(Deuteronomy 6:4) Doesn’t Scripture Use the Hebrew Word Echad to Refer to God as a Compound Unity?
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one [echad] LORD.”
Oddly, one of the most monotheistic verses in the Bible is used by some trinitarians in an attempt to prove a plurality in God. This text is quoted by devout Jews at least twice a day and they are strictly monotheistic. They see nothing in this verse to imply that God is more than one person. Yet, this verse is used by some trinitarians to support the idea of a plural God.
The word in question is the Hebrew word echad, which was translated “one.” The Hebrews see this as a word that denotes complete singularity, while some trinitarians see it as a word that denotes plurality in a “compound unity,” such as three in one. Some trinitarians claim that echad represents “unified oneness” as opposed to the Hebrew word, yachid which, they say, represents “numeric oneness.” Some trinitarians claim that if Moses wanted to indicate that God is numerically one he would have used the Hebrew word yachid instead of echad. Plugging in the plurality idea into Deuteronomy 6:4 would make it read, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our [Gods] are [a unified group] Lord.” Let us examine how echad and yachid are used in the Bible so we can understand what God is trying to tell us in Deuteronomy 6:4.
Echad is the Hebrew word most commonly used to describe something that is one. Almost every time you find the English word “one” in the Old Testament it was translated from the Hebrew word echad. Echad was used 952 times in the Old Testament. It was translated “one” 687 times. Every language has a word to signify “one” in the sense of counting. In Spanish it is “uno,” in German it is “ein,” in Latin it is “unum,” in Hebrew it is “echad.” When you go to www.translate.google.com and type “one” in the English side and select Hebrew on the translated side it will translate it as echad. The reason for this is that echad simply means “one.” The New American Standard Hebrew Lexicon defines it as, “a primary cardinal number; one.” The Brown-Driver-Brigg’s Hebrew Lexicon says, “one (number).”
There are trinitarian commentaries and lexicons that contain definitions of echad suited to fit their preconceived idea that God is a plural God made up of a compound unity, but that does not make these definitions true. There is a saying among Bible students that says, “Context is king.” This means that the context of how a word is used in the Bible is more valuable than any man-made definition of that word. When writers of the Hebrew Bible wanted to distinguish something as “one,” as opposed to “two” or “three,” they used the word echad. Let us look at a few examples.
When Esau was tricked out of his father’s blessing he complained to his father, “Hast thou but one [echad] blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept” (Genesis 27:38). Here we find that echad literally means “one,” not “two” or more.
When Joseph’s brothers came to him for food they said, “We are all one [echad] man’s sons; we are true men, thy servants are no spies” (Genesis 42:11). Surely these brothers were not saying that they were the sons of a group of men, but rather one and only one. They did not have to use the word yachid to clarify that this “one” man was “only one” man. This idea was naturally inherent in their use of the word echad.
After Joseph accused them of being spies he said, “Send one [echad] of you, and let him fetch your brother” (Genesis 42:16). Joseph was not suggesting to send a group of men back for their brother, but only one.
Joseph’s brothers said to him, “We be twelve brethren, sons of our father; one [echad] is not, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 42:32). When they said, “one is not” they were talking about Joseph, pretending that he had died. Joseph was the only one of the twelve that was missing, and they used echad to explain this.
When God explained to Moses how to build the Ark of the Covenant, He said, “And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. And make one [echad] cherub on the one end, and the other [echad] cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof” (Exodus 25:18, 19). This is a simple math problem, 1+1=2. There are two total cherubims, and one of them is called echad.
When the Bible describes the daily sacrifices of Israel it says, “Now this is that which thou shalt offer upon the altar; two lambs of the first year day by day continually. The one [echad] lamb thou shalt offer in the morning; and the other lamb thou shalt offer at even” (Exodus 29:38, 39). Again, one is literally one, and two is literally two. Echad is the Hebrew word for one.
When Moses finished building the altar and dedicated it, the Bible says, “And his [Nahshon’s] offering was one [echad] silver charger, the weight thereof was an hundred and thirty shekels, one [echad] silver bowl of seventy shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary; both of them were full of fine flour mingled with oil for a meat offering” (Numbers 7:13). Again we see a simple math equation, one charger plus one bowl equals “both of them.” Echad is not a compound unit here either. The bowl and charger are single items, just as the sacrifices mentioned above are single items.
Solomon wrote, “Two are better than one [echad]; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one [echad] will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone [echad] when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one [echad] be warm alone? And if one [echad] prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). It is very clear that Solomon was making a distinction between one person and two persons by using the word echad. Notice that the word echad is also used here for “alone.” Echad definitely carries the idea of absolute singularity. Trying to insert a “compound unity” definition in this verse would render it meaningless.
Another text that clearly shows the singularity of echad is Deuteronomy 17:6, which says, “At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one [echad] witness he shall not be put to death.” Echad could not possibly mean more than one in this verse, since it is set in contrast to two and three.
There are well over six hundred similar examples, and for the sake of conserving space and not wearying you further, we will confine it to the few listed here. The word echad has a plural form that Moses could have used if he had intended for us to believe God is a unified group. We find the plural form of echad in Genesis 29:20, which says, “And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few [echad in its plural form] days, for the love he had to her.” Moses could easily have explained that God is a compound unit or group of Gods if he wanted us to believe this, but He simply said, “The Lord our God is one Lord.” This comes just two chapters after he said, “Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him” (Deuteronomy 4:35), and just one chapter later God said, “Thou shalt have none other gods before me” (Deuteronomy 5:7).
The context requires that we take the word “one” in Deuteronomy 6:4 to mean “one” in its absolute singular sense rather than a unit or group. Despite the fact that even a brief Bible study on the Hebrew word echad reveals that it literally means “one,” a theology professor wrote that in Deuteronomy 6:4 Moses “employed the plural ‘echad (one among others in a joined or shared oneness)” (Woodrow Whidden, The Trinity, coauthored by Jerry Moon, and John Reeve, Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2002). This statement is not true at all. There is a plural form of echad as we saw in Genesis 29:20, but Moses used the singular form in Deuteronomy 6:4. To suggest that Moses was trying to indicate that the one God of the Bible is really “one among others” would mean that there could be dozens of Gods. It is sad when people take a word and try to make it mean the opposite of what was intended by the author. In the same paragraph as the above statement, the author says, yachid “means ‘one’ in the sense of ‘only,’ or ‘alone’” (Ibid.) Yet, echad carries this meaning as well.
Echad is Absolutely Singular
Echad was translated “alone” or “only” several times in the Bible. The Bible says, “Furthermore David the king said unto all the congregation, Solomon my son, whom alone [echad] God hath chosen, is yet young and tender, and the work is great: for the palace is not for man, but for the Lord God” (1 Chronicles 29:1).
“Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone [echad], and blessed him, and increased him” (Isaiah 51:2)
“Geber the son of Uri was in the country of Gilead, in the country of Sihon king of the Amorites, and of Og king of Bashan; and he was the only [echad] officer which was in the land” (1 Kings 4:19)
“Thus saith the Lord GOD; An evil, an only [echad] evil, behold, is come” (Ezekiel 7:5)
Echad is a word that carries strict singularity along with the idea of alone and only. It is not necessary for God to use yachid to indicate His singularity. The fact is, there are several other verses that add strict modifiers to indicate the absolute singularity of God, some of which are in close proximity to Deuteronomy 6:4. (See Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 5:7; Isaiah 44:8; 45:5, 14, 18, 21, 22; 46:9; Joel 2:27; Mark 12:29-34; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, etc.) If, when the Bible says, “the Lord is one Lord” it really means “the Lord is a united group of Lords” then all the other verses that add modifiers to indicate “only one” would have to be reinterpreted. The fact is, Moses had words available to him to signify unity if that is what He wanted to say. He could have used the word yachad, which means, “to be united” (Genesis 49:6), but he did not use it because he did not want us to think God is a group of united persons.
Many Trinitarians seek to find a plural meaning for echad by quoting Numbers 13:23, which says, “And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one [echad] cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs.” Some Trinitarians assert that because the word echad is used here, referring to a cluster of grapes, that the word echad means “one made up of parts, a unit or a group.”
If the above verse would have said, “one [echad] cluster of grapes” when in reality it meant that there were several clusters of grapes, then the argument would hold some validity. If the verse would have said, “one [echad] grape,” when in reality it was referring to a whole cluster of grapes, then we would know that the word echad means more than just one. Yet, the verse mentions only one “cluster of grapes.” The noun that echad refers to in this verse is what is a unit or group, not the word echad.
Echad is used for “ONE cluster of grapes” (Numbers 13:23), “ONE company” (1 Samuel 13:17), “ONE troop” (2 Samuel 2:25), “ONE tribe” (1 Kings 11:13), “ONE nation” (1 Chronicles 17:21). In each case the plurality exists in the noun rather than in the adjective “one.”
Another verse used to attempt to show a compound unity in the word echad is Genesis 1:5, which says, “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first [echad] day.” It is argued that since a day is composed of two parts, the dark and light portions, that the word echad has the meaning of compound unity, or one composed of parts. Again, this argument is unsound. Echad still means one in this verse. The compound portion of the statement, “first day” is not “one,” but “day.” The following verses speak of “the second day,” “the third day,” “the fourth day,” etc. Is it going to be argued that “second” and “third” are also compound unity words just because they are followed by the word “day”? I can say, “one egg” or “one dozen eggs.” The meaning of “one” in these statements is exactly the same in both cases. I could also say, “two eggs” or “two dozen eggs.” Any compound unity in a statement that uses the word “one” is to be found in the word following “one” rather than in “one” itself.
The primary verse that Trinitarians refer to for support for their assertion that echad means more than one is Genesis 2:24, where it says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one [echad] flesh.” Trinitarians sometimes use this verse to try to prove that echad does not mean one. However, the verse did not say that a man and a woman would become one human, nor did it say that they would become one person nor one being. Though the man and the woman would become one flesh, they would still be two persons, two beings, and two humans. Neither would they be joined together to become one body of flesh. Rather, they are to become one family.
In seeking for an understanding of the term “one flesh,” we must not conjecture about the meaning of the word “one,” but rather we should seek for the meaning of the word “flesh” as it is used in this verse. Even in this verse, one still means one, and only one.
The verse is not trying to indicate that there are “two fleshes,” but one flesh. We find in the Bible an explanation of one flesh to show that it signifies a close family relationship. Joseph’s brothers said of him, “Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content” (Genesis 37:27). Paul called his Jewish brethren, “my flesh” (Romans 11:14) to indicate their close blood relationship. The Bible even translates the Hebrew word רשׂב (basar) that was translated “flesh” in Genesis 2:24 as “kin” in Leviticus 18:6 and 25:49. The New American Standard Bible translates it “blood relative.” With this understanding for “flesh” it is clear that the expression “one flesh” in Genesis 2:24 means that the two married people are to be considered as closely related as “blood relatives.” They become one family, not two families, but one. One still means one in this verse. Any compound unity resides in flesh rather than “one.”
One Means One
The Hebrew word echad functions exactly the same in Hebrew as our English word “one.” I could say, “My wife, children, and I make one family.” The word “family” indicates more than one within it, but the word “one” still means one. If you offer to pay me “one hundred dollars” for a day’s labor, it would be wrong for me to expect to receive two hundred or more dollars just because the word, “hundred,” that follows “one” indicates plurality within it. If I came to you the next day and you agreed to buy my wristwatch for “one dollar,” it would be illogical for me to expect you to pay me three dollars. It would not help my case for me to claim, “You used the word ‘one’ in a plural sense yesterday, so I expected that you would give me at least two dollars for my watch because one is plural.” It is easy to see how illogical my position would be if I followed this line of reasoning. If I were to try to take you to court to sue you for the extra money I feel entitled to, the judge would dismiss my case immediately because it is based on a false premise.
The above argument is very easy to dismiss as illogical. Yet, when the same type of flimsy argument is used to support the trinity, by the use of the word echad, many people accept it as gospel truth. Even theologians grasp onto this reasoning and repeat it in their works, until it is so often repeated that it takes on the appearance of fact. We must not rest content with man-made theories that have no basis in reality to support our belief in a doctrine. The fact that trinitarians have to go to such lengths to seek for support of the trinity is virtually proof that it is not true. When a person needs to grasp at straws to support their position it is a good indication that their position is not worth holding up.
The Hebrew word echad in its singular form, as in Deuteronomy 6:4, means one and only one in every case. There is not even one example of echad in its singular form meaning more than one, even though it is used over 900 times in the Bible. When God inspired Moses to say, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one [echad] Lord,” He meant just that. There is one, and only one, “Lord our God,” and not a unity of three gods.
In case the evidence examined is not enough to settle the matter, Jesus gave us a divine commentary on this verse that we can be certain is truthful. Jesus quoted this verse in Mark 12. A Jewish leader approached Him and asked, “Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question” (Mark 12:28-34).
Notice the exchange here. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4, and then the scribe commented on this verse, “…there is one God; and there is none other but he…” Here we find that this Jew understood Deuteronomy 6:4 to mean, “There is one God; and none other but he.” In case trinitarians are uncertain whether echad indicates exclusive singularity this Jew used very precise and exclusive language. Three statements indicate singularity. He said, “There is one God” and “there is none other” and “he.” This Jewish leader understood that God is a singular individual being and none other but He. When we compare this verse with John 8:54 we find an interesting connection. Here Jesus was dialoguing with the Jewish leaders when He said, “If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God.” When a Jew says “God” they are referring to the Person Jesus identified as His Father, and this verse demonstrates that Jesus knew that the Jews had this understanding. In Mark 12:32 it is certain that the scribe understood Deuteronomy 6:4 to be referring exclusively to God, the Father, as the one and only God, beside whom “there is none other.”
When Jesus heard this, the Bible says, “Jesus saw that he answered discreetly [or wisely].” Jesus recognized that this man answered well, and then Jesus said, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” Jesus did not correct this man for his understanding, but instead complimented him for his good answer. Here is divine approval for the understanding that echad literally means one and only one in Deuteronomy 6:4.
In contrast to Jesus Christ’s commentary on Deuteronomy 6:4, notice what some commentators say about it:
“This does not mean Jehovah is one God, …” (Keil & Delitzsch OT Commentary on Deuteronomy 6:4)
“The three-fold mention of the Divine names, and the plural number of the word translated God, seem plainly to intimate a Trinity of persons, even in this express declaration of the unity of the Godhead” (Matthew Henry Commentary on Deuteronomy 6:4)
“One in Three, and Three in One. Here are three words answering the three persons” (John Trapp’s Commentary on Deuteronomy 6:4)
It is amazing what some people can read into the Bible that is not there. There is no way that Moses or any of his contemporaries would have understood Deuteronomy 6:4 to have reference to a trinity or any more than just one Person. The only way a person could find that theory in this text is if they already had the preconceived idea before reading it. This is something that could not have happened until the Catholic Church formulated the doctrine in the fourth century AD, just as prophesied in Daniel 11:36-39.
The New Testament has just as strong language to signify the singularity of God as is found in the Old Testament. Jesus said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Jesus called His Father “the only true God,” and Paul wrote, “As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6).
Trinitarians would have us believe that if Moses had wanted us to believe God is only one numerically single individual that he would have used the word yachid instead of echad. Yet, this is definitely not the case. We have already seen that echad is equivalent to our English word “one.” Yachid means, “only, only one, solitary, one, unique, only begotten son” (Brown-Driver-Brigg’s Hebrew Lexicon). Yachid is only used 12 times in the Bible, 8 of which refer to only begotten children. The remaining 4 instances are used to mean “solitary” or “lonely” in a negative sense. It is much more likely that if Moses had wanted to indicate that God is one singular individual he would have used echad rather than yachid, and that is precisely what he did.
In any language the word for the numeral “one” is widely used. We find the English word “one” in the Old Testament over 1,000 times. The majority of those times it was translated from the Hebrew word echad. Yachid, on the other hand, is only used 12 times and most often refers to only begotten children. The fact that this word is not used in reference to God, the Father, is not surprising at all. To argue that since this word is never used for God then He must be a plural being does not make sense. To argue from the lack of evidence is not a wise premise. The fact is, there are many verses that employ very exclusive singular terms for the Father, such as “one God,” “none other,” “none else,” “beside me there is no God,” etc. It is not necessary to conclude that since God did not use a particular word to indicate His singularity that He must not be a single Person. There are lots of single items or persons in the Bible that are not described by the use of yachid. Are we to conclude that they are not singular because the obscure word we want God to use is missing? If God, the Father, wanted to indicate that He is “only begotten” or “lonely,” then we could expect Him to use yachid. Certainly we would not expect God, the Father, to want to convey these ideas about Himself, so we should expect that He would not use yachid to define Himself.
There is absolutely no biblical basis to claim that since echad is used instead of yachid to define God’s singularity that He must be more than one Person. The biblical evidence is of more value to discover the truth than any man-made commentary or dictionary definition. The facts are clear, “There is but one God, the Father” (1 Corinthians 8:6).