A Minister-Rabbi Conversation

I. About God’s Oneness and Plurality 

The minister and the rabbi seated next to one another on the plane introduced themselves. The one holding out his hand said, “I’m Pastor Nathanael K. Russo.” The other replied with a grip of the hand, “I’m Rabbi Nathan Klug.” 

“A beautiful name, rabbi! Reading like Hebrew, from right to left, it means wise gift.” 

“Thank you. I’m surprised you would know that. We have something in common in your beautiful first name: it means given of God. Your last name is Italian?”

“Yes, but I like to think of my middle initial and last name as a New Testament Greek reminder of my business, kerusso, preaching, as in Acts 28:31, ‘preaching the kingdom of God’!” 

“Pastor Russo, in our own way, and according to our own lights, we are both doing that, aren’t we?” 

“Since you put it that way—yes, we are! But we should define what we mean by God. Let me appeal to the Old Testament words that first occur to the minds of most Jews. Let me see—they go like this: ‘Shema Yisrael, Yehovah Elohenu, Yehovah echad’ (Deut. 6:4).” 

“So you know Hebrew! and those blessed words come from you, a gentile. They first should have come from me. Some of us Jews begin every day repeating those words.” 

“I know; but Rabbi, I used to be a gentile. Now I’m a Christian, and you should know that in our church, our qahal, we begin our services every Lord’s Day with, ‘Ezerenu beshem Yehovah oseh shamayim va-aretz,’ Our help is in the name of Jehovah, Maker of heaven and earth!” 

“Terrific! but you don’t actually say it in Hebrew, do you?” 

“No, in English, quoting the King James Version of the Hebrew Scriptures; and I might add that I am pastor of Qahal Tiqvah, Congregation of Hope. What is the name of your synagogue?” 

“Cut in stone over the portals of our sanctuary are the words, in Hebrew consonants, Beth Anshe Chesed. I’m sure you must know how to translate that?” 

“Surely; it’s ‘The House of Good Men,’ or ‘The House of the Men of Mercy.’ ” 

“How wonderful to meet a gentile, pardon me, a Christian, who knows something of Hebrew! But to go back to a moment ago—do not Moses’ words, ‘Yehovah echad,’ Jehovah is one, at least approach a definition of God? and is not Moses saying there that Jehovah is a unity?”

“Rabbi, I concede on both counts. But aren’t you pressing the point that God is one in the absolute sense? that He, therefore, is not only one in Being, but also only one in person?” 

“Frankly, I am; for the Jewish doctrine, based on the Shema, teaches the solitariness of God in contradistinction to your Protestant trinitarianism. Is that not so?” 

“My friend, I agree that it is ‘Jewish doctrine,’ but not that it is the doctrine of the Hebrew Scriptures. If you will look again at the great Shema, ‘Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God. . . .’ That’s a singular-plural name, Jehovah Elohenu, literally, Jehovah our Gods; not that there is more than one God, but just to make an exact rendition of the word used for the great name of God in the Hebrew Scriptures. What the Shema says is that Jehovah is our Elohim, Jehovah being singular andElohim plural.”

“That may be, Nathanael—May I call you Nathanael? Good!—but the text also says, ‘Jehovah echad,’ the Lord is one! But please go on; and call me Nate.”

“Thank you, Nate. I want to point out that the Hebrew Scriptures ‘have three words for ‘one,’—echad, now before us, means a united one, as you so well pointed out. Secondly, there is the word ish, which means an individual one, and so is sometimes translated each. Thirdly, there is yachid, referring to an absolute one, an only one, a solitary one. We agree that echad is a unity. It is a compound unity, as in Genesis 15, where we read that “day one” was a component unity of day and night. In Genesis 2:21 we read that Jehovah Elohim (a compound name of God, consisting of a singular and a plural) took one (echad) of Adam’s ribs. Here we see that echad cannot mean an absolute, or only one. (But we should also note that neither does it here mean an exclusively individual one, as in ‘one (ish) that had escaped,’ Genesis 14:13, and ‘one (ish) born in my house,’ (Gen. 15:3). With that one (rib) God made another one (woman), and according to verse 24 He made those two the original pair, to ‘be one (echad) flesh.’ According to Genesis 1:27, man is male and female. In the institution of marriage, they become a compound unity, one flesh! God, with the compound name, says in the Hebrew of Hebrews 3:22 that ‘the man was as one of Us.’ God Himself is a compound unity, or a tri-unity. Hence, the Hebrew Scriptures teach that He is the triune God. 

“But that third word for ‘one,’ yachid, meaning an absolute, solitary one, is used in reference to Abraham’s sole and only son, Isaac. Abraham had one, solitary son. So here ‘one’ (yachid) is used in the absolute sense. But this word is never used in the Hebrew Scriptures in reference to the name or nature of God. God (Elohim) is not a solitary God.Solitariness is not one of the attributes of God! (What some theologians meant by this term was that they conceived of God as unique in His infinite transcendence, incomparable in His absolute independence and peerless in His eternity.) God is one in Being; He is a unity of one divine essence. Yet He is a component unity of three divine personalities in the one essential Godhead. . . Now Nate, I’m rather flattered to see you still awake up to this point.” 

“I should fall asleep listening to the Tenach explained as I never heard it before? This gives me so much to think about! More than I can handle at the moment! But how can the Scriptures teach both the unity and plurality of God? Oh, I see your point—in ‘they (plural) shall be one (echad) flesh.’ But how can the idea apply to God?” 

“How? My friend, let me first show you that its does, and later, perhaps, you will understand how. You are familiar, of course, with Genesis 1:26, where we read, ‘God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.’ Here we have the plural form of the Divine personal pronouns. They ought to be at least thought of as capitalized since they refer exclusively to God. So also in Genesis 3:22, already noted, ‘Behold, the man was as one of Us, to know good and evil’ (Hebrew). Further, in Genesis 11:7 we find, ‘Go to, let Us go down, and there confound their language . . . .’ Then, once more, the prophet, Isaiah, testifying of God’s calling him to the holy office, relates that ‘I heard the voice of the Lord (Adonai, plural), saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ (Isaiah 6:8). The Lord refers to Himself and His doing in the personal pronouns I andUs. “

“But, pastor, may not these plural names and pronouns be viewed as the plural of majesty, simply underscoring God’s infinite grandeur and greatness?” 

“Not at all; because these nouns and pronouns are self-distinctions which agree with other Scripture passages where God is further distinguished by ‘I’ (Psalm 2:7), ‘Thou’ (Psalm 45:6-7), ‘They’/’He’ (Genesis 18:1, 3, 9, 10), and ‘My’ (Psalm 110:1). One of the most notable sections of Scripture distinguishing three Divine personalities is Isaiah 48:12-16, where the speaker identifies himself in the words, ‘I am the First, I am the Last. Yea, My hand hath laid the foundation of the earth, and My right hand hath spread out the heavens; when I call unto them, they stand.’ This is the Creator speaking. He further identifies Himself in verse 16, ‘and now the Lord God, and His Spirit, hath sent Me.’ It was Adonai Jehovah and also the Spirit who sent the First and the Last, the One Who also made all things.” 

“Never in my life have I heard anything like this,” breathed out the rabbi. 

“So you see, the words of Isaiah express not a plurality of majesty, but a plurality of persons. We could then go back to Genesis 1:1 and render the words there, ‘In the beginning, every one (cp. the plural, Elohim) of the divine persons in the Godhead created the heaven and the earth.’ There is the Father included in this name; then the Spirit of God Who moved over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2), and the Word Who said, ‘Let there be light!’ (Gen. 1:3).” 

“But Nathanael, God uses the singular name Eloah inDeuteronomy 32:15, 16, and frequently in the Book of Job. Do not the Scriptures then teach that Israel from of old held a monotheistic theology?” 

“They undoubtedly do. Rabbi, I see we are soon to land. It has been a pleasure talking to you. I hope we meet again sometime.” The rabbi said he hoped so too. 

The minister hoped if there were to be such an occasion, to show the rabbi from Scripture that the living and true God does not dwell alone; that a lonely God could not even know Himself, an absolutely sequestered God could not live in infinitely perfect communion and fellowship with Himself. The living God has not the attribute of solitariness. The living God could not live in solitude. For life is to live, to act and react within a relationship of love and friendly accord. This the one God does in a communion of the three divine persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.