Heidelcast 130: I Am That I Am (8)—Against Social Trinitarianism

In the last few episodes we have been considering the biblical, ecumenical (or creedal) doctrine of the Trinity. The God who is, is one in three persons. The historic doctrine of the Trinity is very clear. It is also great mystery but the basic outlines are clear. We know that there are Unitarians, Muslims, Jews, and Socinians who reject the Trinity. There are, however, also some Christians who affirm the Trinity but who are dissatisfied with the creedal and Reformed confessional formulae. Social Trinitarianism is one such movement. This movement thinks of the divine persons as three independent subjects and “does away with any notion of the divine unity as numerical in favor of an organic unity that results from the ‘co-workings of the three divine subjects.’” Social Trinitarianism, however, has been strongly criticized as tri-theistic. Should it gain influence in the wider church the consequences would be profound.

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  1. The HB Library on The Trinity
  2. The Athanasian Creed
  3. The Ecumenical Creeds
  4. The Problem of Biblicism
  5. Ursinus on Essence and Persons in the Trinity
  6. A Response to Grudem’s Appeal to Hodge On Subordination
  7. Liam Golligher Brings Clarity On The Trinity
  8. How To Be Complementarian Without Being A Heretic
  9. One God, Three Persons. Full Stop.
  10. The Mystery and Necessity of the Trinity
  11. The Christian Faith Is Trinitarian
  12. Athanasius on Eternal Generation
  13. Driscoll vs the Ecumenical Creeds
  14. Muller: The Reformed Affirmed Eternal Generation Against The Socinians
  15. Why Analogies and Illustrations of the Trinity Fail

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  1. “Hear, O Isreal; The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons, yet there is one God. It surely is a mystery that our puny brains cannot fully comprehend, but Social Trinitarianism that wants to see the Trinity as a social relationship that unites three gods as if they were a family unit is not only ridiculous but a blasphemy. It contradicts the clear word of God. It attempts to put human “reason” above the wisdom of God.

  2. The Jewish Study Bible is informative. It translates Deuteronomy 6:4 as: “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” This goes against nearly all Christian Bible translations, which follow a later Jewish anti-Trinitarian rendering.
    JSB sees this whole section as a sermon or expounding on (what Jews and the early church fathers read as) the first commandment, as there are multiple allusions to Deut 5:6, 7. “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods beside Me.”
    On this, they comment: ‘This first commandment takes for granted the existence of other ‘gods’; its concern is to ensure Israel’s exclusive loyalty to Yahweh.
    Of the Shema, they note that “its formal recitation is not attested until late in the Second Temple period.” [i.e. until around the time of Christ] (379c)
    They also comment: ‘Modern readers regard the Shema as an assertion of monotheism, a view that is anachronistic. In the context of ancient Israelite religion, it served as a public proclamation of an exclusive loyalty to Yahweh as the sole LORD of Israel. …(This) departs from the more familiar translation “The LORD [Yahweh] our God, the LORD is one”… Each of the two translations is theoretically possible because, in Hebrew, it is possible to form a sentence by simply joining a subject and a predicate, without specifying the verb “to be.” The Hebrew here thus allows either; “Yahweh, our God, Yahweh is one” or; “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone.”
    The first… which makes a statement about the unity and the indivisibility of God, does not do justice to the context, given as it was to Israel as they were about to enter a polytheistic Caanan. (though it does make sense in a later Jewish context as a polemic against Christianity).
    ‘The verse makes not a quantitative argument (about the number of deities) but a makes qualitative one, about the nature of the relationship between God and Israel. Almost certainly, the original force of the verse… was to demand that Israel show exclusive loyalty to Yahweh.
    As Israel moved from the Moses-exhorted monolatry to monotheism, the JPS argues, Jews began to commonly mis-read this passage, as well as the first commandment.
    In their view, this misunderstanding was cemented in place by the Greek OT translation we call the Septuagint (3rd cent. BCE), which translated it as “the LORD is one” which our English bibles follow.

    • Allan,

      That’s all very interesting but the New Testament makes utterly clear what the Shema means. Deut 6:4 in the LXX says: “Ἄκουε, Ἰσραήλ· Κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν Κύριος εἷς ἐστιν” (Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” In Romans 3:30 Paul alludes to the Shema when he says, “εἷς ὁ θεὸς…” (“God is one”). The qualifier εἷς is numerical. Galatians 3:20, “ὁ δὲ μεσίτης ἑνὸς οὐκ ἔστιν, ὁ δὲ θεὸς εἷς ἐστιν” (“But the Mediator is not of one but God is one”). When James says “σὺ πιστεύεις ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν ὁ θεός, καλῶς ποιεῖς· καὶ τὰ δαιμόνια πιστεύουσιν καὶ φρίσσουσιν” (“You believe that God is one, you do well. And the demons believe and shudder”) he is alluding to the practice of the early church in Jerusalem of reciting the Shema from the LXX. From these passages, we can see the apostolic and early Christian understanding of Deut 6:4. They understood it to say more than “Yahweh is unique.” Of course he is! They understood it, however, to say that God is one. Christians should be cautious about marginalizing the LXX. The NT consistently cites Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible—they don’t always match the LXX.

      From the perspective of hermeneutics and exegesis, the proposed interpretation seems self-serving. The function of declaring that “God is one” is was to distinguish Israel from the polytheism of the Eyptians et al.

  3. The Jewish Study Bible is commenting on Deut. 6:4, and so its comments are helpful as regards both the original context, and any anti-trinitarianism use of it, which the Israelites back then did not hold to, as the OT shows. As regards the NT clearer revelation, against tritheism, Jesus said; “I and the Father are one.” (‘eis’) and the apostles agreed, the Trinity is one.

  4. R. Scott Clark,

    I have always found that looking at the Hebrew, LXX, and an English text side by side helps alleviate some of the ambiguity. For this verse I look at the BHS, LXX and ESV or NASB:1995 Update.
    שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה׀ אֶחָֽד (BHS)

    Ἄκουε, Ισραηλ, κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν κύριος εἷς ἐστιν. (LXX)

    Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (ESV)

    Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! (NASB: 1995)

    The difference in English translations is an editorial one: Simple declarative statement in ESV, while the NASB: 1995 is emphatic!

    The difference between BHS and LXX is that the emphasis in the use of εἷς for the Hebrew אֶחָֽד. The LXX has a single, absolute “one;” while the Hebrew has a plural “one.”

    In the famous Shema of Deut 6:4, “Hear, O Israel … the LORD is one,” the question of diversity within unity has theological implications. Some scholars have felt that, though “one” is singular, the usage of the word allows for the doctrine of the Trinity. While it is true that this doctrine is foreshadowed in the OT, the verse concentrates on the fact that there is one God and that Israel owes its exclusive loyalty to him (Deut 5:9; 6:5). The NT also is strictly monotheistic while at the same time teaching diversity within the unity (Jas 2:19; 1 Cor 8:5–6).
    [The lexical and syntactical difficulties of Deut 6:4 can be seen in the many translations offered for it in the NIV. The option “the LORD is our God, the LORD alone” has in its favor both the broad context of the book and the immediate context. Deuteronomy 6:4 serves as an introduction to motivate Israel to keep the command “to love (the Lord)” (v. 5). The notion that the LORD is Israel’s only God suits this command admirably (cf. Song 6:8f). Moreover, these two notions, the Lord’s unique relation to Israel and Israel’s obligation to love him, are central to the concern of Moses’ addresses in the book (cf. Deut 5:9f.; 7:9; 10:14ff., 20f., 13:6; 30:20; 32:12). Finally Zechariah employs the text with this meaning and applies it universally with reference to the eschaton: “The LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be (the only) one, and His name (the only) one” (14:9 NASB).

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