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The Shema is Not All

shema

by Paul Sumner

  Jewish tradition declares that Deuteronomy 6:4 is the preeminent statement of Hebrew monotheistic faith.

shema
Shema, YisraelHear, O Israel:
Adonai [YHVH] EloheinuThe LORD our God,
Adonai [YHVH] EchadThe LORD (is) one.

To Jews, this command from Moses excludes all other persons and beings — especially Yeshua of Nazareth — from being in any way accepted as part of, related to, or identified with YHVH, the LORD God.

For Jews, the Shema ("Listen, Hear, Obey") is not merely a commandment to obey God. It is a battle flag unfurled above the Jewish hilltop in defense of the oneness of God.


For followers of Yeshua of Nazareth, the Shema is not a sufficient expression of their faith. Even though Yeshua called it "the foremost commandment of all," it does not say all there is to say about God — since Yeshua appeared. It does not include the authoritative affirmations voiced by himself and by his Jewish disciples.

This is life eternal, that they may know you, the only true God,
and the one whom you have sent, Yeshua Messiah. (John 17:3)

There is one God and one Mediator also between God and men:
the Man, Messiah Yeshua. (1 Timothy 2:5)

For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for him; and one Lord, Yeshua Messiah, through whom are all things, and we exist through him. (1 Corinthians 8:6)

Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah — this Yeshua. (Acts 2:36)

God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the Name which is above every name, that at the Name of Yeshua [Heb. "YHVH delivers"] every knee should bow . . . and every tongue should confess that Yeshua Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God, the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11)

This is clear: the New Testament is not "monotheistic" as later Rabbinic Judaism defined the term. Nor is it "monotheistic" in terms of the philosophical triadic formula composed by the Church Fathers.

The New Testament is itself. [Consider: What is Monotheism?]

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While Moses has great authority in the NT, he is not the final authority as spokesman for the Lord God. Therefore, the Shema is not the only or final revelatory word from the Almighty. According to the NT, Yeshua himself is the final word of God:

In days gone by, God spoke in many and varied ways to the Fathers through the prophets. But now, in the acharit-hayamim [last days], he has spoken to us through his Son, to whom he has given ownership of everything and through whom he created the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2, David Stern, Jewish New Testament)

The NT is a revelation about both God and his Messiah. It describes how God sent the Mashiach ("Anointed One") to deliver Israel from their sins and to, eventually, set up his kingdom from New Jerusalem, according to promises in the prophets.

It also describes how the Mashiach will gather a remnant of repentant, obedient, worshiping non-Jews from among the Goyim of the earth.

In other words, the NT continues the core message of Hebrew Scripture. It doesn't repudiate what God had "spoken" in ages past. That includes the word spoken through Moses in the form of the "Hear, O Israel."

But the NT reminds Israel that the One God has definitively spoken through Yeshua and he expects his people to hear and obey him. For he is God's Son and Lord, and they are "one" in mind and purpose (John 10:30).

This is what it means for him to be "at God's right hand": he speaks and acts with God's authority (John 5:22; Ephesians 1:20-21; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:1-3).

In other words, to "shema" Yeshua as Lord is to hear the entire revelatory commandment of his Father.

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Christian expositors have often cited the Shema as a proof-text to validate the Nicean and Athanasian concept of a Triune Godhead. Their effort is fraught with misleading and inaccurate information about the Hebrew words "God" and "one."

In their effort to locate a Triune concept in the Hebrew Bible, these commentators have not given due authority to the proof-texts that Yeshua himself and the Jewish apostles use — none of which involve "embedded" doctrines in the Shema.

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Yeshua and the Shema

When a Torah scribe asked Yeshua which was the foremost commandment in the Law of Moses, he quoted the Shema and its appended command:

The foremost is, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your understanding, and with all your strength." (Mark 12:28-30)

Yeshua then added a second command found in Leviticus 19:18 as a corollary of loving God: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

The scribe responded by affirming Yeshua's answer. But he shifted focus to what may be a veiled allusion to monotheism — perhaps to draw Yeshua into making a statement about his identity.

"Rabbi, teacher, you have truly stated that He is one,
and there is no one else besides him..." (v. 32)
Yeshua didn't take the bait.

Instead, "When Yeshua saw that he had answered intelligently [about the command to love], he said to him, 'You are not far from the kingdom of God' " (v. 34).

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Yeshua didn't take this discussion of the Shema as an opportunity to affirm a compound triune unity in the Godhead or his place in it. Rather, he pointed the scribe to the extraordinary passage in Psalm 110:1, which speaks of a "Lord" (Adon) who sits next to YHVH.

YHVH said to my Adon,
Sit at my right hand,
Until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.

Yeshua then tested the scribe with an exegetical question about that Lord's identity. (He assumes they both understand that Psalm 110:1 alluded to the Messiah.)

"How is it that the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself calls him 'Lord': and so in what sense is he his son?" (Mark 12:25-37)

The scribe and his theological comrades could not, or dare not, answer Yeshua. "No one was able to answer him a word" (Matt 22:46). They knew this passage undermined their doctrine that "there is no one else besides" the Lord God in authority.

Yeshua diverted attention from the Shema to Psalm 110:1—from the Law to the Writings. This was a significant interpretive move. This one verse in the Ketuvim portion of Scripture extends the Shema beyond its sharp monotheistic intent in the Torah.

This one verse propels Israel's expectation into the future, where an Adon will inaugurate the ancient hope that "God and David" will rule the earth (Isaiah 49:5-6; Jeremiah 33:15-18; Ezekiel 37:24-25).

If taken seriously by Bible-reading people, Yeshua's pedagogical question ("In what sense is this Davidic lord God's son?") sets the exegetical agenda for all his future followers — including those in Israel who would fight to the death to defend the ancient Jewish Battle Flag.

We could say: Psalm 110:1 (and its echo in 1 Corinthians 8:6) is the Bible's Second Shema.

shema
"Truly, for us,
there is one God, the Father,
and one Lord, Yeshua the Messiah."
(1 Corinthians 8:6)

Paul Sumner

Note: Psalm 110:1 is the most quoted Hebrew Bible text in the New Testament: Psalm 110:1 in the N.T. See the Hebrew Bible background: The Two Lords (of Psalm 110:1) and these related studes: Echad in the ShemaThe Seventh Shema

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