Any employee that has had more than one supervisor knows the confusion that can occur when trying to follow instructions from several people and trying to please several people. It never works well. Consider trying to please multiple gods. That too, would not work out well. Thankfully, Christians worship one God, follow instructions from one God, and try to please one God. Let’s take a look at the one God the Bible describes.
Photo Credit: “Holy Trinity” by Hendrick van Balen
God Is One
I. GOD IS ONE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
When reading the first five books of the Old Testament it is good to remember who wrote the books, to whom they were written, and what was the historical context of “god” at that time. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible (Deut 31:9; Luke 24:37; Acts 3:20-23) between 1446 and 1406 BC after the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. At that time there were numerous gods throughout the Ancient Near East: gods of fertility, water gods, grain gods, and many many others. Moses was God’s chosen leader to take the people out of Egypt, and he wrote the first five books of the Old Testament as a way to communicate to the Israelites who they were and who their God was.
One of the main points that Moses wanted to make in the first five books of the Bible was that there is one God.
A. “God” Created the Earth, Not “gods”
1. The Israelite Creation Account
Moses began the book of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1, NLT).
Moses made the point that a singular “God” created the heavens and the earth. The earth was not created by “gods” like many of surrounding nations in Moses’s times believed.
The book continues with the creation account saying, “Then God [singular] said . . . ” (vv. 3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24, 26). From the beginning we see God (as singular) created the world.
2. Other Nations’ Creation Accounts[ref]This list is adapted from J. H. Walton, “Creation,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003])[/ref]
- Egyptian Account: Amun was the first of gods which was by himself who emerged from the waters. Then later Khnum formed people from clay on a potter’s wheel.
- Babylonian Account: The supreme of the Gods, Marduk, created humans for the service of other gods.
- Akkadian: Enki and Nintu “mix pure clay with the blood and flesh of the slain deity but also include the spirit of the slain god in the final product” (p. 160 of “Creation” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch).
- Mesopotamia: Marduk split the waters above and below and set the stars in place. Tiamat makes eleven monsters to cause havoc among the gods among the sea creatures.
- Mayan Account of Creation: The world was created through the game of two gods playing soccer.
As you can see the creation accounts of the local people groups and relations that existed during the time of Moses were very different than the Israelite creation account.
B. No Other God But God
1. The One God of the Old Testament
In Moses’s second book of the Bible he wrote about how the one true God should be the only God in the lives of his people. God told Moses to tell the people of Israel,
I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me. (Exodus 20:2–3, NLT)
God wants his people to know that he rescued the Israelites out of Egypt. It was not Moses or magic or anything else.
No Other Gods.
The Hebrew here with the use of the lamed (ל) preposition and the verb ‘to be’: לֹא־יִהְיֶה לְךָ (lo’ yihyeh lékha, ‘there will not be to you’) gives an emphatic prohibition. This is to say “You will not!” It has a strong expectation of obedience.
“The first of the Ten Commandments is that Israel was to worship the one true God. Worshiping false gods would be setting up rivals to Him (before Me may mean ‘in opposition to Me’ as well as ‘in My presence’) and thus overlooking His uniqueness (cf. vv. 22–23)” (Hannah, “Exodus,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 1, 139).
2. Gods of Other Nations Mentioned in the Old Testament
I mentioned earlier in this post that there were many other nations near Israel who worshipped many other gods. These were gods that the Israelites knew about and that God wanted them not to worship. This is why God wanted to make it perfectly clear that he was the one true God, that there was one God, and that God was him. Here’s a brief list of some of the other gods that the Bible described.
- Asherah Poles: God tells the Israelites in the Promised Land to “burn their Asherah poles and cut down their carved idols. Completely erase the names of their gods” (Deut 12:3-4).
- Baal: The Israelites “served the images of Baal” (Judg 10:6). They also burned “incense to Baal” (Jer 7:9) and had “altars for burning incense to your god Baal” (Jer 11:13). They “built pagan shrines to Baal, and there they burn their sons as sacrifices to Baal” (Jer 19:5). On the rooftops in Jerusalem the people were “burning incense to Baal” (Jer 32:29).
- Ashtoreth: The Israelites “served the images of . . . Ashtoreth” (Judg 10:6). Samuel told the people to “get rid of your foreign gods and your images of Ashtoreth” (1 Sam 7:3). Solomon, because of his foreign wives, worshipped “Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians” (1 Kings 11:5).
- Molech: Because of his foreign wives Solomon worshipped “Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites” (1 Kings 11:5). Solomon also “built a pagan shrine for . . . Molech, the detestable God of the Ammonites” (1 Kings 11:7). Isaiah tells of the people having “gone to Molech” (Isa 57:9). “The worship of Molech, an Ammonite god, was sometimes accompanied by child sacrifice (2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 32:35), but sending representatives to Ammon to worship their god sometimes resulted in death (you descended to the grave) (John A. Martin, “Isaiah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 1112.)
- Chemosh: Solomon “built a pagan shrine for Chemosh, the detestable god of Moab” (1 Kings 11:7).
- Multiple other gods: 2 Kings describes foreigners in Samarian worshipping Succoth-benoth, Nergal, Ashima (2 Kings 17:30), Nibhaz, Tartak, Adrammelech, Anammeleck (2 Kings 17:31).
- Bel: The prophet Isaiah describes “Bel . . . the gods of Babylon” (Isa 46:1). Jeremiah describes “Bel . . . will be utterly disgraced” (Jer 50:2).
- Nebo: The prophet Isaiah describes “Nebo . . . the gods of Babylon” (Isa 46:1).
- Amon: There was “Amon, the god of the Thebes” (Jer 46:25).
- Marduk: One of the gods of Babylon, “Marduk will be utterly disgraced” (Jer 50:2).
- Sakkuth: Amos describes that the people “served your pagan gods—Sakkuth your king god” (Amos 5:26).
- Kaiwan: Amos describes that the people “served your pagan gods. . . Kaiwan your star god” (Amos 5:26).
In Gen 1:1 Moses was clear that God created the world contrary to the other creation accounts. In Exodus Moses told them to worship the one God in spite of all of the other gods mentioned. Also see Deut 4:34-35, 39.
C. The Lord Is One
The Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is a summary of the Old Testament, the book of Deuteronomy is a summary of the Pentateuch, and Deuteronomy 6:4 is a summary of the book of Deuteronomy.
Listen, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! (Deuteronomy 6:4, NET)
My professor in my Trinitarianism class at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dr. J. Scott Horrell, described Deut 6:4 as the John 3:16 of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 6:4 makes it clear that the Lord God is the one and only God.
The translation notes for this verses from the NET Bible help us get a correct understanding of the Hebrew grammar of this verse. When Moses wrote, יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה׀ אֶחָֽד , there are two options for translation.
One option is to translate it: “‘The LORD is our God, the LORD alone’ (cf. NAB, NRSV, NLT). This would be an affirmation that the Lord was the sole object of their devotion. This interpretation finds support from the appeals to loyalty that follow (vv. 5, 14).”
Another option is to translate it: “‘The LORD is our God, the LORD is unique.’ In this case the text would be affirming the people’s allegiance to the Lord, as well as the Lord’s superiority to all other gods. It would also imply that he is the only one worthy of their worship. Support for this view comes from parallel texts such as Deut 7:9 and 10:17, as well as the use of ‘one’ in Song 6:8–9, where the starstruck lover declares that his beloved is unique (literally, ‘one,’ that is, ‘one of a kind’) when compared to all other women. Verses 4–5 constitute the so-called Shema (after the first word שְׁמַע, shéma’, ‘hear’), widely regarded as the very heart of Jewish confession and faith. When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment of all, he quoted this text (Matt 22:37–38)”
In his forthcoming book on the Trinity, J. Scott Horrell writes, “The other so-called ‘gods’ (e.g., Chemosh of Moab or Marduk of Babylon) have no turf in the cosmos. The God of Israel is the Creator, the Sovereign, the one true God” (Horrell, “God in Three Persons,” 143).
“The statement in this verse is the basic confession of faith in Judaism. The verse means that the LORD (Yahweh) is totally unique. He alone is God. The Israelites could therefore have a sense of security that was totally impossible for their polytheistic neighbors. The ‘gods’ of the ancient Near East rarely were thought of as acting in harmony. Each god was unpredictable and morally capricious. So a pagan worshiper could never be sure that his loyalty to one god would serve to protect him from the capricious wrath of another. The monotheistic doctrine of the Israelites lifted them out of this insecurity since they had to deal with only one God, who dealt with them by a revealed consistent righteous standard (Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 1, 274).
This verse focuses on the fact that God is one and what the appropriate response is. Additional Scriptures about God as one in the Old Testament are Exod 15:11; Deut 4:34-35, 39; 32:39; Josh 3:11, 13; 1 Kings 8:60; Gen 24:27; Pss 86:8-10; Isa 42:8; 43:10-11; 44:6; 45:5-6; 14, 18, 21-22; 46:9
II. GOD IS ONE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
In light of the physical life of Jesus—who was God—Jesus and the New Testament writers told us that there was one God.
A. God Is One and the Only God
I appreciate the words of Saint Symeon the New Theologian, “What I have said often before I will also say again and will never stop saying it. The Father is light, light the Son, light the Holy Spirit, one light, timeless, invisible, unmingled, eternal, uncreated, without quantity, without lack, invisible, outside and beyond all things, yet which both is and is perceived by the intellect, which no one among men has ever seen before having been purified, nor ever received before having seen it.”[ref]Saint Symeon the New Theology, On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, vol. 1 The Church and the Last Things, pp. 158-159[/ref]
1. One God to the Jews and Christians
One of the teachers of religious law approached Jesus and asked Jesus which of the commandments was the most important. Jesus replied,
The Lord our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. (Mark 12:29-30, NLT)
Jesus was the second member of the godhead and said that there was one God. The man asking the question affirmed what Jesus said by saying, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other” (Mark 12:32, NLT). (This is a quotation from Deut 4:35.) That man might not have realized that Jesus was God, but the important point is that Jesus said that there was one God.
2. Other Gods of the Greco-Roman Period[ref]Material about “Other Gods of the Greco-Roman Period” is adapted from “Religions, Greco-Roman” by E. Ferguson in The Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, edited by Ralph Martin and Peter Davids (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997), 1006-1011.[/ref]
This teaching that there was “one God” was very counter cultural to Jews at the time of the New Testament writings. Here’s a brief list of some of the other gods and religious that we popular when the New Testament writers were doing ministry.
Ancient Greek and Roman Religions
- Greeks: Greeks treated their deities as if they were larger-than-life human beings because “Greek religion derived from the myths and in the epics of Homer” (Ferguson, “Religions, Greco-Roman” Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, 1007). Greek deities were “anthropomorphic,” showing human passions, taking an interest in human affairs, while at the same time being ageless and deathless. Furthermore, they were not limited by space and were above ordinary morality.
- Romans: Romans had more of a legal cast and were less personalized in dealing with their deities. Human interact with these deities was “contractual” and as a result specific ceremonies had to be exactly followed. “Roman religion was ascribed to the institutions of the lawgiver Numa” (Ferguson, “Religions, Greco-Roman” Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, 1007).
Characteristics of Religion in the Hellenistic-Roman Age
In the Hellenistic-Roman age there was no distinction between religion and “state.” “Since idolatrous practices permeated all aspects of life (politics, the military, the theater, athletics, business), Jews and Christians were at a severe social and economic disadvantage” (p. 1007). As a result, the exclusivisim of Judaism and Christianity was very offensive to the pagan mindset of that time.
Civic cults were vibrant during the time of early Christianity. These cults consisted of an altar for sacrifice (the essential requirement for a sanctuary) and sacrifices. Grain, bread, vegetables, olive oil, and wine were most common but sometimes also meat. There also would be a cult statue which symbolized the deity, but that statue was often in a temple. Two narratives in Acts illustrate Greco-Roman civic cults: Acts 14:11-13 and Acts 19:23-41).
Imperial cults were higher level “cults” for the ruler/emperor of the land and the social elite. The local civic cults were often lower in hierarchy than the imperial cults.
- Oracles and Healing: There was a sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi and it was the main site for receiving divine communication. These oracles were used by cities on formal sacred affairs and by individuals on matters related to their personal lives. Furthermore they allowed dreams to be divine communication too. Healing sanctuaries were also present. The most important healing deity was Asclepius.
- Magic: Magic was widespread in the Greco-Roman world. There were curse tablets used to bring calamity upon an enemy, and amulets were used to ward off attacks from evil sources.
- Demons and Superstition: The Greek word δαιμον was a term used for intermediate divine beings that could be good or bad. Philosophers sometimes blamed demons for bad things.
- Astrology and Fate: Astrology and astronomy were not distinct in the Greco-Roman world. Yet, the movement of objects in the sky was seen by many to control even the smallest and most minuscule details of life on earth.
As you can tell, for Jesus, Paul, and other writers to say that there was “one” God was very controversial.
3. One God One Lord
Paul knew about all of the gods and cults of the Romans and Greeks yet, he still affirmed that there was one God in his letter to the Corinthians.
So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. But for us, There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:4–6, NLT, emphasis added)
In this context the Corinthians appear to have issues and confusion about whether or not they should eat food that has been offered to idols. In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, William Baker writes, “The people of Corinth worshipped such gods as Poseidon, Aphrodite, Artemis, Isis, Dionsysius, Apollo, Hermes, Zeus, and Asclepius, as well as nature gods like the sun, stars, fire, the sea, holy trees, mountains, and caves, and even divinized emperors such as Julius Caesar and Augustus. These varying types of gods are represented in 8:5 when Paul talks about gods located in heaven and on earth and lords. Everyone chose multiple gods to worship based on their own ethnic heritage, their craft, and other personal reasons. The only exceptions to this would have been the Jews in Corinth and the few Christians there. Representations of gods would surround them everywhere, on buildings, in the marketplace, in homes, in business transactions, at schools, at civil ceremonies, in government policies, at social functions, and in any situation involving food, especially meat” (Baker, “1 Corinthians” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 15, 122).
Additionally, I think it is important to point out that Paul said: “we know” there is one God. In effect, Paul was saying that Christians at that time all shared a belief that there is one God.
C. One God, Father of All
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he began chapter four talking about the unity of the body and used God as an illustration of the body of Christ.
There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. (Ephesians 4:5–6, NLT, emphasis added)
Paul made it clear to the believers in Ephesus that there is one Lord God. Paul having seen Jesus knew that there is one God.
D. One God
James, the half brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3; Gal 1:19) affirmed that there is one God.
You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. (James 2:19, NLT, emphasis added)
This is contained within the section about how faith without deeds is dead (James 2:14-26). James wanted to make it clear that there is one God. This is slightly different than Paul because James is written to the 12 tribes of Israel which already believed that there is one God. In effect, just because Jesus came to earth did not change the fact that their is still one God.
III. CONCLUSIONS FOR THE ONE GOD
A. I only have to satisfy one God.
I don’t know about you, but I am grateful to know I love and follow only one God. There is one God with one set of characteristics and qualities and attributes.
B. I only listen to one God.
C. Not all roads lead to heaven.
In our study of God and the Trinity, I hope that you can see that the OT and NT writers are all saying the same thing: there is one God. Whether Moses, Solomon, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, or James, all affirm that there is one true God. It is important for us too because some believe “all roads lead to God.” But that is not true because many gods are false. Just as in the Bible we need to communicate that there is one God.