“Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone!” It is believed by some Trinitarians that the Hebrew word 'echad (#0259 אֶחָד), “one,” that is used in Deuteronomy 6:4 and other verses indicates a “compound unity.” Concerning the use of the word echad, Anthony Buzzard writes:
“It is untrue to say that the Hebrew word echad (one) in Deut. 6:4 points to a compound unity. A recent defense of the Trinity argues that when “one” modifies a collective noun like “bunch” or “herd,” a plurality is implied in echad. The argument is fallacious. The sense of plurality is derived from the collective noun (herd, etc.), not from the word “one.”Echad in Hebrew is the numeral “one.” “Abraham was one [echad]” (Ezek. 33:24; “only one man,” NIV). Isaiah 51:2 also describes Abraham as “one” (echad; “alone,” KJV; “the only one,” NJBO, where there is no possible misunderstanding about the meaning of this simple word.” Anthony Buzzard and Charles Hunting, The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self-Inflicted Wound [International Scholars Publications, New York, 1998], p. 25).
In the Old Testament, there is no reference to the word “one” as indicating a plurality of any kind. A study of its uses in the Old Testament will reveal its simple meaning and the truth it conveys. It is used of “one” in number, “the first” in a series, “one” in the sense of “the same” or “alone,” and “one” in the sense of “each” or “a certain one.” It is used as “alone” in verses like Deuteronomy 6:4, and “first” in verses like Genesis 1:5, when God made light on the “first” day. The whole earth spoke “one” language before Babel (Gen. 11:1). Hagar cast her child under “one” of the bushes (Gen. 21:15). In Pharaoh’s dream, there were seven ears of grain on “one” stalk (Gen. 41:5). In the plague on Egypt’s livestock, not “one” cow died in Israel (Exod. 9:6). Exodus 12:49 says that Israel shall have “one” law for the citizen and the foreigner. The examples are far too many to list for this frequently used word, which appears more than 950 times in the Old Testament, and there is no hint in any Jewish commentary or lexicon that it somehow implies a “compound unity.”
The history of the Jewish thought is well known. They were famous in the ancient world for being downright obnoxious when it came to defending their “one God” against the polytheistic views of other civilizations. God chose the Jews as His people, and He chose to communicate to them in the Hebrew language. The Jews debated their writings to the point of tedium and argued over almost every word in the Law, yet there is no evidence that any of them thought that their word for “one” implied a compound unity. That assumption did not develop until Christians needed evidence for the Trinity in the Old Testament; it is a late and invalid assumption with no solid evidence behind it.
Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone,” where echad is translated “alone,” is one of the strongest texts against the Trinity. The Bible affirms that God is “one,” not “three-in-one” or some other plurality. This has been the rallying cry of Jews down through the ages who have stood aggressively against any form of polytheism or pantheism. Although it is commonly believed that Deuteronomy 6:4 (known as the Shema) is a statement of “monotheism” and thus the “compound unity” of God, that is not what the verse is saying. Of course, it is certainly a statement about monotheism (that there is one God), but that is not its primary emphasis.
In addition, it is not a statement about the compound unity of God for a number of reasons. For one thing, the compound unity of God does not appear in Scripture. Also, the Old Testament was given by God to the Jews so they could know and obey Him, and never in the more than 3500 years since the Shema was written have the Jews understood it to refer to a compound unity in God—quite the opposite. They took it to mean that there was only one God, and they fiercely fought against polytheism throughout their history. So if the Shema was God’s attempt to reveal a compound unity in Himself, the attempt was an epic failure. It makes much more sense that God gave the verse to the Jews and intended it to mean what the Jews say it means. Furthermore, the Jews did not take the Shema as their primary statement of monotheism because many other verses in Hebrew Scripture made that point just as clearly.
Also, the context of the Shema in the Old Testament and where it is quoted in the New Testament indicate that the Shema is not saying “God is ‘one,’” but rather is saying that Yahweh “alone” is God. The context of Deuteronomy 6:4 is using the Hebrew word echad (#0259 אֶחָד; “one, only, alone”) in the primary sense of “only” or “alone,” in contrast to the number “one,” and Mark 12:28-34 confirms this. Note how Deuteronomy 6:4-5 flow together and thus make a major—and logical—point: “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone! And you must love Yahweh your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” It is because Yahweh “alone” is God that we can worship him with “all” our heart, “all” our soul, and “all” our might. If we had more than one God, our worship would have to be divided between all the gods we served, and each god would get only “part” of our heart, soul, and strength. In fact, that is what happens with Trinitarians today: they divide their worship of God into the worship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But that division of worship is what is expressly forbidden by Deuteronomy 6:4 and Mark 12:29.
Also, the connection between Deuteronomy 6:4 and Zechariah 14:9 shows that echad means “alone,” not “one” in the sense of a compound unity. Deuteronomy 6:4 was the heart of the first and great commandment, and it said to Israel that Yahweh “is our God,” (Israel’s God), yes, “Yahweh alone.” But in fact, although Yahweh was “alone” in the sense that He was the true God and Creator, that was not the way it was lived out in day-to-day life because Yahweh was not worshipped as “God alone.” There were always other gods among the people of God, and of course the pagan world was filled with all kinds of pagan gods. Jacob had to tell his family to put away their pagan gods (Gen. 35:2). Joshua told Israel to put away their pagan gods but they never did (Josh. 24:23). Israel served Baal and pagan gods throughout their history in Israel (cp. Judg. 2:11-13).
Thankfully, the prophet Zechariah foretold a time when “In that day Yahweh will be echad” (Zech. 14:9). That is the same basic message as is in Deuteronomy 6:4, and echad cannot mean “one” in the Trinitarian sense of a compound unity because Zechariah was speaking about something new, that Yahweh “will be” echad. The nature of God does not change, so what will change in the future so that God “will be” echad in a way that He was not echad before? “In that day,” the day when Christ reigns as king over the earth, Yahweh will finally be echad, “alone,” in a realized sense among the people. There will be no other gods on earth in Christ’s kingdom. When Jesus is finally king on earth there will be no pagan idols, pagan altars, or pagan worship. Finally, Yahweh “will be” “alone” as the God who is worshipped on earth. God had always wanted to be God “alone” among His people, but He never was—the people always had other gods in the picture. But in the Millennial Kingdom, what God longed for and stated in Deuteronomy 6:4 will be finally actualized on earth: Yahweh alone will be God!
What should be clear is that Deuteronomy 6:4 is a statement about our personal relationship with God. He “alone” is God, so He is to be our only God and we must worship Him with all that we are and have. Deuteronomy 6:4 is not primarily a statement about monotheism, it is a statement about relationship. Stated another way, Deuteronomy 6:4 is not about the nature of God, it is about our relationship with God. Monotheism is important, and God had established that there was only one God earlier in the book of Deuteronomy. Only about 50 verses before the Shema, God had twice stated that He was the only God. Deuteronomy 4:35 says, “Yahweh is God, besides Him there is no other.” Four verses later Deuteronomy 4:39 reiterates that truth again and reads, “Yahweh is God in heaven above and on earth below. There is no other.” After establishing that there is only one God, Deuteronomy 6:4 then takes that truth and makes it personal: Yahweh who alone is God is to be “our” God, and we are to worship Him with all “our” heart, soul, and strength. Furthermore, after Deuteronomy 4:35, 39 and 6:4 have established that there is only one God, and thus Yahweh alone is to be “our God,” Deuteronomy 6:13 then says that we should fear and serve Him, and swear oaths in His name.
Furthermore, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4 as part of the first and great commandment: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone” (Mark 12:29). It is quite inconceivable that Christ would be promoting some form of the doctrine of the Trinity while at the same time quoting Deuteronomy 6:4 to a Jewish audience who then would have surely misunderstood him. According to the use of echad in Scripture, it is more reasonable to believe that Jesus was simply affirming that if we are to love God with all our heart we must be certain who He is—God alone for there is no other.
[For more on the Millennial Kingdom when Jesus reigns as king over the earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more information on Jesus being the fully human Son of God and not being “God the Son,” see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.” For more on “the Holy Spirit” being one of the designations for God the Father and “the holy spirit” being the gift of God’s nature, see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit?” For much more complete information on God and His Son, Jesus, see Graeser, Lynn, and Schoenheit, One God and One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith, 4th ed. (Indianapolis: Spirit and Truth Fellowship International, 2010), p. 422.