There is no one like God. Yet, a common misconception about the faith of New Covenant believers is that we are teach belief in “three gods.” New Covenant teachings, however, prove otherwise: “And Yeshua answered him and said, ‘The first of all the commandments is: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.’” (Mark 12:29; see also 1 Cor. 8:4; James 2:19).
New Covenant faith is monotheistic; the word “Trinity” itself is a contraction of “Tri-unity,” emphasizing that God is One. Sadly though, confusion prevails because of general ignorance about what is often called God’s “mystery nature.”
The Testimony of the Jewish Scriptures
The testimony presented by the Jewish Scriptures is our authority for knowing about God, and as we look into Torah specifically we see the basis of the Unity of God presented: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). As one Jewish man commented to me, “God is mentioned three times right there in the verse that speaks of His oneness!”
True, but for now let us notice that the word “one” (echad in Hebrew), can point to a oneness-in-plurality. For example, when God established the marriage relationship, the Scripture states: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife; and the two shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Here we see that echad is not used to indicate something utterly singular, but rather a oneness in plurality. Numbers 13:23 also uses the word echad to speak of one cluster of grapes that does not contain one but a plurality of grapes!
If the Scriptures had wanted to describe God as one in the singular sense with no possibility of a Triune nature, there is another word that could have been used: yachid. God used this word when speaking to Abraham about Isaac: “Take now your son, your only (yachid) son” (Genesis 22:2).
Although Abraham had another son, Ishmael, God refers to Isaac as a one-of-a-kind son, the son of the covenant (this language prefigures Messiah as shown in Hebrews 11:17; John 3:16).
Yachid is used twelve times in the Hebrew Scriptures, and each time speaks of a unique or lone oneness (Genesis 22:2, 12, 16; Judges 11:34; Jeremiah 6:26; Amos 8:10; Zechariah 12:10; Psalm 22:20; 25:16; 35:17; 68:6; Proverbs 4:3). However, the word yachid is never used regarding God! In light of the rampant polytheism (worship of many gods) in the ancient world, yachid would have been useful if the Scriptures were to deny the notion of there being more than one person who is God. Yachid is never used in the Bible to describe the Divine nature, and to use it in that way would have been to deny the reality of the triune nature of God.
Tradition or Truth?
There is a different place where yachid is used to describe God– in the Thirteen Principles of Faith written by the famous medieval sage Maimonides (Rambam). He wrote the second of the thirteen principles specifically to deny the triune nature of God. This principle reads:
“I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, is a Unity (yachid), and that there is no unity in any manner like unto His, and that He alone is our God, who was, is, and will be.”
We agree that the Creator is a Unity; in fact, there is no other unity like His; indeed, God alone is Eternal.
Yet it is interesting that the word used for God’s Unity here is yachid. Prior to Maimonides, the word echad was always used when referring to God’s Unity. As the polemical conflict between Rabbinic Judaism and hostile anti-Jewish Christendom worsened, the rabbis’ concept of God became defined increasingly in contrast to Christian teaching. Sadly, down to our own day this conflict has led to deep misunderstanding of what the Scriptures themselves teach. However, the biblical view of God’s nature has been preserved by a remnant of the Jewish community— Jewish followers of Yeshua.
This nature of God is often presupposed in Scripture, not explained. This is why we come across interesting portions such as the following in Genesis:
“The Lord rained upon Sodom brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven.” (Genesis 19:24)
The Lord was on the earth raining down fire and brimstone, also coming from the Lord out of heaven. The Hebrew text presents Him as if there are two distinct persons, in two places at once!
Even from the first verse of Genesis, it is interesting that the word used for God, Elohim, has a plural ending. When God created man, we are brought into the counsels of God’s own heart:
“And God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)
Notice the plural possessive pronoun “Our.” Various theories have been given for why such language is used. Yet the passage does not indicate that God was speaking to angels, as it goes on to say:
“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
HaShem (God, literally “The Name”) alone is the Creator, not a group of “angelic artists,” and it is HaShem’s image in whom we have been created, not the image of angels. The best explanation for the word usage in this verse is that the plural pronouns point to a mystery which is internal to God’s own nature.
Isaiah the Prophet also assumes this nature of God in several instances. In the vision of his own commission as a prophet of Israel, Isaiah writes:
“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Who will go for Us, whom shall We send?’” (Isaiah 6:8)
Once more in God’s own counsel, God refers to Himself with a plural pronoun. Isaiah again assumes this unity-in-plurality of God’s Nature when he refers to the practical activity of God concerning our redemption:
“Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time it was, there am I; now the Lord God and His Spirit has sent Me.” (Isaiah 48:16)
God alone is from the beginning, even as it says in Genesis 1:1, “in the beginning God created Heaven and earth.” Earlier in the 48th chapter of Isaiah, the Lord says this:
“I have declared the former things from the beginning; they went forth from My mouth, and I caused them to hear it. Suddenly I did them, and they came to pass. … Before it came to pass I proclaimed it to you, so that you would not say, ‘My idol has done them, and My graven image and my molten image have commanded them.’” (Isaiah 48:3, 5).
Thus in Isaiah 48:16, it is the Lord Himself (“Me”) who is sent by the Lord God and His Spirit! Many more portions of the Jewish Scriptures address this same truth: There is only One God. Yet this one God is revealed in three Persons: Father (Isaiah 63:16; 64:8), Son (Isaiah 9:5; Proverbs 30:4), and the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 48:16; 63:10; or the Spirit of God, Isaiah 63:14).
In light of the many polytheistic religions surrounding Israel at that time, the Tanakh emphasized the oneness of God, while remaining faithful to the subtle teaching of His mystery nature. The New Covenant now progressively reveals more of this Tri-unity (as in Matthew 28:19, “…immersing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…”), while still being faithful to the truth that there is only one God.
The New Covenant reveals the truth of God’s triune nature, not to imply that there is more than one god, but to be faithful to the revelation of God’s nature as seen in Tanakh. The Tri-unity is not a contradiction of the oneness of God, but rather the best explanation of His oneness.
Admittedly, understanding these matters can be difficult, but God’s triune nature is better appreciated if we see its application for our lives. To know the Triune God is to know One who is eternally relational. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are fully God, and in community with one another. The Eternal God is love because Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in eternal fellowship together. Thus Yeshua can say, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
We read from Genesis 1:27 that God made us in His image: “male and female He created them.” God also created us for relationship with Him and with each other. Since relationship is intrinsic to the Triune God, it is intrinsic to our lives as well.
Trusting in this matter also shows us our finite limitations, as shown in the story of the theologian Augustine where he was walking along a beach, trying to understand the Tri-unity. As he struggled in thought (“three in one, one in three… Oy vey!”), he saw a young boy digging a hole in the seashore and running to the ocean over and over taking water to pour it into the hole.
Augustine asked, “Child, what are you doing?” to which the boy replied, “I’m just trying to put the ocean in this hole!” Augustine laughed and said to himself, “that’s what I was trying to do, too!”
Mysteries are not like problems to be solved, but rather places where we should fall down to worship. Rather than believe only what we can comprehend, we have faith in God’s testimony:
“Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts. For as the heaven is higher than the earth, so My thoughts are higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
In the end, our faith rests on trusting the testimony of Scripture as the true revelation of God; regarding both His nature, and His method of reconciling sinful people to Himself; His free gift of forgiving sins through the atonement in Messiah Yeshua!
For more Messianic questions, we’ve got answers for you!