How Many is God?

Not long ago, in an adult RE forum, a fellow enthusiast suggested that neither the apostles nor Jesus himself could have believed that Jesus was God, because they were all good, monotheistic Jews. I interrupted, even though I agree with him that Jesus and the apostles probably held a lower Christology than anything found in the New Testament, especially before the crucifixion. I wanted to point out that Judaism of this period was not quite as hard-nosed about a “strict” monotheism that a divine Jesus would have necessarily been problematic to them.

Anyway, I don’t want to reinforce the misapprehension common in the 21st century American Bible belt that the Hebrew Bible and Jews in their understanding of it expected their Messiah to be (the son of) God himself. But the truth is that some messianic sects using Daniel, along with some extra-biblical writings, expected the Messiah(s) to be invested with Divine authority in a way that made the Messiah(s) Divine Agent(s). It might even be justifiable to say that these sects wouldn’t have been surprised or outraged at the notion of the Messiah(s) being given the Divine Name.

So, anyway – my friend was skeptical of my counter-claim that Jesus-as-God could have somehow fit within the Jewish monotheism of the period.

James McGrath (to whom I often link on related subjects) has recently published a book entitled “The Only True God” – which title comes from a statement in the Gospel of John about the correct designation of YHWH/the Father. It takes up the early Jewish/Christian ideation about God and the Divinity of Jesus before the divorce of Christianity from Judaism and the subsequent development of the Trinity doctrine. Information about that book is here, and suggests to me that McGrath is 1) on the right track – historically if not theologically, and 2) treating the subject with a measure of depth and subtlety worthy of respect. Unfortunately, I haven’t got to read the book yet… but I would like to, and would like to lend it to my friend when I’m done.

Also on my radar, and somewhat related to the “number” of God is Daniel McClellan’s post Decoupling YHWH and El, which endorses the view of Mark Smith in his book, “The Origins of Biblical Monotheism”. This view suggests that Jewish monotheism emerges from a Syro-Palestinian four-tiered Pantheon with El as a top-tiered “parental” diety, and YHWH as a second-tier “active” diety associated with storms. It further finds that YHWH was a national diety of the southern Kingdom of Judah while El was the principle deity of the northern Isra-el, and that the two came together when the two kingdoms were united. I’m having to presume a little bit here, but my understanding of this position is that the two were equated together during the Deuteronomic reform.

I’m not an expert by any stretch, but that all generally makes sense to me.

If this is the case, then the “number” of God seems to be following a cyclic pattern of contraction and expansion… ending when the 3rd-4th Century Christians locked their count in at three (with the modern exceptions of Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, a good number of ancient exceptions now branded as heretical, and possibly a few others I’ve forgotten), and Jews – at least partly in reaction to Trinitarian Christianity – adopted a very strict monotheism that persists to this day.

4 comments to How Many is God?

  • Hey, thanks for the link. The monotheism question is a big one and McGrath’s book is an important addition to the discussion. My position is that the Hebrew Bible never appeals to a strict monotheistic theology, and the Judeo-Christian position we know today is based on early Common Era theological work inspired largely by proximity to the speculative philosophy of the Greco-Roman worldview. Texts like Isaiah and Deuteronomy 4 don’t deny the existence of other gods, but deny their efficacy and legitimacy. A good treatment of that rhetoric is found here:

    As far as the conflation of YHWH and El, the early monarchy is probably the best date (10th century BCE). There is at least one 8th-7th century BCE inscription that may equate the two, but the prophetic texts of the 8th century already evince the conflation, so Josiah’s reforms are too late. I would put the universalization of YHWH and the marginalization of peripheral deities (angels, “sons of God,” etc.) at about that time period, but even Smith only goes as late as the 8th century regarding YHWH and El.

  • Thanks for coming by & sharing more information. It’s very kind of you… I was sort of at a loss on the timing and circumstances of the conflation.

  • My pleasure. Smith’s Origins of Biblical Monotheism and Karel van der Toorn’s Family Religion in Babylonia, Syria and Israel are the most comprehensive treatments I’ve seen to this point, if you want some more information.

  • Beautiful pictures in the rocks…….

    Truth IS, as Paul testified, “G-D was in The Messiah”, Paul did not testify that ‘g-d was the messiah’…….

    The Messiah testified of, “The Only True G-D”…….

    And Paul testified of “ONE G-D, Father of ALL”…….

    The Messiah testified of, “The Only True G-D” and The Messiah testified that He had a “G-D and Father”…….

    Paul testified of “ONE G-D, Father of ALL”…….

    Paul testified, “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in G-D, WHO CREATED ALL things by The Messiah”…….(Eph3:9)

    There is Only ONE True G-D, Father(Creator) of ALL, and HE IS The G-D and Father(Creator) of The Messiah and His brethren…….

    John 17:3 “And this is Eternal Life, that they might know YOU The Only True G-D, and The Messiah, Whom YOU have sent”…….

    Mark 12:32-33 “And the scribe said unto The Messiah, Well, Master, You have said The Truth: for there is ONE G-D; and there is NONE OTHER but HE. And to love HIM with all your heart, and with all your understanding, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and to love his neighbor as yourself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices”…….

    Rom 3:30 “Seeing it is ONE G-D, WHO shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith”…….

    1 Cor 8:6 “But to us there is but ONE G-D, The Father, of WHOM are all things, and we in HIM; and one Master, The Messiah, by Whom are all things, and we by Him”…….

    Eph 4:6 “ONE G-D, Father of ALL, WHO is above all, and through all, and in you all”…….

    John 4:24 “G-D is A SPIRIT: and they that worship HIM must worship HIM in Spirit and in Truth”……. Luke 24:39 The Messiah testified, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself, handle Me and see, for A SPIRIT DOES NOT HAVE FLESH AND BONES, AS you see I HAVE”…….

    The ONE and Only True G-D, Father(Creator) of ALL can not die…….period…….

    The Messiah died and “The ONE and Only True G-D, Father(Creator) of ALL raised Him from among the dead”…….

    James 1:13 “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of G-D, for G-D CAN NOT BE TEMPTED with evil, neither tempts HE any man”…….

    Heb 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest(The Messiah) Who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, for He WAS in all points TEMPTED like we are, yet without sin”…….

    The ONE and Only True G-D, Father(Creator) of ALL, HE CAN NOT BE TEMPTED with sin AS THE MESSIAH WAS…….period…….

    1 Tim 2:5 “There is ONE G-D, and one mediator between G-D and men, the man The Messiah”…….

    James 2:19 “You believe that there is ONE G-D, you do well, yet the devils also believe, and tremble”…….

    John 20:17 “The Messiah said unto her, Touch Me not; for I have not yet ascended to My Father: but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My G-D, and your G-D.”

    Mark 3:33-35 “The Messiah answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brethren”? And He looked round about on them which sat about Him, and said, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whoever shall do The Will of G-D, the same is My brother, and My sister, and mother”"…….

    Rom 8:29 “Whom G-D did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of HIS Son, that The Messiah might be the firstborn among many brethren”…….

    Hope is you are one of the brethren of The Messiah…….

    The brethren of The Messiah know there is Only ONE True Living G-D, Father(Creator) of ALL…….

    And The ONE and Only True Living G-D, Father(Creator) of ALL, “HE Created all things by The Messiah”…….

    And “The Messiah is The Son of The ONE and Only True Living G-D, Father(Creator) of ALL”…….

    The Messiah testified that He had a “G-D and Father” and that His “G-D and Father” was also the “G-D and Father” of His Brethren…….

    And The ONE and Only True Living G-D, Father(Creator) of ALL, HE has no god, for HE IS G-D, and HE has no father, for HE IS Father(Creator) of ALL, and HE has no brethren, for HE IS Father(Creator) of ALL…….

    Hope is there would be those who experience The Miracle that is receiving “the love of The Truth” for they will “experience The Messiah and The Power(Our Father) that raised Him from among the dead”…….

    The Faith of those who receive “the love of The Truth” will be grounded in Miracles, not mere colored marks(words) written on a dead tree(page) and bound in a book…….

    Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world and it’s systems of religion, for “the WHOLE(not just a portion) world is under the control of the evil one” indeed and Truth…….

    Truth is never ending……. francis

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