Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy
A Series of Practical Messianic Living (halachah)
(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)
This subject will continue to baffle many Jews and Christians alike: how can God be "One" and yet somehow "three". The matter is really made clear when Christians explain that correct Christianity does not believe in three gods! We believe in ONE God who expresses himself in "unity of "three".
God is one. The Shema affirms this. The Shema is the "watchword of Jewish monotheism". The Shema is foundation. The word "shema" means "hear", "listen intently". It is a Hebrew imperative that carries the notion of an action-oriented command. In other words, "Now that you have heard, go and do something about it!" The Shema introduces the difficult concept of the "tri-unity" of our unexplainable God. The ancients called HaShem "Eyn-Sof", a term which quite literally means "without borders". Our God is infinitely unknowable. Yet because of our finite minds, he has chosen to express himself in ways that we can perceive. However we shall have to wait to gain a fuller perception of him, once we put off this corruptible flesh and our eyes are able to see through this mirror clearly instead of darkly.
For the sake of understanding, I am going to use familiar language in this next section.
The "trinity" is a doctrine that has long been characterized by misunderstanding, both among my people, as well as a few Christians. I believe that most of the confusion actually stems from the language that we choose to use when describing the unified nature of our somewhat incomprehensible God. However, the Torah does not expect us to label God and stuff him in box. Nor are we so smart that our systematic theological viewpoints of him will ever fully describe his wonderful glory. Yet the revelation that has been graciously granted to us is a complete one, in that, all that we need to know to maintain a right-standing relationship with HaShem is found within the pages of his Word, and most specifically, in the person of his only and unique Son Yeshua our Messiah.
I will single out just one passage and comment on it. To be sure, it is the most famous passage in the Torah: the "Shema" of Deuteronomy 6:4.
"Sh’ma Yisra’el, ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad [Hear, Isra’el! ADONAI our God, ADONAI is one].
Anyone with knowledge of the Hebrew text will realize that the word translated ADONAI is the four-letter name for HaShem, Y-H-V-H, also known as the Tetragrammaton. The Jewish people use this name only in a very sacred and personal way. To be sure, today Torah-observant Jews, in reverential fear of misuse never speak it. Because of the understanding that the Shema "defines" the oneness of Y-H-V-H (which is what the Hebrew word echad implies), many Jews are fiercely monotheistic. After all, is this not what the plain sense (p’shat) of the verse in Deuteronomy is teaching?
The word "echad" teaches us that God is the ONLY God that we are to serve. To be sure, some translations render this verse as, "Hear Isra'el, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone." This is the primary meaning conveyed by the use of this word "echad". That God is our only God is paramount to correctly understanding any revelation of him in his Word.
The TaNaKH is full of instances where God appeared in "less than familiar" form. God has appeared as his Angelic Messenger, as a Flame, as a Man with two angelic hosts, as Light, and as a Thick Cloud. All of these revelations are uniquely and completely God! Yet all were for the sake of the one being visited. God of necessity must "veil" his glory so that we as frail men are not consumed in his holiness!
Yet, the Renewed Covenant teaches us that Yeshua is the final and most complete revelation of God that the world has ever known! To look at Yeshua is to see the Father in flesh! Such a revelation requires a metamorphosis of the heart of a man! A natural man cannot understand the incarnation; only a man with a renewed spirit can understand this revelation. In a crude way you could liken seeing Yeshua like beholding someone in a mirror: the image in the mirror exactly resembles that which the mirror is reflecting, but in actuality you are beholding the mirror image! Such is Yeshua! To look at him is to gaze at the exact mirror image of the Father without actually beholding the Father himself! Yeshua is the "veil" by which the Father covered himself when walking among mankind. Yet Yeshua is more than that! In his own words, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." (read John 14:8, 9)
According to some scholars every instance when a mortal encountered the divine God they were in some way beholding Yeshua! In this understanding Yeshua is the common factor in every single revelation of God in the Scriptures. To be sure, they declare that "No one has ever seen God; but the only and unique Son, who is identical with God and is at the Father's side," (read John 1:18).
Yet Yeshua is also uniquely the Son of Man. Yeshua is NOT the Father, nor is God Yeshua. Rather, and I'm stretching human language to its limits to explain this, Yeshua is the Word made flesh, the Word which was WITH God, and the Word which WAS God! It is not as if Yeshua became God somehow. It is rather that God the Word became a human being and we beheld such glory in the person and work of the Messiah named Yeshua. Such profundity!
By understanding what the B’rit Chadashah teaches believers about the unity of Yeshua and the Father (John 10:30), we are given the ability to interpret the Shema in a more theologically correct light. ADONAI is echad…. Yet, according to Yeshua’s own testimony, He and the Father also constitute an echad. Is HaShem more than one?! Is Yeshua crazy? This relationship of the Father to the Son has long since been a problem for my people to grasp. And we’re not even talking about the trinity yet!
Do we believe in three gods? No. That is the heresy called "Tritheism". Do we believe in one God who simply wears three different "masks" to interact with mankind? No. That is the heresy called "Modalism". What we believe in is ONE God who expresses himself in a "unity of three". The mystery is that each expression is uniquely God and yet uniquely single. God is not Yeshua; Yeshua is not God; the Ruach HaKodesh is not Yeshua and so on and so forth. Yet Yeshua is God veiled in flesh and the Spirit of God is God himself. The matter of authority comes into play when I examine the roles of each deity. The role of God is as head over Yeshua and the role of the Ruach is as witness to Yeshua. Yet the role of Yeshua is as witness of the Father and the role of the Spirit is as active agent of the Father as well. The part that brings it all together is when we remember that true worship belongs to God and God alone! As such, whenever Yeshua or the Ruach is also worshipped we catch a glimpse of the "oneness" of the "three-ness" of God.
Are you confused yet? The historic Greek mind would be! But the historic Hebrew mind lives with these tensions as foundational Biblical truths! And yet some skeptics will always twist and distort the Truth into something it was not meant to be! I even imagine someone may eventually make this very article say something that I did not intend for it to say. But with language failing to fully describe the unknowable Eyn-Sof I shall have to rely on this "best approximation" for now. One day this glass that I see through dimly shall be made clear!
So you can teach your Jewish friends with confidence that Christians who know their Bible believe in the very same God that Avraham believed in! The same God who visited him as he sat by the Oaks of Mamre. The very same God who looked to Avraham like three men!
You can tell your Jewish friends that the Christian who knows his Bible believes in the same God who appears quite frequently as his own Angelic Messenger (known by the title "Angel of ADONAI").
Can God be one and still be a unity of three? Of course he can. He is uniquely God!
So, given this information many non-Jewish church-going folks may ask themselves, "Why don’t many more Jewish people believe in the God of the New Testament, and consequently in Messiah Yeshua"?
A small amount of light is shed on the subject when we, as believers remember that the Torah teaches that "stoniness, to a degree, has come upon Isra’el, until the Gentile world enters in its fullness; and that it is in this way that all Isra’el will be saved." (Rom. 11:25b, 26) Although this passage speaks of the corporate salvation of the nation, that is, as a whole, many individual Jewish people can and have been accepting Yeshua for thousands of years! Baruch HaShem!
Love for the Jewish people, especially from the Christian body of believers, will melt away the "stoniness". Before we as believers start listing the reasons as to why Jews reject the Messiah, we should seek to eliminate the reasons as to why we aren’t more actively involved in their salvation process, both corporately and individually. I have good news for you, if you are a Christian and reading this article, then you just might (unknowingly) already be actively involved in bringing Messiah to the Jews!
(For more on the “shomer mitzvot” series, read the next issue!)