Deuteronomy 6:4

posted Oct 9, 2017, 1:46 AM by Chin-Lee Chan   [ updated Oct 9, 2017, 2:05 AM ]
שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה ׀ אחד ׃

"Hear O Israel! Yahweh is our Elohim.  Yahweh is integral in the sense of having integrity."

In answering the important question, “How many true Gods are introduced in the Hebrew Bible?”, does Deuteronomy 6:4 supporting the answer as “only one” or “more than one”?

My answer is “more than one”.  Allow me to develop my reasons below:

The transliteration of Deuteronomy 6:4 of the Hebrew Old Testament can be “shema Yisrael Yahweh Elohenu Yahweh echad.”

The literal translation with its primary meaning of this Hebrew text can be “Hear O Israel Yahweh our three or more gods Yahweh one.”

Let me refine the translation by the context of the text, since it has to be consistent with its context:

שמע ישראל

“Hear O Israel” is a straight forward verbal clause.  

What was the message that the speaker wanted Israel to hear?  

The message is “Yahweh our three or more Gods Yahweh one”.   Please note that there is no verb in this message.  Since the proper name “Yahweh” has be repeated in different position of this message, this message could be one or two Hebrew verbless clauses and the connecting verb-to-be is or verbs-to-be are implied.  The number(s) and person(s) of the implied verb(s)-to-be is(are) determined by the subject of the sentence.  Its(Their) tense(s) is(are) determined by its context.  

So first we need to determine if the message is consisted of one or two verbless clauses, as suggested in in An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax by Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, 1990, p.135.  For one clause, “Yahweh our three or more gods Yahweh” is the subject.  For two clauses are “Yahweh our three or more gods” and “Yahweh one”.  “Yahweh” is the subject of both clauses.  The option of two clauses is clearer in communication and fits the context of using singular verbs as action of Yahweh from Deuteronomy 6:1-3.  While the option of one clause is not as clear because the plural noun “Elohenu”, a form of “Elohim”, could be the subject.  Since in Deuteronomy 6:5-10, only singular verbs are connected to the different forms of “Elohim”.  So “Elohim” a plural noun was treated as a singular noun.  The natural explanation by Occam’s Razor, it is a proper name.  Using Occam’s Razor on the options of one clause or two clauses, the two clauses option stays because the communication is less complicated.

For both verbless clauses, “Yahweh Elohenu” and “Yahweh echad”, Yahweh is the subject of both.  Since verbs in the context, Deuteronomy 6:1-10, the verbs, related to the proper name Yahweh, are singular, we are safe to understand Yahweh as a singular entity.  So number of the verbs-to-be of the two clauses is singular.

Now we need to determine the tense of the verb.  Since by the context Yahweh was alive, the tense should be present tense.  So the verb-to-be is present singular third person, “is”.
We are ready to translate the text in a more readable form of mixing English and Hebrew transliteration, “Hear O Israel!  Yahweh is our Elohim.  Yahweh is echad.”

We can now see clearly that there are two declarations about Yahweh, a single entity.  Yahweh is a God for sure.  But is Yahweh the only God of Israel?  Also is Yahweh the only existing God anywhere?

Thanks to Yahweh because these two declarations provide significant clues.
יהוה אלהינו

“Yahweh elohenu” can be translated literally and the possibility of dealing with two, not one, proper names as “Yahweh is our three or more Gods”, “Yahweh is our Gods”, “Yahweh is our Elohim”, or “Yahweh is Elohenu”.  Following the mention about that Yahweh has made a promise to Israel, “Yahweh is our Elohim” fits the context the best because “our Elohim” is a intimate way to describe Yahweh as there dear object of worship, Elohim who said, “Let there be light and there was light.”  Elohim here is proper name as well.  So Elohim which literally means 3 or more Gods hinted that there are at least three Gods including Elohim Himself.

יהוה ׀ אחד

“Yahweh echad”, a noun with an adjective, can be translated literally and dynamically as “Yahweh is one”, “Yahweh is one entity”, “Yahweh is only”, “Yahweh is alone”, or “Yahweh is having integrity”.  For reference, please see the photo.  Since the preceding context is about the fact that Yahweh has made a promise to Israel, “Yahweh is integral as having integrity” makes most sense, as found in An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax by Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, 1990, p.274.  It used a numeral to hint that we need to think unit like solving a word problem – “one what?”  One congruent God whose promise and His fulfillment of it are two sides of one coin.  So it reminded us the concept of unity, external unity between two or more external entity and internal unity between two or more internal aspects.

My point is that the intention of Deuteronomy 6:4 is primary not to answer the question “How many Gods exist?” but the question “Why Israel can be sure that Yahweh will keep His promise?”, while the secondary intention is to enforce that there are at least three Gods including Yahweh who has another name Elohim. 

Revision 1 on October 9, 2017