The Shema (Deut. 6:4), “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one,” appears in the last of the books of Moses, composed at the very end of the forty-year wilderness wandering. Yet the basis for the Shema appears in the first of the Ten Commandments.
Exod. 20:2-5a NKJV 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God …
The Israelites had just been delivered from bondage and slavery by the mighty hand of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. His miraculous deliverance included His very public overthrow of the gods of Egypt by means of the ten plagues. “’For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD” (Exod. 12:12 NKJV).
It is important to note that in the above passages and many others the Bible recognizes that there are many supernatural beings, “gods,” who were feared and worshipped by the nations. Yet Israel was told that these “gods” were “demons” (Lev. 17:7; Psalm 106:37). Even the Song of Moses recognized the foreign gods as demons. “They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; With abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons, not to God, To gods they did not know, To new gods, new arrivals That your fathers did not fear. Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, And have forgotten the God who fathered you. “And when the LORD saw it, He spurned them, Because of the provocation of His sons and His daughters” (Deut. 32:16-19 NKJV).
Paul took up the same theme, noting that there are many “gods” and that they are demons. “Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live” (1 Cor. 8:4-6 NKJV). “What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?” (1 Cor. 10:19-22). Paul acknowledged that there are many “gods.” However, for us there is one God, the Father.
These passages and many others make it clear that the word “God/god” in the Bible has a meaning that must accommodate both the God of Abraham as well as the pagan gods. The use of the “one God” statements by most of Christianity, whether by Trinitarians, Unitarians, Arians, or Modalists, lacks a very specific definition that can account for all of its usage throughout the Bible. If “one God” refers to a single God-kind (ontological nature) as Trinitarians are forced to claim in order to accommodate three co-equal persons, then the use of the same term for the pagan gods/demons should also imply that they share the same ontological nature as the God of Abraham, that is if “one God” refers to divine ontological nature shared by multiple persons.
Unitarians correctly use the term “God” as a personal noun, not an impersonal one, when they claim that the one-God statements prove that multiple persons cannot rightly be called “one God.” While this is true, it does not explain how the Bible can use the same term for God and pagan gods. The fact that the term “God” is a personal noun, describing a Person, is not adequate by itself to account for the variety of usage in the Bible.
There is one error that is overlooked by nearly all of the “isms” which, when corrected, solves all of the problems of reconciling the “one God” statements with biblical usage of the term “God.” The word “God” in the Bible (whether the Hebrew “Elohim” or the Greek “Theos”), says absolutely nothing about ontological nature. “God” does not describe a kind of being. Not once in the Bible does the masculine term “God” ever refer to the divine nature itself or imply that any entity that is called “God/god” has a specific divine nature. Instead, the neuter term “theion” (θεῖον – Acts 17:29) refers to the divine nature (what God is). The masculine terms “Elohim” (Heb.) and “Theos” (Gk.) are always personal and refer to WHO someone is, His identity as a Person.
While the term “God” is indeed always a personal noun (describing who), there is more to it than this. It is also always a relational term. Just as the terms king, subject, master, slave, father, mother, son, daughter, wife, husband, only have meaning in relation to others, so also does the term “God.” There is no king without subjects and a dominion. There is no master without servants or a household to supervise. There is no father or mother without offspring, no husband without a wife. So it is with the term “God.” When used of the creator, it means the ultimate Sovereign within the dominion of the whole creation, or as Revelation frequently puts it, κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ (lit. Lord, God, Sovereign over all – Rev. 4:8). This last term, παντοκράτωρ (pantocrator) is a compound of the word for “all/everything” + “sovereign.” While “God” means “sovereign,” παντοκράτωρ makes His sovereignty all-encompassing.
Of course, one can argue that the “gods” of the nations are not really “gods” at all, only that they pretend to be. Yet since the pagans yielded and subjected themselves to, worshiped, and sacrificed to appease these demon-gods, those “gods” did indeed exercise dominion over those who were deceived by them and feared them even though their claim to be controlling certain aspects of nature was a ruse. Those deceived by demon-gods gave them sovereignty over themselves by fearing them, and seeking to appease them. The Egyptians with whom the Israelites were familiar believed that their “gods” really did have sovereignty over some aspect of nature. Thus there was Ra, the sun god, and Hapi the god of the Nile, etc. For the Egyptians, each of their pantheon of gods allegedly controlled some aspect of nature. Thus there was no “one god” (παντοκράτωρ, Sovereign over all) who was the creator of everything and thus He alone had dominion over absolutely everything.
The God of Israel humiliated the demon-gods of Egypt, beginning with turning Aaron’s staff into a serpent. When Pharaoh’s magicians did the same by the power of their demon-gods, Aaron’s staff-turned-serpent ate up all of the staffs-turned-serpents of Pharaoh’s magicians (Exod. 7:10-12). This shows that the demon-gods of Egypt did have some limited power, but their power was nothing compared to the God of Israel.
The ten plagues immediately followed this demonstration, each proving that Israel’s God could mess with the alleged dominions of all of Egypt’s gods who were utterly helpless against Him.
Note Moses’ father-in-law’s observation, that the God of Israel was much more powerful than the gods of Egypt by His demonstrating His mighty works.
10 And Jethro said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.” (Exod. 18:10-11 NKJ)
The point of God’s public overthrow and humiliation of the demon-gods of Egypt using the ten plagues was to demonstrate to Israel that they had nothing to fear from any of the Egyptian gods. The God of Abraham was the real and sole Creator of heaven and earth. The demon-gods of Egypt had no power to stand against Him. Thus the God of Abraham could and would take care of every aspect of life for Israel if they remained faithful to Him and gave no quarter to the pagan demon-gods.
For this reason God wrote in stone, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” and, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This statement has nothing to do with ontological nature, or even number of persons in an alleged “godhead.” It means that the God of Abraham created everything. He possesses and exercises complete control over everything, including the demon-gods of Egypt. He is “one” in the sense that His dominion is not divided and chaotic as was the case if the Egyptian gods each had independent control over one aspect of nature. The gods of the nations are imposers, claiming power over nature which they do not possess, and thus gaining sovereignty and power over the people by deception.
This is why the “one God” statements repeatedly refer to the God of Abraham as creator of heaven and earth, because obviously the one who created everything owns it all, and thus has both power and sovereignty over everything and everyone. “For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the LORD made the heavens” (1 Chron. 16:26 NKJV, see also: Isa. 40:26; Isa. 41:20; Isa. 42:5; Isa. 45:8; Isa. 45:12,18).
The “one God” statements in the Bible always point to the one Person with sole sovereignty over everything, a single, unified, all-powerful one with dominion over both nature and mankind. The “one God” statements never refer to ontological nature. Isaiah 41-46 over and over speaks of God as “one” (encompassing all power and authority over everything) simply because he is the Creator of all. He performs wonders which the pagan gods cannot do, including foretelling the distant future and then making it happen. Through Isaiah, God mocks the pagan gods for their inability to control nature or foretell the future accurately. Again, God is ONE because His sovereignty and dominion is universal, not because the pagan gods do not exist, or even that He is one of a kind in ontological nature and essence.
Our Bereans Bible Institute principles of interpretation number IV states: “Interpretation must be from within the historical setting and context, and must not be used beyond the intended purpose in that context.”
The “one God” statements of Scripture were never intended to be used to define how many persons might compose a sole monarchy, whether the sole Monarch has others of like kind, whether He had a subordinate Son of like kind who acted as His personal agent and mediator to humanity. “One God” means a single Monarch, a one Person ultimate authority that is universal. “One God” does not mean one of a kind, since it does not address ontological nature at all. While the biblical concept of “one God” necessarily rules out multiple co-eternal and co-equal Persons (peers) because that is not one-person rule. One “God” is a personal term, not an ontological term. It requires one Person not multiple Persons holding sovereignty over everything, not three Persons. Therefore, “one God” does not rule out multiple divine Persons of like kind if the Father alone is the Sovereign ruler, and the other(s) is/are subordinate to Him, carrying out His agenda and faithfully, acting through His delegated authority alone. “One God” rules out co-equal / co-eternal Trinitarianism, but not Subordinate Trinitarianism or Apostolic Monotheism (the position of 4Winds Fellowships). It does not rule out the preexistence of the Son of God as God’s personal Agent.