"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!" (Deuteronomy 6:4).
The Bible makes it abundantly clear that there is only one God. As commonly translated, Jesus quotes Moses in saying, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Mark 12:29; compare Deuteronomy 6:4). Paul tells us that "there is no other God but one" (1 Corinthians 8:4) and that "there is one God" (1 Timothy 2:5).
The Bible also tells us that all other supposed gods are idols—figments of man's own imagination gone awry. Throughout history people have created many false gods. It is with this contrast in mind that we should approach Deuteronomy 6:4 as it is typically rendered—"the Lord is one." (For more on this wording, read "‘The Lord Our God, the Lord Is One'")
Many do not fully comprehend how the Bible uses numbers. This factor contributes to considerable confusion and has led to misunderstandings such as the Trinity—belief that three persons are one divine being.
How, then, should we understand the oneness of God? In addition to the usual straightforward use of numbering, the concept of complete unity is associated with the Hebrew word echad, translated "one" in Deuteronomy 6:4 and other verses.
How two become one
Let's go back to the first book of the Bible, Genesis. There, after the creation of Adam and Eve, we see the institution of the marriage relationship: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). A couple becomes "one flesh" in a marital sexual union. But there is another important metaphorical meaning as well. Though two separate and distinct beings, in this context the two become one.
Some 4,000 years later Jesus reiterated this concept when He said, regarding marriage, that "‘the two shall become one flesh'; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Mark 10:8-9). In marriage the two become one when joined in sexual union and in the covenant relationship they share. But they still remain two separate individuals, still one male and one female—joined together in marriage as one family unit.
Of course, this oneness is not complete or total. Yet in a physical sense an obvious oneness is reached when man and woman come together at the moment of conceiving a child. As one science book put it: "Human life begins in . . . cooperation of the most intimate sort. The two cells wholly merge. They combine their genetic material. Two very different beings become one. The act of making a human being involves . . . cooperation so perfect that the partners' separate identities vanish" (Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, 1992, p. 199).
The separate DNA substances of two distinct human beings combine at conception to form a new, unique human being, one different from all other persons.
How wonderful are the things of God! How great are His purposes for the human family! Understanding marriage and the family helps us grasp important aspects of the Kingdom of God. (To learn more, be sure to download or request our free booklet Marriage and Family: The Missing Dimension.)
There is one Church, but with many members
Continuing with our study of the biblical conception of what it means to be one, Paul wrote that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). That is, these social distinctions would not divide God's people. They were to be at one—in unity with each other.
There is one Church, said Paul, but composed of many individual members possessing various spiritual gifts and talents. As he later explained to the Christians in the city of Corinth: "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all" (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
Paul spent considerable effort to get this simple point across. He continues in 1 Corinthians 12:12, "For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ." Here Paul compares the Church to the human body.
Next he reminds us in principle of what he had earlier written in Galatians 3:28, which we just read, stating, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13).
The Church is the spiritual body of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23). So that we fully understand, Paul then repeats Himself by continuing in 1 Corinthians 12 to compare the Church to the human body, which likewise has many members performing different functions: "For in fact the [human] body is not one member, but many . . . But now indeed there are many members, yet one body" (1 Corinthians 12:14-20)—that is, there are many Church members but one Church.
Finally, in verse 27, he makes this basic point yet again: "Now you are the [one] body of Christ and individually [different] members of it" (1 Corinthians 12:27, NRSV). In that sense the divine family is similar—one God and only one God, yet with Scripture revealing two individual glorious family members now constituting that one God, plus many more members yet to be glorified among mankind (Romans 8:29).
Paul also wrote in another context, as we've seen elsewhere, "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name" (Ephesians 3:14-15, NIV). Although there is only one family, there are many members. Truly converted Christians, led by God's Spirit, are already counted as members of the family (Romans 8:14; 1 John 3:1-2), even though they have not yet received glorification and immortality in the resurrection to eternal life, which will take place at Christ's return (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Elsewhere Paul tells us that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 15:50). We must be changed at the time of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:51-54; Philippians 3:20-21). God will accomplish that in due course—provided we have overcome and developed righteous, godly character (Revelation 2:26; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 21:7-8).
One Church, one God
In John 17 Jesus prayed to the Father, "And this is eternal life, that they [Christ's disciples] may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). Jesus thus distinguishes between God the Father and Himself. They are not the same being. Nevertheless, They share perfect union and oneness. (For more on this verse and a parallel passage, see "There Is One God, the Father . . . and One Lord, Jesus Christ"
Continuing in this incredible prayer spoken shortly before His crucifixion, Christ said regarding His followers, "Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one" (John 17:11, NRSV). Earlier He had said, "I and My Father are one" (John 10:30).
You need to grasp this enormously important point: The Church is to be one just as God the Father and Jesus Christ are one. That's quite a tall order! The various members should be unified with each other just as Christ and the Father are in perfect union. Although we have to realistically admit that this has rarely been the case in church history, God expects us to strive for that spiritual unity.
The members of the true Church of God are all to be joined together by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:13)—living by that Spirit. It is every individual's responsibility to seek out the organized fellowship that best represents the biblical model and teaching of the New Testament Church. (For further understanding, download or request our free booklet The Church Jesus Built)
We see, then, that the Father and Jesus Christ are also one in the same sense that Jesus prayed for the Church to be one—not one single being, but multiple beings who are one in purpose, belief, direction, faith, spirit and attitude.
Consider the additional insight Jesus gives us in His prayer in John 17: "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one" (John 17:20-23).
This spiritual oneness, this unity between and among all truly converted Christians, can be accomplished only through God working in them. Their unity should reflect the perfect unity—the oneness—of God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son.
Again, the Father and Christ are not a single entity but rather are one in the sense of being united or unified in perfect harmony.
Another biblical example of oneness
Jesus Christ tells us we are to live "by every word of God" (Luke 4:4). Before any of the books of the New Testament were written, the Hebrew Scriptures—what we call the Old Testament—were the only recorded "word of God" available. Often the Old Testament can clear our foggy vision and help us understand the spiritual intent of the New. After all, we should understand that all the books of the Bible are the revealed Word of God, and "are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, [and] for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).
Consider a seldom-read passage back in the book of Judges that illustrates how oneness can mean unity: "So all the children of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, as well as from the land of Gilead, and the congregation gathered together as one man before the Lord at Mizpah" (Judges 20:1).
For once, the entire nation of Israel was wholly unified in purpose to meet a serious problem affecting the whole country. The expression "as one man" is used to convey the point that the nation was fully united at that particular time.
Judges 20:8-11 emphasize the point: "So all the people arose as one man . . . So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united together as one man." Of course, they still remained many individual citizens of the same nation. So again, the Bible itself sheds light on the meaning of oneness.
Comprehending God's oneness
We see, then, that Scripture reveals two separate, distinct persons, both spirit, yet one in unity, belief, direction and purpose—members of the same divine family. "I and My Father are one," said Jesus (John 10:30).
When we understand what the Bible teaches, we see that there is only one God, just as there is only one human race—one extended family descended from Adam of nearly 7 billion individuals. The one divine family—the family of God—has multiple members, with all of humanity receiving the opportunity to become members of it along with the Father and Christ.
The traditional human family is a microcosm of that one great divine family (compare Romans 1:20). If we comprehend this marvelous, wondrous biblical principle, we should be reflecting our ultimate destiny in our marriages, other family relationships and everyday lives. We should strive to reflect the love and unity of the divine family—God the Father and His Son Jesus—in our human families.
Clearly, then, we must let the Bible interpret what it means in referring to the one God. God the Father and Jesus Christ, along with the Holy Spirit, are not one single being, as Trinitarian teaching maintains. Rather, the Father and Christ are distinct divine Beings who together are one God—the one God meaning the one God family that is one, united, in harmonized will and purpose. We consider the nature and role of the Holy Spirit in the next two chapters.