Echad is simply the numeral “one” in Hebrew. “Jehovah is one LORD,” so states Deuteronomy 6:4. The same word, echad, also appears as a modifier for Abraham in
Ezekiel 33:24, (“only one man”-NIV). Isaiah 51:2 also describes Abraham as “one/echad.” Echad appears in translation variously as the numeral “one,” “only,” “alone,” “undivided,” “one single.” It’s most natural meaning is “one and not two” (Ecc 4:8). There is nothing at all in the word Jehovah which even remotely suggests a plurality. The word occurs with singular verbs and pronouns in all of its approximately 5550 occurrences. It is important to note that the One God is identified as the Father in Malachi 1:6 and 2:10.
The claim that “one” really means “compound unity” is a perfect example of argument by assertion without logical proof. The argument involves an easily detectable linguistic fallacy. Echad appears some 650 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and in not one single case does the word itself carry even a hint of plurality. It means strictly “one” not two or more. Echad is of course a numerical adjective and naturally enough will sometimes be found modifying a collective noun- one family, one bunch, one herd. But as noted, we must be careful to understand that the sense of plurality resides in the compound noun and never in the word one/echad.
In the second chapter of Genesis, we are told that, “the two will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Yet even here, the word one means precisely ONE and no more--one flesh--not two “fleshes”! This point can be confirmed by any standard lexicon of Biblical Hebrew. For instance, Koehler and Baumgartner give as the fundamental or primary meaning of echad, “one single” (Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. 1967). You will see this plainly illustrated in scripture in verses such as: Job 12:9-24; I Kings22:8; Ezekiel 33:24 and 48:31-34. Thus when we come to the matter of Deuteronomy 6:4, the text is informing us that Israel’s Supreme God, Jehovah-Elohim, is “one single LORD,” or “one Lord alone.”
It is necessary to belabor this point, as well as the truth about Elohim, the trinity in Creation, and the “us” verses, because they represent key components of the trinitarian stronghold. They build their case for a multi-personal God on what they believe to be a firm foundation in the Hebrew. The simple fact however, is that linguistically, echad never means or even implies “compound unity,” but strictly an “absolute numerical oneness,” hence, its translation into the Greek by the Greek numeral one- heis.
Since this strange argument regarding a supposed plurality in the numeral one is so pervasive and has been uncritically accepted by Christians everywhere, we should note the words of Gregory Boyd. In his book, Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity, Boyd, a Trinitarian refers to the arguments for both Elohim and echad as “weak,” and claims they “really prove nothing.” He notes the frailty of both arguments and concludes that no case for a multi-personal God can be based on them. (Boyd.1995.47.48).
Considering the Greek heis, which always translates the Hebrew echad, we find it to always refer to a single individual. Jesus said, “But be not ye called rabbi, for one [heis] is your master and all ye are brothers. And call no man your father upon the earth, for one [heis] is your Father, which is in Heaven. Neither be ye called masters; for one [heis] is your master even Christ.” (Mt 23:8-10). In each case “one” means precisely one person.
For Paul Christ is “one person” [heis]: “[God] saith not ‘and to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘and to thy seed,’ which is Christ” (Gal 3:16). Only a few verses later, Paul uses the exact language in reference to God.
“Now a mediator is not a mediator of one [heis], but God is one [heis]” (Gal 3:20). The meaning of course is that God is “one party” or “one person.” All of this is consistent with the uniform testimony of scripture that God is one.
It is true that heis can designate a collective unity: “ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27). But this meaning is quite inappropriate in reference to God who is consistently described by singular pronouns and equated with the Father, who is obviously one person.
Occasionally the argument is made that if numerical oneness was what was meant for God, it would have been better described by the Hebrew word yachid, “solitary, isolated, the only one.” However, yachid is rare in Biblical Hebrew and because it carries the meaning of “lonely” or “only-begotten” is inappropriate as a description of God.
The use of echad is quite sufficient to indicate that God is one person.
There is however, another Hebrew word, bad, which does in fact describe the one God. It means “alone, by oneself, or isolated.” Deuteronomy 4:35 states that “there is none else beside Him.”
God’s absolute numerical oneness is similarly emphasized when He is addressed: “Thou, even Thou art LORD (Jehovah) alone” (Neh 9:6). “Thou art the
God, even Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth” (II Kings 19:15), “Thou art God alone” (Ps 86:10). In short then, the one God of the Bible is not a plurality or a trinity. He is a single being (Person), unrivaled and in a class all His own. He is one, absolutely, with all of the mathematical simplicity that word implies.
A search of the Hebrew Scriptures for any sign of a duality or trinity of divine persons active in creation will prove fruitless.
“There is in the Old Testament no indication of distinctions in the Godhead: it is an anachronism to find the doctrine…of the trinity in its pages.” (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics.1913. 6:254).
“Theologians today are in agreement that the Hebrew Bible does not contain a doctrine of the trinity.” (The Encyclopedia of Religion.1987.15:54).
“The doctrine of the trinity is not taught in the Old Testament.” (New Catholic Encyclopedia).
The Old Testament is strictly monotheistic; it reveals God as a single personal being. The idea that a trinity can be found there, either explicitly or by implication, is an assumption that has long held sway in theology, but is absolutely without foundation. To propose a Godhead of more than one person requires us to cast aside the ordinary rules of language and grammar. Respected and responsible historians, both secular and religious, agree that the Jews of Jesus’ time held firmly to faith in a uni-personal God.
How ironic that throughout history, Christian theologians have denied the Jews the right to explain the meaning of their God in their own scriptures. Rare indeed are those with the ability to deal truthfully with the scriptures on this vital issue. A notable exception writes: “The Old Testament tells us nothing explicitly or by necessary implication of a triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit…There is no evidence that any sacred writer even suspected the existence of a [trinity] within the Godhead…even to see in the Old Testament suggestions or foreshadowing or “veiled” signs of a trinity of persons, is to go beyond the words and intent of the writers.” (Fortman.1972.xv, 8, 9).
Perhaps it is time for these ancient voices to be heard again!