The Shema (Hear!)
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Dt. 6.4-5 NRSV)
The focus of this post is whether Dt. 6.4 teaches a strict and overt singularity of personality in God. The interpretation of this text, I will argue, is not definitive for a singularity of being in conceiving thoughts about God. The first part of Shema declares that God is one. Perhaps it says that He alone is Israel’s God as above by The NRSV. Another option renders it: “The Lord our God is one Lord.” Many consider the best option: “The Lord is our God, the Lord is unique.” This last rendering has an advantage since Dt 7.9 proposes the same idea: So realize that the Lord your God is the true God, the faithful God who keeps covenant faithfully with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations (NET). Also, Dt. 10.17 intimates a uniqueness to other entities while affirming their existence: For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who is unbiased and takes no bribe (NET).
Therefore the Shema doesn’t really say “there is only one God.” I mean it does say that in a sense, but that sense needs qualification. If someone were to use Dt. 6.4 to definitively say that God is a lonely singularity, that would be invalid based on what else the bible says about Him. I take Dt. 6.4 as implying a unity. Certainly the gods of Egypt were not qualitatively similar in any sense or were other gods of the countries around Israel. The first two verses of Genesis however imply a Godhead as does many other sections of divine revelation.
Dt. 6.4 probably should be read as “unique” or “alone qualitatively” (as compared to other gods). The aspect of “alone” would not indicate a loneliness however. Loneliness inherently implies need and would not be true to the rest of revealed scripture: nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone. (Acts 17.25 NET)
For Christians reading their New Testament a clarity exists with Paul’s insight: “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and we live through Him.” (1 Cor. 8.6)