I was following a discussion online the other day about the Trinity and the divinity of Christ when the following verse came up:
Mark 12:29, “Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord.”
In this passage, Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:4. From the perspective of believing in the Trinity, I understand that there are three Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) but that They exist as one God so I see this verse as a confirmation of my belief. But when I try to put aside my preconceived notions (which is a difficult thing to do, I confess) I noticed that this verse sounds rather odd in English. What does it mean, exactly? How does it sound to someone who doesn't believe in the Trinity?
I practiced reciting the verse out loud a couple of times and realized it's more than a little ambiguous. It's impossible with the written word to convey different inflections in my voice so I'll try to describe it. What if I stressed “one Lord”? That seems to give the impression there could be other gods and Jehovah is only one of them.
Since I can't inflect my voice in a blog post, let me give an analogy that might help: I teach a Sunday School class. In my church, there are other teachers who teach other classes. So if someone in my class were having a discussion about teachers, he might say, “Our teacher, RKBentley, is one teacher.” Can you see how that might apply to the verse in question?
Since I don't believe that Jesus is trying to teach us that Jehovah is one Lord among many, what else might that verse mean? To refer to God as “one Lord” really doesn't make any more sense than referring to someone as “one person.” It would seem to be the epitome of stating the obvious to say, “RKBentley is one person.” I don't know what that might mean except to say, “RKBentley is one person among many others.” Apart from a paradigm of the Trinity, I can't make any sense of Mark 12:29.
Perhaps Jesus intended the verse to be a validation of the Trinity. Or could there is another translation of verse that conveys a different meaning? That is what I wanted to look at. I can't speak to the Hebrew of Deuteronomy, but here is the passage in Greek. By the way, I'm omitting the narrative and only focusing on His quote of Deuteronomy:
Ἄκουε (Hear/listen!) Ἰσραήλ (Israel) Κύριος (Lord) ὁ θεὸς (The God) ἡμῶν (of us/our) κύριος (Lord) εἷς (one) ἐστίν (He is)
Here is a transliteration of the passage for those who can't read the Greek characters: AKOUE ISRAĒL KUROIS hO THEOS hĒMŌN KURIOS hEIS ESTIV
You may have noticed that I removed the punctuation. The original Greek would not have had punctuation and I didn't want the editor's choice of punctuation to influence my translation.
The salutation, Ἄκουε Ἰσραήλ, is rather simple and leaves little room for interpretation: Hear, Israel! or Listen, Israel!
The rest of the translation turns upon the use of predicate or attributive adjectives. In English, an example of a predicate construction would be “The dress is red.” In that sentence, “red” is a predicate adjective modifying “dress.” If I put “red” in the attributive position, it would change to “The red dress...”
Κύριος ὁ θεὸς is a simple predicate construction. It's taught in Greek 101. Since the article modifies θεὸς we know that it is the subject noun. The verb is implied by the construction so we have to provide a verb in English but, by itself, this clause too leaves little wiggle room in translation: God is Lord or The God is Lord.
Now, since ἡμῶν immediately follows θεὸς, it most certainly modifies θεὸς so we must keep it with θεὸς: Our God is Lord.
The last clause is the tricky one: κύριος εἷς ἐστίν. Εἷς is an adjective modifying κύριος but κύριος lacks an article. Εἷς must be attributive rather than predicative. It's in the same position as ἡμῶν in the previous clause. He is “our God” (attributive). It wouldn't make any sense to say, “God is ours” (predicate). I don't know why, but some English translations, like the NIV, treat εἷς as a predicate predicate adjective: “the Lord is one.” If we move εἷς to the attributive position, the clause would become, “He is the one Lord.”
It may be terribly presumptuous of me to say I have a better translation that the majority of English Bibles but here is what I propose:
Listen Israel! Our God is the Lord. He is the one Lord.
Hopefully, this translation conveys the meaning of the original text better than some of the other versions. We could even paraphrase it a little and say, Our God is the Lord. He is the only Lord. The mainstream translations could be understood this way, but I don't think they convey this meaning clearly. Does the verse still affirm the Trinity? I think so. But I believe my proposed translation removes any possibility of a pantheon of gods.
There is only one God; His name is Jehovah!