Thursday, August 11, 2016

Jesus Quotes the Jewish Shema: Does That Mean He Was A Unitarian?

In discussions of the Trinity and identity of Jesus, a frequent argument made by our Muslim friends is that Jesus was a unitarian because he quotes from the Jewish Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4 when asked about the greatest commandment. Here is the text from Mark 12:28-34:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
The man who had asked him the question had a unitarian concept of God. Notice that Jesus does not say to the man "You have entered the kingdom of God." Rather, He says "You are not far from the kingdom of God." In other words, he still had not yet reached it. But what does Jesus go on to say in verses 35-37?
While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight.
Here, Jesus identifies the Lord of Psalm 110 seated at Yahweh's right hand as the Messiah. Since Muslims and Christians both accept Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, we can agree that Jesus thus asserts Himself to be the Lord of Psalm 110. The Hebrew word used for "my Lord" in Psalm 110 is Adoni (the possessive form of Adon). Now, this is not necessarily a title of deity, as it can be used of individuals who are not God. However, in verse 5-7 of Psalm 110, we read,
The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. He will drink from a brook along the way, and so he will lift his head high.
In the Hebrew, verse 5 does indeed identify the one seated at Yahweh's right hand as none other than Adonai, a word used only ever of deity. Thus, Psalm 110 implies a plurality of divine persons within the Godhead. One possible reply to this is that Psalm 110:5 is merely the reversal of Psalm 110:1. Just as David's Lord sits at the right hand of Yahweh, so also Yahweh is at the right hand of David's Lord. For instance, in Psalm 109:31, Yahweh is at the right hand of the needy one, and in Psalm 16:8, Yahweh is at the right hand of the Psalmist David. The problem with this argument is that if one continues reading Psalm 110, it is clear that the "He's" of verses 5-7 all refer back to Adonai, and in verse 7 this individual is said to drink from a brook -- a human function. Thus, the individual seated at Yahweh's right hand in Psalm 110 is a divine-human person.

Another response that might be leveled against this is that the masoretic vowel pointing which distinguishes between the terms Adoni and Adonai in fact developed centuries later and so we cannot have certainty about which meaning is intended by the Psalmist. How, then, can we tighten this argument further?

In Psalm 16:2, we read,
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”
Moreover, in Psalm 35:23, we read,
Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and my Lord. 
Clearly, David's Lord in those texts is God Himself. Yet without the later Masoretic vowel pointing, these texts are indistinguishable from Psalm 110:1. If one accepts the Masoretic vowel pointing in regards to Psalm 110:1, then one must be consistent and accept it in regards to Psalm 110:5, in which the one seated at Yahweh's right hand is identified as Adonai.

In our text in Mark 12, Jesus makes the argument (verse 37) that "David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The point Jesus is making is that none of David's descendants could be greater than David. This, then, cannot be referring to David's son. The question is thus raised as to what sort of Lord this could possibly be referring to.

But we can go even further than that. David's Lord also cannot be any human king, since in Psalm 2:10-12 all kings are to be subject to David, and Psalm 89:26-27 tells us that,
I will appoint him [David] to be my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.
It also cannot be a mere angelic creature since angels serve God's elect and are servants themselves (see Hebrews 1:7, 14 and Revelation 19:10 and 22:8-9). Who, then, is left? God.

Thus, Psalm 110:1 is a powerful proof-text for two divine Persons.

Moreover, David's Lord is said to be sitting at God's right hand. Now, where is God's throne? Psalm 2:4 tells us that,
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
Psalm 11:4 tells us that,
The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them.
Psalm 103:19 tells us that,
The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.
Thus, if Yahweh is enthroned in heaven, then David's Lord must be seated in Heaven as well.

This presents yet further difficulties for Islam. For instance, Surah 3:80 in the Qur'an says,
Nor could he order you to take the angels and prophets as lords. Would he order you to disbelief after you had been Muslims?
Surah 25:2, furthermore, says,
He to whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and who has not taken a son and has not had a partner in dominion and has created each thing and determined it with [precise] determination.
Thus, how could David and Jesus be Muslims if David worshiped Messiah as his Lord and speaks of him seated with God in heaven?

Jesus thus re-interprets the Shema in Mark 12:29 in light of Psalm 110:1 in 12:35-37 so as to include Himself as the Messiah within the Shema as Israel's one Lord. This also provides a basis for Paul's reformulation of the Shema in 1 Corinthians 8;6, when he writes,
...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.
In conclusion, then, it is no coincidence that Jesus immediately follows his quotation of the Shema up with Psalm 110:1 to affirm that the one Lord is multi-Personal. Thus, a read of the context surrounding Jesus' allusion to the Shema reveals his concept of God as multipersonal.


Lavir said...

Even in the rabbinic tradition we find the Messiah associated with Psalm 110 (so much so for modern rabbis trying to insist that the Gospel of Mark willfully misrepresent the Psalm):

T’fillat R. Shimon ben Yochai:
“...And the Holy one, blessed be He, will fight for Israel and will say to the Messiah: ‘Sit at my right.’ [Psalm 110:1] And the Messiah will say to Israel: ‘Gather together and stand and see the salvation of the Lord.’” - T’fillat R. Shim’on ben Yohai (BhM 4:124-26), p.159.

Midrash Tehilim:
“In the decree of the prophets it is written ‘Behold My servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high’ (Isaiah 52:13), and it is also written ‘Behold My servant, whom I uphold; Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth’ (Isaiah 42:1). In the decree of the writings it is written, ‘The Lord said unto my lord: Sit thou at My right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.’ (Psalm 110:1)…and it is written, ‘The Lord said to me, you are my son’ (Psalm 2:7)... R. Yudan said: ‘All these goodly promises are in the decree of the King, the King of kings, who will fulfill them for the lord Messiah.’” - Rabbi William G. Braude; trans., Leon Nemroy, ed., Midrash on the Psalms

Midrash waYosha:
“...And Armilus will hear that a king arose for Israel, and he will gather the armies of all the nations of the world, and they will come to King Messiah and to Israel. And the Holy One, blessed be He, will fight for Israel and will say to the Messiah: ‘Sit at my right’ [Psalm 110:1].…And instantly the Holy One, blessed be He, will go forth and fight against them…” - Patai (English translation), pp. 158, 159.

As it is always the case the modern rabbis willfully reject their own traditions and pretend they never existed when it is convenient for them. It is pretty clear that in the case of Psalm 110 the Masoretic scribes altered the vowel pointings in a way that the text did read "adoni" instead of "Adonai". They altered the text other times to mislead readers and not get them see the connections with Jesus (the most glaring case is Psalm 22 when they changed ka'aru" כארו - pierce/make an hole - with "ka'ari" כארי - like a lion - by altering the last letter and you can see that in the Qumran scrolls).

Naram-Sin said...

Jesus Quotes the Jewish Shema: Does That Mean He Was A Unitarian?

No, he quoted it because he was Jewish. Of course, Matthew doesn't include it at all. Matt. 22:34-40. The more import thing is that Jesus answers the question by saying "love the Lord thy God." This was all that was needed; the question asked for nothing more. However, Jesus didn't stop there and added "And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Why? Because the two go together and cannot, in reality be separated. The entire gospel is Dependant on both. Taking one without the other, makes it meaningless.

Samuel Green said...

Jonathan McLatchie would you say that the apostle Paul is bringing together Deut. 6:4-5 and Ps. 110 when he writes: "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." (1 Cor. 8:6)?


Both the NASB and the NKJV capitalize the "y" in "Your" to indicate that the pronoun refers to Almighty God.

5 The Lord is at Your right hand;
He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.- Ps. 110:5 NASB

5 The Lord is at Your right hand;
He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath.- Ps. 110:5 NKJV

So, I do think verse 5 is suggestive. But I don't think it's definitive. Since it could be interpreted in other ways. As even John Gill (18th century) and today's NET Bible's footnotes indicate.

John Gill wrote:
These words are either directed to Christ, at whose right hand the Lord was to help and assist him, Psa_16:8 or to the church, consisting of the Lord's willing people, at whose right hand he is to save them; is ready to help them, and is a present help to them in time of need, Psa_109:31 or rather to Jehovah the Father, at whose right hand the "Adonai", or Lord, even David's Lord, and every believer's Lord, is, as in Psa_110:1, and who is spoken of in all the following clauses; and to whom the things mentioned are ascribed...

The NET Bible footnote says:

As pointed in the Hebrew text, this title refers to God (many medieval Hebrew mss read יְהוָה, yehveh, “Lord” here). The present translation assumes that the psalmist here addresses the Lord as he celebrates what the king is able to accomplish while positioned at God’s “right hand.” According to this view the king is the subject of the third person verb forms in vv. 5b-7. (2) Another option is to understand the king as the addressee (as in vv. 2-3). In this case “the Lord” is the subject of the third person verbs throughout vv. 5-7 and is depicted as a warrior in a very anthropomorphic manner. In this case the Lord is pictured as being at the psalmist’s right hand (just the opposite of v. 1). See Pss 16:8; 121:5. (3) A third option is to revocalize אֲדֹנָי (’adonay, “Lord”) as אֲדֹנִי (’adoniy, “my lord”; see v. 1). In this case one may translate, “My lord, at his [God’s] right hand, strikes down.” In this case the king is the subject of the third person verbs in vv. 5b-7.

Either way, since the vowel pointing wasn't standardized until AFTER the beginning of the Christian era, for all we know the the Lord in verses 1 and 5 could both be pointed as adoni, or adonai or one as adoni and the other as adonai. Obviously, the Masoretes would have a vested interest in pointing them in a way that would not support a Christian understanding. But we don't know whether they did or not in either verse.

Finally, I've read an interesting argument against reading verse 1 as "adoni" that I don't know if it works or not. The claim is that "adoni" means "my lord" and that if that's the correct pointing in verse 1, then it would read "YHWH says to MY MY Lord..." The claim being it would be nonsensical and redundant for the psalmist to say "my my". Again, I don't know if that works linguistically.

For these reasons I don't appeal to Ps. 110:1, 5 to demonstrate plurality in the OT. Especially since there are better and stronger passages to appeal to.


Regarding the Shema it's interesting that the Shema refers to God three times regardless of how one translates it.

Yahweh (is) our God, Yahweh alone.
Yahweh our God (is) one Yahweh.
Yahweh our God, Yahweh (is) one.
Yahweh (is) our God, Yahweh (is) one.
Our one God, (is) Yahweh, Yahweh.

In Mark 12:29 David H. Stern notes in his Jewish New Testament Commentary:

" ...Likewise, here in the Sh'ma (Deuteronomy 6:4) there are two such r'mazim: (1) the triple reference to God, and (2) the use of the word "echad," which often means a multiple unity (such as "one" cluster of grapes or "one" bundle of sticks) instead of "yachid," which nearly always excludes multiple oneness." -page 97

R'mazim is plural for remez.

Stern defines it thus: Remez ("hint") — wherein a word, phrase or other element in the text hints at a truth not conveyed by the p'shat. The implied presupposition is that God can hint at things of which the Bible writers themselves were unaware. - page 12

I wouldn't go as far as Stern in saying "echad" sometimes MEANS a multiple unity, rather that it can refer to a multiple unity. Echad merely means "one" (whether singular or multiple).

The triple reference to God in the Shema isn't unique. Different kinds of triple references to God occur in the OT. For example, in the Aaronic Blessing and elsewhere.

Ordinary Logic said...

Word Eloheinu in Shema is a PLURAL word , and the word Yhvh in Shema is being read Adonai instead of Yahweh and interestingly Adonai is also PLURAL form of word Master(Adon). This is an acknowledgement of God's plurality in His incomprehensible Oneness (this also means 'Adoni' in Psalm 110 refers not to Father nor Spirit but only one particular person within the Triune Godhead which is Christ).

So any interpretation claiming Shema as some sort of 'unitarian creed' is in a total ignorance, since the only two words within shema which describe God are all PLURAL.

Isaiah 46:5 & 9 “With whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?

Isiah 46:9b, I am God, and there is none like me

The Oneness of God can't be compared with the oneness of His creations.

His Union within His Oneness can't be measured by distance and space, any attempt to analyze and put the oneness of God under some 'scale of measurement' is a form of shirk&blasphemy, any muslim (and christians too) should realize this.

A muslim who'analyzes&measures' the Oneness of the Triune God in reality has already presuppositioned in his mind to disqualify and disregard the divine status of God of christians, because not only oneness of God is too incomprehensible to fathom but the vital point here how can God be God if His sacred essence can be measured? this means if even the oneness of His essence had been able to be'properly measured' it just would've proved He is not divine after all.

Gen 1:26 says God created man likened to Him, this is not contradicting Isa 46 because 'the act of likening' is His sovereign right and not ours. His wisdom in measuring is absolutely unreachable for understanding.

JMoses said...

The "day of his wrath" in Psalm 110:5 is clearly a reference to Yaweh because it is a reference to the Judgment of Yaweh upon this earth. It is the Messiah who is angry and full of wrath. Why? Because He is Yaweh also. Psalm 110 taken as a whole is definitely a reference to the Divine wrath of Yaweh. The Messiah is not just a tool of Yaweh's wrath, but he also posseses this wrath indicative of the fact that the kings of the earth have sinned against the Messiah. To sin against God is to sin against the Messiah, to sin against the Messiah is to sin against God. His wrath is coming.