” which does not call Jesus “God.”
Such grammatically problematic passages should not overrule Paul’s many biblical texts in which he reveals the following: (1) he was always a strict monotheist, believing God is numerically one, (2) he never provides a discussion as to whether Jesus preexisted or was God, (3) he constantly distinguishes God and Jesus/Christ, (4) he often interchanges “God” and “the Father,” (5) he says Jesus has a God, and (6) he declares that only the Father is God, even the “one God.” If we lay aside the texts cited above that have grammatical issues, the Apostle Paul clearly never calls Jesus “God.”
To see a list of titles of 130+ posts (2-3 pages) that are about Jesus not being God in the Bible, with a few about God not being a Trinity, at Kermit Zarley Blog click “Chistology” in the header bar. Most are condensations of my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ. See my website servetustheevangelical.com, which is all about this book, with reviews, etc. Learn about my books and purchase them at kermitzarley.com. I was a Trinitarian for 22 years before reading myself out of it in the Bible.