Sabbath School Commentary: The Oneness of God

INTRODUCTION

The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide for the first quarter of 2012 is entitled Glimpses of Our God. Its’ principal contributor is Jo Ann Davidson, Ph.D., professor of theology at Andrews University Seminary, the flagship university of the Adventist Church. She has also written a book with the same title to accompany the lesson.[1]

The objective of this quarter’s lesson is to “look at God, at various aspects of Him as they have been revealed to us, and at what these things mean for us on a practical level.”[2] In other words, the church will be engaged in doing theology (θεολογία), studying God,[3] and determining how that theology can impact everyday life.

The first lesson addresses the topic of the trinity. The official Adventist position, as stated in fundamental belief number two (the Godhead): “There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons. God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present. He is infinite and beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation. He is forever worthy of worship, adoration, and service by the whole creation.”[4]

Publically, during my presentations on the doctrine of the trinity, I’ve argued that one cannot accept the doctrine without (1) believing in the diety of Christ and (2) that the Holy Spirit is both a person (a being as opposed to a force) and divine. Whereas the first lesson addresses the divinity of Christ[5] and the Holy Spirit,[6] it does not cover the personhood of the Spirit. These two topics, I believe, are the most problematic for those who find it difficult to accept the doctrine of the trinity. This article is a short treatment of January 1’s lesson, “The Oneness of God.”[7]

ONE GOD

For any Christian who has ever set out to seek whether they should accept a belief, personal Bible study has always, and should always be, the manner with which they assess that belief. Their acceptance of it should be base on whether they have favorable evidence. The same approach should be use when it comes to the trinity doctrine: “precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isa. 28:10, ESV). The principle, as is seen from Isaiah 28:10, is that by putting bits and pieces from various sections, one can arrive at “knowledge” (Isa. 28:9 ESV).

The Sabbath school lesson begins by making a case for God’s oneness. The focus is primarily on two Old Testament passages, Exodus 3:13-15 and Deuteronomy 6:4 (The Shema). In order to help students of the guide better understand why these two texts are significant for understanding God’s oneness, two questions are ask. The first question is for the student to identify evidence of God’s oneness in Exodus 3, and the second is an investigation of the Hebrew word for “one” used in Deuteronomy 6.

Exodus 3

In Exodus 3, we find Moses’ first recorded encounter with God. Theologians call such an encounter a theophany, “the self-disclosure of God.”[8] While shepherding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, Moses manages to make his way to Horeb, “the mountain of God” (Ex. 3:1).[9] The text does not state whether he knew of the significance of where he was prior to his arrival there (perhaps Jethro may have told him about the mountain), or whether he was looking for a manifestation of God. What it does make clear is that Moses’ curiosity got the best of him when he saw an enflamed bush not being consumed.

Seeing that he was raised in the Egyptian court, a man of learning such as Moses would have been very curious as to “why this bush does not burn up” (Ex. 3:3). The answer he received was much more than what he expected, God spoke to him out of the burning bush. It is within this account of Moses’ calling to ministry, which is a response from God to the suffering of his people in Egypt (Ex. 2:23-25), that Moses’ conversation with God eventually led up to him asking for a name.

In God’s response to Moses’ inquiry concerning His name, the study guide believes there resides evidence of His oneness. At first glimpse, one is looking for a direct statement by God that says something along the lines of, “I’m the one and true God.” However, that is not what we find. God told Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה  ,Ex. 3:14). This declaration not only has a present significance, but also a future one, which may be noted as being “I will be whatever I will be.”[10]

If further consideration is given, one should note that this statement indicates that whoever is speaking is referring to Himself in the singular form: “I AM WHO I AM” (emphasis mine). Not only is this individual speaking in the singular, but He calls Himself, “the Lord, the God of your fathers” (Ex. 3:15, emphasis mine). This is the one self-existing God that continues to be what He is.

It is helpful to note that Moses’ question has greater significance than can be observed in English translations. By asking about God’s name, Moses was attempting to ask whether God can do what He is promising to do, His name is about His reputation.[11] The Hebrew word for name, shem (שֵׁם), is not only interested in what one is called by, but also fame and reputation.

Deuteronomy 6

The study guide then calls for reflection on Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” This verse is referred to as “The Shema” because “the opening word, the command ‘Hear’ in Hebrew, is the word shema.”[12]

Deuteronomy 6:4 is part of God’s one-on-one instructions to Moses. (Keep in mind that Deuteronomy consists mainly of “divine instructions and history already given in earlier books of the Pentateuch.”[13]) This one-on-one session came because of the Israelites fear that they would be consume when God was speaking “out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire (Deut 5:23; see Ex. 20:18-21). The people were so frightened that they told Moses “speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (Ex. 20:19).

In the English translations of Deuteronomy 6:4 it is quite clear that God says He is “one.” The point that the lesson wants to make is the significance of that word. To do so, the students are ask to compare the word “one” here with the word “one” use in Genesis 2:24. In genesis 2:24, where God says “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh,” the translated to “one” is echad (אֶחָד). In this context it is use to unite two distinct individuals. The word echad is saying that once they are joined together then they are to be viewed as a single unit.

This is significant because that same word is used in Deuteronomy 6:4 to refer to God’s oneness. It implies that within this “one” there can exist a plurality of persons. The point that is to be obtain here is that although echad can refer to one (cf. Gen. 2: 21; 10:25; and 11:1), it can also be use for a unit. Thus, we can conclude that although God may not necessarily be saying that He is a plurality in Deuteronomy 6:4, the word that He is using opens the door for such an interpretation.

In order for such interpretation to be supported students must look to see if there are places in the Bible where it is shown that God consist of more than one. However, we do know that the “oneness” that is spoken of can’t refer to more than one God because “the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4).


[1] Jo Ann Davidson, Glimpses of Our God (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press 2012).

[2] Clifford R. Goldstein, ed., “Glimpses of Our God,” Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press 2012), 3.

[3] Ibid, 2.

[4] See Seventh-day Adventists Believe 2005 ed. (Boise, ID: Pacific Press 2005), 23.

[5] Bible Study Guide, 8.

[6] Ibid, 9.

[7] Ibid, 7.

[8]Freedman, David Noel: The Anchor Bible Dictionary. electronic ed. New York : Doubleday, 1996, c1992, S. 508

[9]  Unless otherwise indicated, all Scriptures in this article are taken from the New International Version.

[10] “Exodus 3:14,” Andrews Study Bible, Jon L. Dybdahl, ed., (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2010), p. 77.

[11]See Durham, John I.: Word Biblical Commentary : Exodus. electronic ed. Dallas : Word, Incorporated, 1998 (Logos Library System; Word Biblical Commentary 3), S. 38

[12] Study Guide, 7.

[13] Dybdahl, 217.

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One comment on “Sabbath School Commentary: The Oneness of God

  1. I believe in the three persons of the God Head, but I arrive at it differently than most others. God is a spirit and The Comforter God gave to Jesus and He to us at Penticost is spirit. Here you have all three Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The Bible is clear in all the texts I read and the references to the voice at Jesus’ Baptizim, the Dove, and the presence of Jesus all say this is evidence of the Trinity. Okay but when the Bible says I and my Father are one and the declaration that “He shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, Ever Lasting Father, Prince of Peace”, are all talking about Jesus as God with us. “Emanuel” In the beginning God, ( Spirit) Created. Then God spoke, now enters the “Word” (Son). Then in the fullness of time Jesus is born. God still spirit, the son no longer spirit, but flesh and bone and blood is like us. God has always been involved in our affairs as well as the son. Then at Penticost the Comforter is given. The three or Trinity.

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