WORD STUDY – ONE, ECHAD OR YACHID
Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God [is] one LORD:”
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Shakespeare Hamlet Act I, Scene 5
I try not to deal with theology as that is an area outside my expertise. However, I have been called to question on my rendering of the word echad (one) in Hebrew as a collective one which leaves the door open for the doctrine of the Trinity.
I was raised to believe in the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe in the Trinity because I believe the Bible teaches a Trinity and, well, that was the way I was taught from earliest childhood. There are many who do not believe in a Trinity and I will not condemn them because, for the most part, they like me cannot explain it or understand it.
I mean on the one hand we cannot say there are three Gods when the Bible clearly says there is only one God. To believe in three separate and distinct Gods is a heresy known as tritheism. Yet, to believe in only one God performing three separate functions as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is also a heresy known as modalism monarchianism. That is to say I am one person but I am also Chaim the Author, the Professor and the Minister, in other words I perform three different functions or offices but I am still one person.
So you say, “Where is the middle ground?” I have no idea. All I can say is to quote Shakespeare where Hamlet says to his friend Horatio. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio than dreamt of in your philosophy.” Basically, that is saying that man’s knowledge is limited. One thing that was made clear when I was a student at Moody Bible Institute is that we are not saying three gods equal one God, for that is a contradiction. What we are saying is that three persons equal one God and that makes it a paradox rather than a contradiction. A paradox according Webster is a statement or proposition that seems self contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.
One argument that is very common among those who deny the Trinity is based upon the word echad or one in the Jewish Confession or Shema. “Hear, O Israel the Lord our God is one Lord.” Deuteronomy 6:4. Literally in the Hebrew it is the YHWH (Lord) Elohenu (God of us or our God) is Echad YHWH (One Lord). So the paradox of the Trinity is still possible within this verse. However, one may point to the word echad and will say: “Lookie here, that word means one, and only one, not a collective type of one.” I used to consider the word echad as a collective one but I never really had much credible grounds to declare this. So during my studies of the ancient Jewish masters, I searched this out and this is what I found among the teachings of the ancient Jewish masters as to what echad really means.
Most Christian Hebrew teachers tend to teach that echad means one, like its English equivalent for one. They say that the word does not preclude the existence of other objects (as in the sequence “one, two, three . . .”), nor does it preclude its object being composed of parts (we speak of “one nation,” “one forest,” “one person” and “one tree,” despite the fact that each of these consists of many units or components). In other words to take this position on the word echad we could not even teach the possibility of God in three persons. Yet the Jewish masters give an even deeper and more clarifying understanding of the word echad. Remember the Jews are the guardians of the Hebrew language and the Old Testament. I personally believe the teachings of the ancient Jewish master with regard to the Biblical and Classical Hebrew will trump any teachings on the Christian understanding of the Biblical and Classical Hebrew. If you disagree, read no further.
First let me point out that there are two words for one in Hebrew. You have echad which is one and you have yachid which is also one. However, keep in mind that the Jewish masters teach that there are no synonyms in the Classical or Biblical Hebrew. If you have two words meaning the same thing, you must search to find that shade of difference between the two words as they are seemingly the same but in its nature carries certain differences.
I draw upon the teachings based upon Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson who discusses the difference between echad and yachid.
”It would seem that the term yachid, which means ‘singular’ and ‘only one,’ more clearly expresses the ‘perfect simplicity’ of G‑d (which Maimonides states to be the most fundamental principle of the Jewish faith) and the axiom that “there is none else besides Him” (Deuteronomy 4:35).
Chassidic teaching explains that, on the contrary, echad represents a deeper unity than yachid. Yachid is a oneness that cannot tolerate plurality—if another being or element is introduced into the equation, the yachid is no longer yachid. Echad, on the other hand, represents the fusion of diverse elements into a harmonious whole. The oneness of echad is not undermined by plurality; indeed, it employs plurality as the ingredients of unity.
As one chassidic thinker once put it, G‑d did not have to create a world to be yachid. He was singularly and exclusively one before the world was created, and remains so after the fact. It was to express His echad-ness that He created the world, created man, granted him freedom of choice, and commanded him the Torah. He created existences that, at least in their own perception, are distinct of Him, and gave them the tools to bring their lives into utter harmony with His will. When a diverse and plural world chooses, by its own initiative, to unite with Him, the divine oneness assumes a new, deeper expression: G‑d is echad.” Based on the teachings of Lebavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber published in Week in Review.
Note that the rabbinic teaching declares that echad represents the fusion of diverse elements into a harmonious whole. The oneness of echad is not undermined by plurality; indeed, it employs plurality as the ingredients of unity. Thus, even within the most orthodox Jewish teachings the word echad carries the idea of plurality in unity. I personally feel that by this orthodox Jewish definition of echad, we are not contradicting Scripture with the teachings of a Trinity as understood in our classical orthodox theology. If Deuteronomy were to destroy the doctrine of the Trinity it would have had to use the word yachid not echad.