Question: How can Jesus be God if Deuteronomy 6:4 says that God is one?
Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for touching-down with us at Mainsail Ministries. I will be happy to answer your question today… although I wish you explained your challenge in more detail. You see, this is a relatively common challenge from people who reject the Christian Scriptures — and (or) who reject the idea that God can be manifested in three persons. So, is that your challenge… how can one be three? Or is it that you reject the authority of Scripture? Or do you just reject the New Testament’s claims about Jesus Christ? Well, whichever is on your mind, here is the passage you cited.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deut. 6:4, NIV)
God revealed this about himself as he was giving Israel the Law as he was preparing to send them out into lands that were full of idol worshipers… polytheists. As such, monotheism was a critical cultural identifier for Israel during this period. But around 1300 years later Israel received a new piece of information… but it is one that they hated and rejected. Jesus Christ claimed to be God.
“I and the Father are one.”” (John 10:30, NIV)
Since the Jewish establishment wanted to kill Jesus for this utterance, they understood very well that he was claiming to be God. So this part is pretty easy: Jesus either was God or he was not. If he was not, then he was a liar… and we should dismiss him from any list of great moral teachers — and perhaps toss that book out as well! But if he was telling the truth, then God has a plurality of persons, and the trinitarian description of God becomes more plausible.
Now, some people reject the idea that Jesus was a real person who actually lived in history… and I hope you are not one of them; that idea has fallen into disrepute. No credible historian denies that Jesus lived roughly as the New Testament said he did, that he was crucified — and that hundreds of people claimed to have seen him resurrected. It is also historically undeniable that his followers changed the world in his name. So, a person cannot hide behind a questionable stand that Jesus was more of a fable than a true being, or that he didn’t really matter like we Christians say he mattered, because those are demonstrably not true. So, what will you do with Jesus? He was real and he is in your face. Since you did not give us that information with your question, I have no idea where you stand. As such, please visit the following link for a fuller view of what Jesus did for us (and what you have to do for him).
Okay… now back to your question. If you believe in God enough to hold us responsible to a Bible verse, your argument hinges on staying in that frame of reference. In other words, if you have given God’s word credence for purposes of your challenge, you must continue holding that credence for the duration of this answer. As such, you must carefully consider how and why God delivered his word to us. We call this process revelation — and a fundamental understanding of God’s revelation is that it is progressive.
We know from the biblical record that, before Moses wrote things down, people already had a profound knowledge of God… and that he even spoke with some of them (like Job, Noah and Abraham)… and that was entirely appropriate in that age. But in Moses’ era, God began recording his revelation in written form. This was different in that it was an addition to God’s exclusive use of the oral tradition, but it was designed particularly for that age. Since God would now make the people responsible to follow a legal code, he had better put that code in writing.
But please note that Moses did not just write down the Law. He also wrote down God’s account of creation… but more specifically… the account of humanity and humanity’s fall into sin. God also recorded the story of his selecting a people, the Jews, to carry his name into the world… but why go through all this? To redeem humankind. The Jews would provide the messianic bloodline, and they would preserve and propagate God’s Law. These were necessary steps in the redemptive process, and information like Deuteronomy 6:4 was not only appropriate; it was perfect for that age.
But did you notice something about God’s revelatory process? It, by its very nature, increases information by way of building on the former, not by way contradiction and disposal. If God worked like that, then we could say of God that he had formerly been mistaken… and that would be a schoolboy-level error in both biblical and natural theology. God’s methods must increase information without contradiction — or he’s not God!
Reading the Jewish history shows us how God spoke differently to the people when they failed in the Promised Land… and when they spiraled down into the divided kingdoms… and as they marked time in captivity. These were decidedly sad revelations which were appropriate for that time. But then God stopped revealing… and this went on for 400 years. The Jews must have felt that God had abandoned them… but no. He was setting them up for the greatest revelation of all time: Jesus Christ — Messiah, Redeemer — has come in the flesh. The kingdom of God was at hand (Mk. 1:15).
“But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”” (Luke 1:30–33, NIV).
As to revelation, the Old Testament had prophecies concerning the Messiah — and these were precious-words-in-a-book. But they were nothing compared to their real-time fulfillment in Bethlehem that day. This was a new revelation: God was with us!
Can you see how this piece of information was exactly appropriate for its moment… and that before its moment it was hidden in shadow… and that after its moment we were in a position to understand it better? That is simply how the transmission of information works… and not just in the Bible. The transmission of information is linear; as facts accumulate we reanalyze the data.
When all we had was Deuteronomy 6:4, we saw clearly that God was one God — and especially as opposed to the many gods of the nations. But now that we have accumulated information about the nature of God, about redemption, about the Messiah and prophecy, we can make sense of a construction where God is one in essence… yet he is more than one in person. This new information does not contradict the old information. It builds on the old information, giving us a more complete picture of God. Remember, that’s how revelation works — it is progressive… and we have a wonderful passage of Scripture to explain the process.
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” (Hebrews 1:1–4, NIV, emphasis mine)
The apostle Peter weighed in too as he explained how God works within time… but for our sake. Remember, although God is omni-temporal (experiencing all time at the same moment and without restriction), he is also atemporal (existing outside of time). This makes him transcendent yet imminent in the creation. But his imminence was accomplished (and in no small part) by Jesus Christ… who walked with us and talked with us… and sacrificed his all for us.
“[Jesus] was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”
(1 Peter 1:20, NIV)
The above verse also tells us that, even before he created the space-time continuum, God had already chosen Christ to be the Redeemer… and this is an immeasurable time before any human lived on the earth.
So, although redemption through Christ was always God’s plan, he has revealed his plan for our sake… but note this well: any plan that would be revealed for our sake would have to be revealed over time. At the time of Deuteronomy 6:4, when Israel was just learning monotheism, it would have been disastrous to reveal the fuller truth — that our one God exists in three persons… yet while remaining one God. That was always the truth — even before the foundations of the world — but that was not always optimal information for every human at every moment. After all, Old Testament Israel hadn’t even met Jesus during the Law. But we have — and we know how a man can also be God because we have seen it!
We should also look at the WIIFM (What’s In It for Me?) After all, God is all-sufficient, so this redemption stuff is certainly not for him. Redemption is all about us. As such, you can think of these verses as God’s purposes for humanity.
““Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”” (Jeremiah 1:5, NIV)
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love”
(Ephesians 1:4, NIV)
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:29, NIV)
Not only did God have the plan of redemption in mind before he even created the space-time continuum — and not only did he have Jesus in mind to be the Redeemer back then — he also had us in mind… and I mean every individual one of us… before the foundations of the world. This shows that God always had a plurality of persons. But since God is a spirit-being, he could not redeem a human-being… not without being human himself. This is why we needed Jesus — the theanthropic person (or the God-man) — to become one of us. As our human kin, Jesus had the blood qualification to redeem us, but he also proved himself willing and able to redeem us (which were the two other qualifications to do the job).
You can probably see why none of this would make sense to people who do not accept the New Testament revelation. But to better understand why this would be necessary, picture a line-graph with the left starting at zero information (representing the instant of creation), and draw a line to today’s point of maximum information (representing today where we have the completed Scripture and centuries of related scholarship). This is the “whole” picture of God’s revelation. But as you can see, if a person does not agree tha the New Testament is authorative, they cannot see the way revelation and knowledge necessarily increases to meet God’s objectives. The slope increases over time… and this means that the faithful of ages past could not know God’s purposes like we know them today.
When you consider this slope of increasing information, and when you consider that God revealed more about himself and his purposes over time, the revelation of Deuteronomy 6:4 — being at a much lower point on this line than was Luke 1:30 — does not reveal contradictory information concerning the Trinity; it reveals partial information.
So again, is this your problem? Do you not believe that the New Testament is God’s inspired word? There are many technical aspects concerning the historical documents that speak to this (but which are beyond the scope of this answer). Check out the data for yourself. The following link is one of many:
Of course, what I’ve covered so far should also mitigate the kinds of problems that nonbelievers assume exist between the testaments. Is that your problem? Because revealing different aspects of a person at different points in time does not put the revealed points in logical contradiction. If that were true, no one would ever tell a story! But it is not just narratives that would be affected; virtually all communications involves an increase of information over time — and who jams-up a writer over sequentially revealed information… insisting that every aspect should be declared equally from the very beginning… or that it should be precisely the same as every other revealed instance?
I see two possible problems left. The most common would be the challenge to the deity of Jesus Christ, and the second would be understanding that Trinity. Now, Jesus’ deity is a necessary part of his belonging to the Trinity, so when I explain the Trinity, this will also explain his deity — but we need a warning here. Over the centuries people have tried to describe the Trinity by using different analogies like, an egg or a flame (which are three things but one thing) — but these fail. There is simply no analog for the Trinity. It is not like anything else, so no one “gets it” — not in a tuning-fork-in-the-loins kind of way. That being said, it can still be explained and understood adequately; otherwise God would never have revealed this aspect of himself.
To do this, however, I will ask your indulgence, because I have already given a full explanation of the Trinity (… or as full as is appropriate for one of these questions) to another person, and I am going to invite you to eavesdrop on that answer. If you follow the link below, you may be surprised to see just how logical the Trinity is… and how it is no problem that all that our one God can also be three.
I pray that all this has helped you.