Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Lord our God is One Lord

Mark reports an incident in which a scribe asked Jesus, “What commandment is first of all?” Jesus replied using the words of Scripture, “Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” (Mark 12:29; Deut 6:4). In Mark this statement introduces the first commandment. The statement is the beginning of what Israelites called “the Shema” (Deut 6:4-9) from the Hebrew word for “hear.”

This part of the answer in Jesus’ response, oddly, is omitted by Matthew (22:36) and Luke (10:26-27), making Matthew and Luke disagree with Mark by their omission of the idea of the oneness of God. This statement (the Lord is one) was voted gray by the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar by a mail vote. There were no red votes; 40 persons voted it pink, 53 voted it gray and 7 black (the weighted average of the vote indicated the saying had a 0.44 percent chance of being original with Jesus), which necessitated a gray color in The Five Gospels.1 The color gray signified that “Jesus did not say this but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.”2 The principal rationale for the negative vote is that the saying has singular attestation; that is, it only appears in Mark.3 Singular attestation for the saying, however, should not disqualify the saying, since the Seminar voted numerous sayings with singular attestation as originating with Jesus (for example, Luke 10:30b-35). A second objection to the saying being something Jesus said is that it is an integral part with the dialogue in which it is embedded. But that is also true of other sayings of Jesus approved by the Seminar (for example, Luke 9:59-60, Mark 2:27-28, Matt 22:21).

            Had Jesus grown up in a social context that was even nominally religious he could scarcely have helped being familiar with the Shema or even speaking its words numerous times:

“You shall teach [these words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be a frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the door posts of your house and on your gates” (Deut 6:6-9).

That “the Lord is one” became Judaism’s confession of faith; it both stresses Yahweh’s exclusiveness, and emphasizes that Yahweh is “an integral person, not divisible into a number of other Gods or forces.”4 If the Book of the law discovered in the temple (2 Kgs 22:8-13) and that was responsible for the reforms of Josiah in 622 BCE (2 Kgs 23:1-25) was the Book of Deuteronomy, as is generally assumed,5 the Shema subsequently would have played an important role in the religious life of the Israelite. I see no serious argument causing me to doubt that Jesus shared the view of the Shema that “The Lord, our God, is one Lord.”

            Mark 12:29, however, surfaces a serious clash between Jesus (if he actually shared this idea) and contemporary Christianity. Jesus’ statement “the Lord, our God, is one Lord” seems to me to be something very different from Christianity’s the Lord, our God, is three persons in one.6 What do you think?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1“Voting Records,” Forum (6,3-4 September/December 1990), 271.

2Robert Funk and Roy Hoover, eds., The Five Gospels (Macmillan, 1993), 36-37.

3Five Gospels, 104-105.

4J. A. Wharton, “Shema, The” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 321-22.

5 J. Kenneth Kuntz, The People of Ancient Israel (Harper & Row, 1974), 317-27.

6 C. W. Hedrick, “Public Image and a Triune Deity,” Blog: Wry Thoughts about Religion:


Anonymous said...

Charles, how is Shreve doing?
I haven’t been a fan of the Trinity for a while mostly because it seems cumbersome. But John Cobb has a way of viewing the concept that gave me a little light on the subject. Process theology, which has opened doors for me, sees the Trinity as a force field that adds depth to our feeble attempts to explain the mystery we call God.
That makes more sense to me.

Charles Hedrick said...

Good Morning Kay. Thanks for weighing in! Brother Berry (his first name that he uses since entering the Army) is fighting his way through a second bout of cancer of the prostate. From all I hear it is going well.
I wonder what Jesus would have thought of John Cobb's analysis of the Trinity? I suspect he would have found it as perplexing as many of us do.

Anonymous said...

Hi Charlie,

Some thoughts: (a) Detached from the cosmology of the ancients, I think that "God" is a no(n)sense word describing no/thing. (b) Within the ancient cosmology, Jesus apparently thought of God as a benevolent Father. (3) Taking the Trinity at face value, I prefer a behavioral interpretation, namely that Divinity behaves in three ways: creator, redeemer, counselor. (4) For some time now I've given serious thought to using the word "Life" instead of God. Jesus is one place we might look for a profound example of Life.

Gene Stecher
Chambersburg, Pa.

Charles Hedrick said...

Good Morning Kay,
My response was unclear. I intended to say that the historical man, Jesus, would have been perplexed by the Christian concept of the Trinity. Although I did have a few classes at the Claremont School of Theology, I never had a class with John Cobb. I have ordered a copy of his Process Theology, and Will check out his view of the Trinity. Thanks for prodding me.

Charles Hedrick said...

Hi Gene,
Your statement "Jesus is one place we might look...." should be Jesus, fashioned by the evangelists and modern scholarship, is one place we might look.... Would you agree?