Did Paul, in 1 Corinthians 8:6, include Jesus into the Shema?

Summary

ShemaThe Shema

Hear, O Israel!
The LORD is our God,
the LORD is one
!”

(Deuteronomy 6:4)

In contrast to the many gods of the surrounding nations, this verse (called the Shema) declares that there is only one true God, and His name is YHVH.

1 Corinthians 8:6

1 Corinthians 8:4 effectively repeats the Shema, saying:

There is no God but one.

Verse 6 identifies who that one God is:

“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.”

This verse contrasts the Father and the Son in both their titles and in their functions:

Different titles Different roles
One God, the Father From whom are all things
One Lord, Jesus Christ By whom are all things

1 Corinthians 8:6 has always been a favorite proof text for Unitarians (as opposed to Trinitarians) for it identifies the Father alone as God, which means that Jesus is not God. But Trinitarians counter this conclusion with the following arguments:

(A) The Son co-created the universe with God.

Father and SonAccording to 1 Corinthians 8:6, the Son co-created the universe with “God, the Father.” From this, Trinitarians conclude that Jesus must be God. However, that verse, and other similar verses (John 1:3, Col 1:16, and Heb 1:2), identify the Father as the Great Source of all things—the uncaused Cause—and identify the Son as the Means through whom God created. For example, according to Hebrews 1:1-3, in some mysterious way, “God” made the world “through” His Son.

(B) “God” and “Lord” are synonyms.

ShemaTrinitarians secondly argue that first-century Jews (such as Paul) understood “one God” and “one Lord” as synonymous and that this is confirmed by the fact that Paul referred to the Father both as “God” and as “Lord.” Therefore, Trinitarians argue, when Paul described Jesus as “one Lord,” he also identified Him as God. This article responds with two counterarguments:

The word that is translated as “Lord” is kurios. This title means “lord” (e.g., Acts 15:26) or “master” (e.g., Mark 13:35) or “owner” (e.g., Matt 20:8). This title, therefore, may be applied to God and Jesus and to human beings without saying that they are all God.

Furthermore, the Father appointed Jesus as Lord of the universe. For example, Peter said, “God has made Him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36; cf. Phil 2:9-11). Since God appointed Jesus as Lord over all, the Son will always remain subordinate to the Father and the Father will always remain His God, for example: “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:17; cf. Rev 3:12).

(C) Corinthians includes the Son into the Shema.

The third proof which Trinitarians find in 1 Corinthians 8:6, for the claim that Jesus is God, is to argue that that verse intentionally distributes the words of the Shema between the Father and the Son:

The “God” of the Shema becomes
One God, the Father.”

The “LORD” of the Shema becomes
One Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Therefore, Trinitarians propose, Paul included Jesus into the unique divine identity of the Yahweh of the Old Testament. They do not claim that Paul presented Jesus as a second God, but that he redefined monotheism as Christological monotheism. In other words, the unique identity of Yahweh of the Shema CONSISTS OF BOTH the “one God” and the “one Lord.

However, for the following reasons, Paul did not redistribute the words of the Shema between the Father and Jesus to include Jesus into the Yahweh of the Old Testament:

(1) 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 explicitly identifies only the Father as God.

1 Corinthians 8:4-6 says, “there is no God but one” and then explicitly identifies only the Father as God: “For us there is but one God, the Father.” By implication, Jesus is not God.

(2) Other “one God” statements do the same.

1 Corinthians 8:6 is just one of a number of Paul’s “one God” statements in which he applies the Shema within the Christian context, but in all of such statements, the Father alone is God. For example:

There is one God,
and one mediator also between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus
” (1 Tim 2:5; cf. Eph 4:5-6).

(3) Paul consistently identified the Father alone as God.

If Paul thought that Jesus was God, he would have written that frequently and clearly. However, Paul consistently identified the Father alone as God. For example, he opens every one of his letters with phrases that distinguish between God and Jesus and identify God as the Father, e.g.:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ
” (1 Cor 1:3; cf. Phil 4:19-20).

(4) 1 Corinthians 8:6 describes Jesus as subordinate to the Father.

As discussed, 1 Corinthians 8:6 emphasizes the distinction between the Father and the Son by describing God (the Father) as the ultimate Source of all things, while Jesus is the Means by which God works. Jesus, therefore, is not only distinct from God; He is also functionally subordinate to the Father. This is also a consistent teaching of the New Testament. For example:

Christ is the head of every man,
and the man is the head of a woman,
and God is the head of Christ

(1 Cor 11:3; cf. 1 Cor 3:23).

(5) The Trinitarian interpretation contradicts the Shema.

The main point of the Shema is monotheism, namely that “YHWH, our God, YHWH is one.” In the New Testament, the Father and Jesus are two Persons with two separate wills. For example, in the night before He was crucified, He prayed, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42; cf. Mark 15:34). Since the Father and the Son are separate Persons with separate wills, to understand 1 Corinthians 8:6 as saying that YHVH is actually two Persons would be to contradict the Shema.

The articles on Christology are listed at the end of this article. 

– END OF SUMMARY – 


The Shema

Hear, O Israel!
The LORD is our God,
the LORD is one
!”

(Deuteronomy 6:4)

This is called the Shema after the first word (hear), which is Shema in Hebrew. It is the best-known verse in Judaism. In contrast to the many gods of the surrounding nations, the Shema declares that there is only one true god, and His name is YHVH.

LORD” is in all capitals. This means that it translates God’s personal name YHVH, pronounced as Yahweh or Jehovah. (Strangely, modern translators seem to follow the ancient Jewish practice of not mentioning God’s name.)

1 Corinthians 8:4-6

1 Corinthians 8:4 effectively repeats the Shema, saying:

There is no God but one.

Verse 6 identifies who that one god is, namely the Father. Consider 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 more fully:

4 There is no God but one.
5
… indeed there are many gods and many lords,

6 yet for us 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.

This verse sets three contrasts:

    • Between pagan gods and pagan lords.
    • Between the many pagan gods and lords and
      the one true god and lord.
    • Between the Father and Son.

Verse 6 contrasts the Father and the Son in both their titles and in their functions:

Different titles Different roles
One God, the Father From whom are all things;
We exist for Him.
One Lord, Jesus Christ By whom are all things;
We exist through Him.

1 Corinthians 8:6 has always been a favorite proof text for Unitarians (as opposed to Trinitarians) for it identifies the Father alone as God, which means that Jesus is not God. But Trinitarians counter this conclusion with the following arguments:

(A) The Son co-created the universe with God.

According to 1 Corinthians 8:6, the Son co-created the universe with “God, the Father.” From this, Trinitarians conclude that Jesus must be God. However, with respect to creation, that verse ascribes different roles to the Father and the Son:

The phrase “from whom are all things” identifies the Father as the Great Source of all things; the uncaused Cause.

The phrase “by whom are all things” identifies the Son as the Means through whom God created.

John 1:3, Colossians 1:16, and Hebrews 1:2 also describe the roles of the Father and the Son in creation. Similar to 1 Corinthians 8:6, these verses identify the Father as the Great Source of all things—the uncaused Cause. They also describe the Son as having a passive role in creation, namely as the Means through whom God created all things:”

According to Hebrews 1:1-3, in some mysterious way, “God” made the world “through” His Son.

John 1:3 also claims that “all things” came into being “through” the Word (Christ).

As discussed in the article on Colossians, the same applies to Colossians 1:16.

This means that both the Father and the Son have existed for as long as time has existed. However, scientists claim that time began 13 billion years ago through the Big Bang. We know nothing of the incomprehensible reality that exists outside our universe of space, time, and matter. But what we do know is that the power and energy, which caused our universe to come into existence, came from that incomprehensible reality. This knowledge, which church leaders did not know when the Trinity doctrine was formulated in the fourth to sixth centuries, helps us to understand the distinction between Jesus and God.

For a further discussion, see – God created all things.

(B) “God” and “Lord” are synonyms.

To counter the implications of 1 Corinthians 8:6, Trinitarians secondly argue as follows that the titles “God” and “Lord” are synonyms:

They argue that first-century Jews (such as Paul) understood “one God” and “one Lord” as synonymous and interchangeable; both referring to the same divine being, namely Yahweh.

They find support for this view in the fact that Paul, in his many writings, refer to the Father both as “God” and as “Lord.”

Therefore, Trinitarians argue, when Paul described Jesus as “one Lord,” he also identified Him as God. This article responds with two counterarguments:

Kurios means “lord.”

The word that is translated as “Lord” (kurios in Greek) means “lord” (e.g., Acts 15:26) or “master” (e.g., Mark 13:35) or “owner” (e.g., Matt 20:8). This title, therefore, may be applied to God and to Jesus and to a human being without saying that they are all God.

The Father appointed Jesus as Lord.

Although 1 Corinthians 8:6 identifies Jesus as Lord, this does not mean that He is God or equal to God, for God appointed the Son as “Lord.” For example:

At Pentecost, Peter said to the Jews,
God has made Him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

God highly exalted Him … so that …
every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
” (Phil 2:9-11).

God … raised Him from the dead
and
seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places …
And He put all things in subjection under His feet

(Eph 1:17-22; cf. Matt 28:18).

Since God appointed Jesus as Lord over all, the Son will always remain subordinate to the Father. Jesus is not “co-equal” with the Father, as the Trinity doctrine claims. The Father will always remain His God, for example:

The God of our Lord Jesus Christ
(Eph 1:17; cf. 1 Peter 1:3; Rev 1:6; 3:2, 12).

(C) Corinthians includes the Son into the Shema.

A third proof which Trinitarians find in 1 Corinthians 8:6, for the claim that Jesus is God, is to argue that that verse intentionally distributes the words of the Shema between the Father and the Son:

The “God” of the Shema becomes
One God, the Father.”

The “LORD” of the Shema becomes
One Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Therefore, Trinitarians propose, Paul included Jesus into the unique divine identity of the Yahweh of the Old Testament. They do not claim that Paul presented Jesus as a second God, but that he redefined monotheism as Christological monotheism. In other words, the unique identity of Yahweh of the Shema CONSISTS OF BOTH the “one God” and the “one Lord.

The question, therefore, is, did Paul really redistribute the words of the Shema between the Father and Jesus in 1 Corinthians 8:6 to include Jesus into the Yahweh of the Old Testament? Did Paul purposefully apply the title “Lord” from the Shema to Jesus? For the following reasons, this is not the case:

(1) 1 Corinthians 8:6 identifies God as the Father only.

1 Corinthians 8:4 restates the Shema, saying, “there is no God but one.” Then verse 6 continues by using the titles “God” and “Lord” to differentiate between the Father and the Son, explicitly identifying only the Father as God:

For us there is but one God, the Father.”

By implication, Jesus is not God. This distinction between the Father as God and the Son as Lord is a consistent pattern in the New Testament. The article on Colossians, for example, shows that that letter:

    • Uses the title theos always for the Father;
      never for the Son and
    • Uses the title kurios (lord or master) always for the Son;
      never for the Father.

(2) Other “one God” statements do the same.

1 Corinthians 8:6 is one of a number of Paul’s “one God” statements. It would be fair to assume that, with these statements, he applied the Shema, with which he, as a Pharisee, was intimately familiar, within a Christian context. But in all of such “one God’ statements, the Father alone is God, for example:

There is one God,
and one mediator also between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus
” (1 Tim 2:5).

One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God
and Father of all who is over all” (Eph 4:5-6);

(3) Paul consistently identified the Father alone as God.

If Paul thought that Jesus was God, that would have been important information and he would have written that frequently and clearly. However, Paul consistently identified the Father alone as God. For example, he opens every one of his letters with phrases that distinguish between God and Jesus and identify God as the Father, e.g.:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ
” (1 Cor 1:3).

Elsewhere, we find phrases such as “our God and Father” (Phil 4:19-20) and “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory” (Eph 1:17; cf. 1 Tim 6). (For more detail, see Jesus is not God).

(4) Jesus is subordinate to the Father.

As discussed, 1 Corinthians 8:6 emphasizes the distinction between the Father and the Son by describing God (the Father) as the ultimate Source of all things (“from whom are all things”), while Jesus is the Means by which God works (“by whom are all things”). Jesus, therefore, is not only distinct from God; He is also functionally subordinate to the Father. This is also a consistent teaching of the New Testament. For example:

You belong to Christ;
and Christ belongs to God
” (1 Cor 3:23). OR

Christ is the head of every man,
and the man is the head of a woman,
and God is the head of Christ

(1 Cor 11:3; cf. 1 Cor 15:28).

A further indication, that Jesus is subordinate to the Father, is that the Father is also His God (Matt 27:46; John 20:17). Even many years after His resurrection and enthronement, both Revelation and Paul refer to the Father as His God:

He has made us to be …
priests to His God and Father

(Rev 1:6; cf. Rev 3:2, 12; Eph 1:17).

For a further discussion, see – Head of Christ.

(5) The Trinitarian interpretation contradicts the Shema.

In the Trinitarian interpretation of 1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul contradicted the Shema. The main point of the Shema is monotheism, namely that “YHWH, our God, YHWH is one.” In the New Testament, the Father and Jesus are two Persons with two separate wills. For example:

Jesus prayed to His Father. “He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12; cf. John 17:1).

In the night before He was crucified, He prayed, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

The next day, hanging on the Cross, cried out “my God, my God, why have You forsaken me” (Mark 15:34).

(6) The Holy Spirit is not mentioned.

If 1 Corinthians 8:6 explains God, and if the Trinity includes the Holy Spirit, why does this verse not mention the Holy Spirit?

(8) The title “Lord” does not appear in the Shema.

The Shema theory proposes that the words from the Shema, describing YHVH, are redistributed between the Father and the Son, identifying the Son as the “one Lord.” However, the word “Lord” is not found in the Shema. The word in the Shema, which is translated as “the LORD,” is God’s name YHVH.

The counter-argument would be that YHVH is translated as Kurios (Lord) in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), and that the Septuagint was the translation of the Old Testament generally used when Paul wrote. However, HO KYRIOS (the lord) was never exactly synonymous with YHVH. It replaced YHVH when the Jews developed the practice of not mentioning the name of God. Paul was well-educated, and he would have known the difference.

The Dangers of the Trinity Doctrine

(1) The Trinity doctrine is polytheistic.

Since the Father and the Son are separate Persons with separate wills, to understand 1 Corinthians 8:6 as saying that YHVH is actually two Persons would be to contradict the Shema. While Christianity prides in worshipping one God (monotheism), the Trinity doctrine argues that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three separate Persons. This compromises monotheism and risks us to a polytheistic belief system. To say that there are three separate Gods with one substance or being is not what the monotheism of the Bible teaches.

(2) God is presented as severe and unforgiving.

The article on Colossians shows that the Father is the active force in redemption and that He redeems people through His Son. The doctrine of the Trinity has led to atonement theories according to which God is not loving or willing to forgive sin, but has to be persuaded by his Son to forgive. In contrast, such theories present Jesus Christ as kind and merciful and pleading on our behalf before God. To present God in this light is a most grievous sin, for to worship a cruel god, even if one uses the right names, is to worship a false god.

Furthermore, we are saved through faith. Faith is not simply to believe that God exists. Faith means to also trust God. It is not possible to trust a cruel, tyrannical, and arbitrary god. I would say that God’s purpose in giving us the revelations, as contained in the Bible, is to give us hope and to build humanity morally. The theory that God is severe and demanding distorts God’s word. 

(3) Jesus did not die.

We are saved by Christ’s death but the Trinity doctrine tesches that Jesus did not really die. In the Trinity theory, the Son was actually two persons with two natures; a divine and a human nature. While His human nature suffered on the cross and died, His divine nature did not and cannot suffer or die.

(4) The Trinity doctrine led to Mariology.

The adoration of Mary as the Mother of God is a natural consequence of the teaching that Christ is God, the Son.

Final Conclusions

1 Corinthians 8:6 is one of the verses in which Paul applies the Shema in the Christian context. In all such instances, the Father alone is God.

The Father as the Great Source of all things—the uncaused Cause. The Son is the Means through whom God created.

The word that kurios (often translated “Lord”) means “master.

 Paul did not redistribute the words of the Shema between the Father and Jesus to include Jesus into the Yahweh of the Old Testament,

The Dangers of the Trinity Doctrine include polytheism, presented God as severe and unforgiving, teaching that Christ did not really die and led to Mariology.

Available Articles – Christology

Summary Articles

Specific Bible Books

Specific Bible Passages

The origin of the Son

Christ is subordinate to God.

Christ is equal to God.

Jesus is called God.

      • Overview – Overview of the verses that refer to Jesus as theos.
      • Theos – The meaning of theos – the word translated “God.”
      • John 1:18 – The original text of this verse is in dispute.
      • John 20:28 – Did Thomas say that Jesus is God?
      • John’s gospel – Discussion of theos in this gospel.
      • Romans 9:5 – The translation depends on punctuation.
      • Hebrews 1:8 – The next verse says that God is His theos.

The translation of John 1:1

Other

If you are interested in Christology, I recommend Dale Tuggy’s podcasts, even though he understands Christ vastly different from me.

Other Articles Series

Daniel

Revelation

Other Key Articles

For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

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