Echad -- Word Study
The Hebrew word ‘echad’ is translated by some people to prove that God is more than one, particularly a Trinity. Some also use it to prove that the Father and the Son are in unity. Neither are correct.
Deuteronomy 6:4. “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one (echad) Lord.”
This verse is the most important verse in the Bible for the Jewish nation. It is called the ‘Sh’ma’. Having a name for a verse is like calling Psalm 23 - ‘the shepherd’s psalm’, John 3:16 - ‘the most loved verse’, or Revelation 14:6-12 - ‘the three angels’.
‘Sh’ma’ is the first word in the Hebrew text. It means ‘to hear, listen, give ear, hearken, understand, perceive, obey, regard, consider, discern, witness.
The full verse in Hebrew is:
SH’MA ISRAEL: YHVH ELOHINU YHVH ECHAD
Notice that the word Israel ends with ‘el’. This is one of the words for God. Israel means ‘ruling with God’, or ‘power with God’. Genesis 32:28. The word Elohiym is in the text, but it is spelt ‘elohinu’ for grammatical reasons.
The four-letter name of God – YHVH – in the King James Bible is translated and written as LORD, known as the tetragrammaton. The exact pronunciation is not known as there were no vowels in ancient Hebrew. Yahweh is possibly closer than Jehovah, as there is no ‘J’ in Hebrew. As there is no ‘w’ in Hebrew, it should be pronounced Yahveh, although no one knows if this is as exact pronunciation of God’s name. The Jews do not pronounce the sacred name, instead they say Adonai, meaning Lord. They also say Ha Shem, meaning ‘the Name’.
MEANING OF ECHAD
‘Echad’ is the first cardinal number – ONE.
It means ‘a numeral, united, ie one, or (as an ordinal) first; a, alike, alone, altogether, and anything, apiece, a certain, daily, each (one), a man, once, one, only, other, some, together.' (Strong’s 259)
The word ‘echad’ is translated many ways, but the texts show that it always means ‘one’ item, at times involving more than one person or article, but the focus is on the ‘one’.
TEXTS USING ECHAD AS ‘ONE’
Genesis 1:5. “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” (The Masoretic text says, “one day”)
Genesis 2:21. “And the LORD God …. took one (echad) of his ribs…”
Genesis 2:24. (Adam and Eve) “….shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one (echad) flesh….”
Genesis 11:1. “And the whole earth was of one (echad) language, and of one (echad) speech.”
Exodus 24:3. “…all people answered in one (echad) voice….”
Leviticus 14:22. “… one (echad) for a sin offering…”
Leviticus 14:30. “… one (echad) of the turtledoves…”
1 Samuel 11:7. “… people one (echad) consent…”
2 Samuel 3:13. “…. one (echad) thing I require….”
2 Samuel 7:23. “…. one (echad) nation in the earth….”
2 Samuel 12:3. “… poor man had one (echad) lamb…”
Jeremiah 24:2. “… one (echad) basket of good figs…”
The word ‘echad’ is used in many places – over 30 in Genesis, over 50 in Exodus and so forth. It always mean ‘one’, but sometimes the one is made up of more than one item or person. Adam and Eve became ‘one flesh’. They were still two people, but ‘one’ in their marriage.
The main point is their oneness.
When all Israel answered with “one voice”, there were many people, but the response was unanimously one.
Again, the point is the oneness, not the many.
Below ‘echad’ is ‘one’ (אֶחָד ) . It is singular, not composite. This is Joshua 12:10-24.
ECHAD TRANSLATED ‘OTHER’
Numbers 6:11. “…one (echad) for a sin offering, the other (echad) for a burnt offering.”
2 Samuel 12:1. “… two men in one (echad) city, the one (echad) rich, the other (echad) poor.”
Zechariah 11:7. “…one (echad) called Beauty, the other (echad)….”
ECHAD TRANSLATED ‘SOME’
Genesis 37:20. “… cast into some (echad) pit…”
1 Samuel 27:5. “... a place in some (echad) town…”
2 Kings 2:16. “… upon some (echad) mountain… some (echad) valley…”
The word ‘some’ could be translated ‘a’ or ‘one’, as this is the meaning of ‘some’ in these verses.
ECHAD TRANSLATED ‘EACH’
Isaiah 6:2. “… the seraphim, each (echad – meaning each one) had six wings.”
ECHAD TRANSLATED ‘ANOTHER’
Exodus 36:22. “… equally distant from another (echad)…”
Deuteronomy 21:15. “…wives – one (echad) beloved, another (echad – meaning another one) hated.”
1 Kings 18:6. Obadiah. “… went another (echad) way.”
Ezekiel 37:16. “…take another (echad) stick.”
ECHAD TRANSLATED ‘ALONE’
Isaiah 51:2. “I called Abraham alone (echad).”
Joshua 22:20. “Achan perished not alone (echad).”
ECHAD TRANSLATED ‘FIRST’
Genesis 1:5. “evening and morning were the first (echad) day…”(The Masoretic text says, “day one”)
Genesis 8:5. “… first (echad) day of the month…”
Genesis 8:13. “six hundred and first (echad) year….”
SETTING OF THE SH’MA
When the Sh’ma was given, Israel was on the border of the promised land. After wandering in the wilderness forty years, they were approaching Canaan a second time, and Moses is giving a rehearsal of their history, as well as warnings upon entering the land.
The two most important instructions were:
Obey God’s commandments, statutes and judgments.
Love and worship the God of Israel alone.
As Israel was to inhabit a land filled with false gods, there was a mandate from God to annihilate the heathen nations and their gods. “And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them… ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire.”Deuteronomy 7:2.5.
Unless this was implicitly obeyed, there was a danger the people would “be snared”, and “go a-whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods.” Deuteronomy 7:25. Exodus 34:16.
Sadly, Israel failed both commands.
“And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites…. Neither did Manasseh drive out the inhabitants of Bethshean and her towns, nor the inhabitants of….” Judges 1:21. 27-33. 3:5-7. 10:6. 18:31. “They have forsaken Me and worshipped…. Ashteroth, goddess of the Zidonians, and Chemosh, god…..” 1 Kings 11:33.
This setting helps us to understand the intent of the Sh’ma.
Israel had failed in distinguishing between their God and false ones in the past, and now Moses’ was emphasising Israel’s God as ONE LORD, very different from the gods of the nations. His greatest desire was that His people surrender to the one true God.
The verse is not to prove that God is two Beings, three Being, or a multiplicity of God-Beings. It is to remind Israel that their God is YHVH alone. He is the ONE and only God. Israel must worship and obey Him alone.
In the Sh’ma, the identity of God is made clear, and the following verses show the responsibility of parents to teach their children the truth about Him. They also show the need for Israel to remain a distinctive and separate people.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart, And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up….
Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shall swear by His name. Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you, (for the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you), lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.”Deuteronomy 6:4-7. 13.15.
While Jesus was presenting His parables, one of the scribes asked, “Which is the first commandment of all?”Mark 12:28. He hoped to trap Jesus, however, he was drawn to Him by the Saviour’s Scriptural reasoning.
Jesus replied, “The first of all the commandments is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30.31.
The scribe was impressed and said, “Well Master, thou hast said the truth, for there is one God; and there is none other but he, and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus heard his answer, He said, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God”.Mark 12:32-34.
When referring to the greatest commandment, Jesus quoted the Sh’ma.
How did He and the scribe understand the text?
It is clear they both believed it said there is ONE GOD.
The scribe in his following response went to great length to make this clear, for he said, “… there is one God, and there is none other but he…”
Did the Scribe include Jesus in this text? NO.
Jesus and the scribe were speaking about the God of the universe, and this is how the Saviour understood the text spoken by Moses to the children of Israel. In fact, He Himself - in Spirit - inspired Moses to say these words. 1 Peter 1:10.11.
In His prayer prior to Gethsemane, Jesus spoke words that cannot be mistaken. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”John 17:3.
Later Paul spoke the same truth, “As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth (as there be gods many, and lords many), but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.”
It is interesting that many Trinitarians say that if God wanted to reveal only one God, He would have used the word ‘yahid’, which also means one, a single one, not a composite one.
It was reported by Messianic Jew Jacob Prasch that Rabbi Moshe ben Maimonides, an Aristotelian rabbi of the Middle Ages (AD1100) changed the meaning of ‘echad’ and ‘yahid’, making them mean exactly the opposite.
In Biblical Hebrew, ‘yahid’ is the numeral digit one; in modern Hebrew it is ‘echad’. Prasch said the reason it was changed is because Maimonides wanted to point away from the deity of Jesus. Moriel Ministries. (This information has not been verified)
As we have seen in this short study, the Bible uses ‘echad’ to mean both a single one and a composite one, which means our understanding cannot be based on the few verses that fit our personal theology. We must compare Scripture with Scripture – here a little and there a little.
The following is by Messianic Jew Mark Lerner, who does not believe in the Trinity. “What is the Truth? It is so simple. Yah’weh, the God of Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), is the one, true God, and He is echad, one, not ‘triune’ or ‘plural’."Mark R Lerner. Centerville. Virginia. USA.