Greek and Hebrew Words for "One"
William Arnold III
I have been thinking of doing a couple of studies lately but wondered if you guys have done anything on it. Trinitarians often refer to "echad" in the Shema to back up the claims of a composite deity. Although Hebrew scholarship affirms that "echad" should be ONE numerically and is used that way in the OT often, Trinitarians still cling to it. When Jesus quoted the Shema (Deut 6:4) the Greek , I believe, used "Heis" for one. Isn't Heis, unlike Hen and mia, strictly one in number? I thought this would be an interesting point. Do you have any thoughts?
The Hebrew word echad is simply the number for one in their language. When you say 1,2,3 you would say echad for one. Just like in English, "one" can at times refer to union. This is seen in Genesis 2:24, "They shall be one flesh." However, if this is what is meant in Deut. 6:4, then what's the point? When scripture makes a simple statement that "Yahweh is one" without any qualification or hint that this is to be understood metaphorically then we should take it at face value. In other words, simply because a word can mean something does not mean that it does in a particular instance. Also, this seems to be telling us something about the nature of God. It is stating that He is one. It is telling us something about His essence. As I said, what would be the point and why were the Jews so emphatic about this verse (even our Lord called it the first commandment) if it merely meant union?
As far as the heis, mia, hen issue, this is a little more difficult. I have heard some Trinitarians claim that John 10:30 must be understood as one in union, simply because of the neuter hen. However, that alone is insufficient as in passages such as James 2:10 hen is used where it obviously means a singular "one," "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." On the flip side, heis is used of unity in Gal 3:28, "for you are all one in Christ Jesus." In the latter passage, the word one is in grammatical agreement with the word "all," but this does show that heis at times can be used for union. Numbers function often as adjectives, thus qualifying nouns. When the word one is used in the Greek this way, it will agree with the noun it modifies whether it is masculine, feminine or neuter. This usage is simple grammatical agreement and really gives us no clue as to how the word is being used. When Jesus makes the statement "The Lord our God is one Lord," quoting the shema the word heis in this instance is simply in agreement with the masculine "kurios" (Lord). The gender of this word itself does not tell us how it is being used. However, since Jesus told them that this was the most important commandment then I would have a hard time understanding this to be merely "one in unity," for even human beings can have this type of "oneness."
Wow, I didn't realize the Greek of Hen and Heis were used in that manner. I should have checked. I have seen people use John 10:30 saying the Greek word is Heis. I know the reason for this is because they use Strong’s and Strong’s seems to have lumped all three words together. I have shyed away from using this verse to say one in number because I know the word is Hen. But as you pointed out, it is used as a singular one elsewhere. Are you saying the only reason (grammatically speaking) that Heis is used in the Lords quote of the shema is because of the masculine 'kurios'?
Thanks for responding , I wish I had more time (and money) to learn the Greek better. But then again I am terrible in English grammar as well haha. I have a primer by Vines in Greek grammar that I never really got into. I should set aside the time. I think your site is long over due. I have seen so many others that are not as scholarly as yours. Keep it up. I will be adding the link to your Bible studies site soon.
Yes, in the quotation of the shema it is simple grammatical agreement. And you are right about Strong's; it merely gives the "lexical" form without specifying the gender. However, if you have the interest I would strongly encourage you (or anyone) to take up learning Greek. Let me tell you that I was very bad in English grammar as well. In fact, I failed English in 12th grade and had to take it at night school! ;o) But I have found learning Greek to be fun and very useful. You can order a book, workbook and the lessons on cassette from Teknia.com. This is the standard grammar and workbook now being used in seminaries and it is excellent. In it, Bill Mounce takes the time to explain the concepts in English before explaining them in Greek. Also, for me learning Greek was primarily a self study. My teachers would provide the quizzes and answer questions, but most of it you do on your own.
P.S. - Please notice our links on Greek flash cards and the flash card program under "Study Helps."
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