Three or One or Three in One?


‘God is one, He is alone and there is no god besides Him.  If God is really ‘three’, part of a trinity why didn’t He clearly say so?  The reader is invited to consider what God could have said to make a clearer statement of His oneness and aloneness than these statements:

‘Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.’ Deuteronomy 4.39.

‘Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:  ‘I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God.’  Isaiah 44.6’ (Asher Norman ‘26 Reasons why Jews don’t believe in Jesus’ Page 71-73)

This means that is that God is one and one alone.  Therefore:

  • He cannot be divided into different persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
  • The idea of God as a ‘Trinity’ is an invention which contradicts the Torah.
  • God cannot appear in the form of a man, therefore Jesus cannot be considered as ‘Son of God’ or as a manifestation of God in a human body.

Asher Norman goes on to say, ‘From the Jewish perspective the Christian idea that Jesus was a deity, ‘the son of god’, whose death redeemed sin is deeply problematic because the Jewish Bible explicitly states that ‘God is not a man … nor a son of man.’  Numbers 23.19.  See also 1 Samuel 15.29, Hosea 11.9.   …  The Torah and the Jewish prophets Samuel and Hosea explicitly state in the Jewish Bible that God is not a man, nor the son of man.  These statements directly contradict the fundamental Christian claim about Jesus.  Since God is not a man, Jesus was not God.  …  There are many statements in the Jewish Bible that God is alone.  The Torah and the prophets are filled with statements that God is alone and that there is no other. ‘

Believers in Yeshua agree totally that God is one.  As we read in Isaiah:

· ‘There is no other God beside Me, a just God and a Saviour.  There is none beside Me.  Look to Me and be saved, all you ends of the earth!  For I am God and there is no other.’  Isaiah 45.22.

When Yeshua was asked by a Jewish teacher of the law, ‘Of all the commandments which is the most important?’ He replied, ‘The most important one is this:  ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  Mark 12.28-30.  

Writing to the followers of Yeshua in Corinth, Paul said, ‘We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.”   For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.’  1 Corinthians 8.4-6.  

At no point do the New Covenant writings contradict the Tenach in stating that there is one God, who is the Creator, the Redeemer and the Judge of humanity.  However there are a number of passages in the New Testament, which point to God being a plural unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  This of course is what Asher Norman is objecting to.

One example of this is the first chapter of John’s Gospel.  The opening verses read: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.   The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. …  No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.’  John 1.1-3, 14,18.  The most obvious interpretation of these words is that ‘the Word’ who ‘became flesh and dwelt among us’ is Jesus, who is also identified as the Son ‘who is himself God’.  The Word is said to be ‘with God’ and to be God, also that He was there ‘in the beginning’ and through Him all things were made.  In other words He is present at Creation and is Himself uncreated.  

Does the Tenach show God to be an absolute, unity, which cannot be divided?

This concept of Jesus as the Son of God and ‘the Word / God’ being made flesh is seen as the contradiction with the Jewish view of God as an indivisible unity, as stated above by Asher Norman, a view which is also the position of all streams of rabbinic Judaism.  God is one in an absolute and indivisible sense.  He cannot be Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He cannot appear in visible form as a man on earth.  Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith states:  ‘I believe that the Creator, blessed be his name, is One:  that there is no oneness in any form like his; that he alone was, is and ever will be our God.’  God is eternal, transcendent, invisible to humans on earth.  The words of the Shema show God to be one. “Shema Israel Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad”  (Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.) The basic prayer of Judaism is the Shema (Deuteronomy 6.4), which is taken to mean that God is one and therefore cannot be three!  This rules out the possibility of a plurality of the Godhead and the idea that God could leave heaven to become a man and dwell among us.

Nevertheless there are indications that this is a possibility in the Hebrew Bible.  The very first verse in the Bible is: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’  The word used for God is Elohim, a plural noun having the masculine ending ‘im’.  This word used of the true God in Genesis 1.1 is used around 2,500 times in the Tenach of God, where it is understood to be speaking of God as the one true God.   It is also used of other gods in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods (Elohim) before Me,” and in Deuteronomy 13:2, “Let us go after other gods (Elohim)… .”   This does not prove that God is a plural unity, but it does leave that possibility open.

If the plural form Elohim was the only form available for a reference to God, then it could be said that the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures had no other alternative but to use the word Elohim for both the one true God as well as for false gods. However, there is a singular form for Elohim: Eloah.  This is used in Deuteronomy 32:15-17 and 250 times elsewhere.  The fact that Elohim is used 2500 times suggests that the concept of God as a plural being is intentional.

We also find that when God speaks of Himself, there are places where He uses the plural pronoun:  Then God (Elohim) said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Genesis 1:26.  Why not say ‘In my image?’  He could hardly have made reference to angels since man was created in the image of God and not of angels.  Nor is it a strong case to say it means the plural of majesty.  

The Midrash Rabbah on Genesis comments on this passage:  ‘Rabbi Samuel Bar Hanman in the name of Rabbi Jonathan said, that at the time when Moses wrote the Torah, writing a portion of it daily, when he came to the verse which says, “And Elohim said, let us make man in our image after our likeness,” Moses said, “Master of the universe, why do you give here with an excuse to the sectarians (who believe in the Tri-unity of God)” God answered Moses, “You write and whoever wants to err, let him err.” (Midrash Rabbah on Genesis 1:26 [New York NOP Press, N.D.])  It is obvious that the Midrash Rabbah is simply trying to get around the problem of God speaking of Himself in the plural and fails to give an answer as to why He does so.

We find a similar use of the plural pronoun for God in Genesis 3.22, 11:7 and in Isaiah 6:8.  The Isaiah passage appears contradictory:  Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”  Why does God start the sentence with the question being asked by ‘I’ and then concluded with ‘us’.  If God is a plural unity then it is logical to do so.

There are also places in the Hebrew text where nouns and adjectives used of God are in the plural.  For example:

  • Ecclesiastes 12:1: Remember now your Creator … (Literally: Creators)
  • Psalm 149:2: Let Israel rejoice in their Maker. (Literally: Makers)
  • Isaiah 54:5: For your Maker is your husband. (Literally: Makers, Husbands)

These scriptures affirm both God’s unity and at the same time point towards the concept of a compound unity, allowing for a plurality in the Godhead.  

This is not actually ruled out by the Shema:  Deuteronomy 6:4: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!’  This verse is used more than any other to affirm that God is one and cannot be divided.  However the word for ‘our God’ – eloheinu – is in the plural and literally means our Gods.  Interestingly in the space of the six Hebrew words of the Shema, three refer to God.  

However what defines God here is the word ‘ECHAD’ – ‘one.’  Therefore He can’t be three.  However when the word echad is used in the Hebrew text, it does not always mean an absolute “one” but may be used of a compound “one,” not an absolute unity.   For example:

  • In Genesis 1:5 the combination of evening and morning comprise one (echad) day.
  • In Genesis 2:24 a man and a woman come together in marriage and the two “shall become one (echad) flesh.”
  • In Ezra 2:64 we are told that the whole assembly was as one (echad), though, of course, it was composed of numerous people.
  • In Ezekiel 37:17 two sticks are combined to become one (echad).

There is a Hebrew word that does mean an absolute unity and that is yachid, which is found in many Scripture passages, (Genesis 22:2,12; Judges 11:34; Psalm 22:21: 25:16; Proverbs 4:3; Jeremiah 6:26; Amos 8:10; Zechariah 12:10) the emphasis being on the meaning of “only”.  For example in Genesis 22 God tells Abraham to take his only son (ben yachid) and offer him as a sacrifice.  If Moses intended to teach God’s absolute oneness in the Shema, as over against a compound unity, this would have been a far more appropriate word. In fact, Maimonides noted the strength of “yachid’ and chose to use that word in his “Thirteen Articles of Faith” in place of echad.  However, Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Shema) does not use “yachid”, but echad, in reference to God.’  This does not prove that God is a plural unity, but it leaves the possibility open.

For more on this see:  Arnold Fruchtenbaum – The Trinity.

God is not a man that He should lie.

Asher Norman points to a verse which he says proves his case that God cannot appear in human form: ‘God is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent’ Numbers 23.19.  However in the context of Numbers 23 we find that the issue is not about how God can appear, but that God will not change his mind or lie to please a man.  

The Moabite king Balak has hired the mercenary prophet Balaam (who speaks these words) in order for him to curse Israel.  Balaam has just disappointed Balak by looking out over the tribes of Israel and blessing them, as commanded to by God.  Balak makes the foolish suggestion that if Balaam changes his position and looks at Israel from another place, Balaam will come up with the required curse.   Balaam replies that God is not a man who can be bribed or persuaded to change his mind, and he does not lie.  He has to speak out the words which God puts in his mouth, which turn out to be another blessing.  The rest of the verse makes this clear:  “Rise up, Balak, and hear! Listen to me, son of Zippor!  “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?  Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.   Numbers 23.18-20

This statement presents no problem at all to the believer in Yeshua, as it is one we wholeheartedly accept and agree with.  God is different in His nature and conduct to humans.  He does not lie, He does not change his mind, He is not susceptible to the frailty of humankind and He cannot be bribed or persuaded by men to behave in any way that contradicts His intrinsic nature.  His nature is different from human nature.  However it does not say that God can never appear in a form that is visible to humans or even in the form of a man.

It does not say this because if it did it would contradict other passages in the Tenach which actually do give examples of God doing precisely what Asher Norman says that God cannot do. The Bible, especially the Torah, has examples of a physical manifestation of God appearing to people.  

In Genesis 3.8 we read that Adam and Eve ‘heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.’  This shows a physical presence, someone walking in the garden from whom Adam and Eve tried to hide.  

In Genesis 18.1 we read:  ‘Then the Lord appeared to him (Abraham) by the terebinth trees of Mamre’.  Then the text records that there were three men before Abraham to whom he gave food.  The Lord then tells Abraham he is going to have a child by Sarah (Genesis 18.9-15).  Then the ‘men’ depart for Sodom.  Although the text does not tell us that two men depart, when we get to chapter 19 verse 1 the text does tell us that two angels (i.e. the men who departed in Genesis 18.16) arrived in Sodom.  After the ‘men’ (angels) have departed in verse 16, the Lord then tells Abraham what he is going to do in the coming destruction of Sodom (Genesis 18.17-32).  After the Lord has heard out Abraham’s plea for mercy for Sodom the text reads:  ‘So the Lord went his way as soon as he had finished speaking with Abraham: and Abraham returned to his place’ Genesis 18.33.  The implication of all this is that the three ‘men’ Abraham sees at the beginning of chapter 18 are comprised of two angels who go on to Sodom half way through the chapter and the Lord who stays to the end of the chapter after the two angels have left.  So the Lord appears along with the two angels in physical form as a man and eats food with Abraham.

In Genesis 32 we have an encounter which Jacob had as he was about to cross over into the Promised Land, returning after 20 years hard labour for Laban the Syrian with his wives and flocks.  He prayed to God, terrified that his brother Esau would get his revenge and kill him for taking his birthright and his father’s blessing (Genesis 27). To appease Esau, he sent him gifts and divided his family and flocks into companies in the hope that this might give them more protection if they were attacked.  

‘Then Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.  Now when he saw that he did not prevail against him he touched the socket of his hip: and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as he wrestled with him’ Genesis 32.24-25.  To prove that this was not just a figment of his imagination Jacob then walked with a permanent limp (Genesis 32.31).

You can’t get much more physical than an all night wrestling match.  The person you are wrestling with obviously must have a body.   So who was this mysterious man?  The next few verses point to the answer:

Then Jacob asked (the man), saying, ‘Tell me what is your name, I pray.’

And he said, ‘Why is it that you ask about my name?’  And he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the place Peniel (means ‘face of God’):  ‘For I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved’ Genesis 32.26-30.

The only conclusion one can come to from these verses is that Jacob identified the man he had wrestled with as being God.  

So from these verses we see that humans had contact with a being who appeared in human form, but whom they identified as God.  He walked in a garden, he ate food and he wrestled, all very physical activities.  

At the end of his life, as he was blessing his sons, Jacob looked back on all the supernatural encounters he had had in his life and identified these with the ‘Angel’ who had kept him:

‘And he (Jacob) blessed Joseph and said: “God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day, the Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads…”’ Genesis 48.15-16.

In these verses he is equating God with ‘the Angel’, the one who has redeemed him and the one he is asking to bless Joseph and his grandsons.  

We read in Exodus 14 of the Angel of the Lord (Malach Adonai) who would go before the Israelites to bring them into the Promised Land and to fight against their enemies.  Concerning this Angel, the Lord says, “Beware of him and obey his voice; do not provoke him, for he will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in him” Exodus 23.21.  This sounds like the authority of God is delegated to him and his words are as God’s words.  He has God’s name in him and the name implies his nature.  He also has power to pardon or not pardon transgressions, something which only God can do.  

In the book of Judges the Angel of the Lord appears to Manoah and his wife in the form of a man.  He tells them that they would bear a son who should be a Nazirite (dedicated to God).  This son would be Samson.  They ask his name and he replies, “Why do you ask my name seeing it is wonderful?”  (Judges 13.18).  The Hebrew word for wonderful used here is ‘peli’ which is always associated with the wonders of God.  Then when they offer a burnt offering to the Lord, the Angel of the Lord ascends to heaven in the flame of the altar.  Manoah’s response to this is to say to his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God” Judges 13.22.  In other words they recognise that the Angel of the Lord is equal with God.

So can man see God?

It does appear that there is a contradiction in the Bible in answer to this question.  In Exodus 33.20 God says to Moses “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.”  But in Exodus 24.9-11 we read, ‘When Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity.   But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.’

In fact the Bible is full of occasions when men saw God. Some of them saw Him in a dream, some saw Him in a vision, but for most there is no such qualification. God appeared to them in such a way that they knew it was He. Sometimes He appeared in a human form.  

Here is a list of verses where the Lord appeared to men:  Abraham: Genesis12:7, 17.1, 18.1-2, 22-23.  Isaac:  Genesis 26.2,26.24.  Jacob:  Genesis 28.13, 32.30-31, 35.9.  Moses:  Exodus 3.6, 16, 33.20-23, Numbers 12.6-8.  Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel Exodus: 24.10 [in a human form].  Balaam:  Numbers 24.4.  Solomon:  1 Kings 3.5, 9.2, 2 Chronicles 7.12.  Job 42.5.  Isaiah 6.1,5.  Daniel 7.9.  Amos 9.1.  The congregation of Israel:  Exodus 16.10, 24.17, Leviticus 9.23, Numbers 16.19, 42.  Ezekiel saw the image of the Glory of the Lord in a human form in visions:  Ezekiel 1.26-28, 3.23, 8.2-3, 43.2-3.

According to the passage in Exodus 3 (Moses and the Burning Bush) God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!”  And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”   Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.’

Interestingly the Targum Onkelos translates Exodus 3.6 as Moses ‘was afraid to look beside the glory of the Lord.’  This is a way of deflecting from the force of the Hebrew text which identifies the one Moses who was appearing to Moses as YHVH – the Lord.  

Interestingly John in the first chapter of his Gospel also says, ‘No man has seen God at any time’ but then says ‘the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.’  He has already told us that this one whom he identifies as ‘the Word of God’ was ‘with God and the Word was God.’  He (the Word) was made flesh (i.e. appeared in human form) and was visible to John personally and to thousands of others who saw Him during His life on earth.  So no man has seen God and yet people have seen God.  Is this a contradiction in the Bible?

Or is it a revelation of the fact which is to be found in both the Tenach and the New Covenant that we cannot see God as He is enthroned in the heavens and live, but that there have been times in human history when God has appeared in some visible form to humans on the earth.  And those who have seen Him in this form have not only lived, but been enlightened by the experience.  

The forms in which God has appeared are different – coming in the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire which led the Israelites through the Red Sea and through the Wilderness, coming as the glory cloud (Shekinah) which filled the Tabernacle, coming in the form of a man, or in the burning bush, but He has appeared.  For the most part these were brief momentary appearances of the Lord, but according to the New Testament He made a longer appearance when He came and dwelt on earth in the person of Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah.   In John 1 he is described as the Word of God through whom God created the heavens and the earth, who was ‘with God’ and yet ‘was God’ at the same time.  This suggests that God is a divisible unity who can appear on earth and yet remain in heaven at the same time.  This concept of God is actually backed up by the appearances of the Lord in the Hebrew Bible.

The Word and the Memra.

Interestingly there are Jewish teachings which do imply that God is a divisible being.  Hassidim teach about the ten Sefirot, the so-called divine emanations that act as intermediaries between the completely spiritual and unknowable Creator and the material world.  According to the Zohar there are five different expressions relation to various aspects of the threefold nature of the Lord – ‘the mystery of the three’ (Aramaic raza’ di-telatha).  

The ‘Memra’ or the Word (the expression used in John’s Gospel and attributed to Jesus) is the phrase used in Jewish writings to speak of how God contracted Himself into a form, able to create the heavens and the earth and also to appear in a form recognisable to humans.  

Where does the concept of the Memra come from?  When we look at the creation account we find that God created by speaking the word.  ‘And God said, “Let there be light and there was light.’  Right through Genesis 1 we have the phrase, ‘va yomer elohim’ – ‘And God said.’  Why did God speak when He created the universe?  Who was He speaking to?  Michael Brown writes, ‘It seems there was a creative, dynamic force to his words, a power and energy in his command, a tangible release of his divine life.  He spoke and it was so.’  P 17 Vol 2 Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus.  Once the word is uttered it becomes whatever God has spoken into being (light, earth, seas, sea creatures, land creatures, birds, human beings).

Michael Brown goes on to write:  ‘The rabbis took this one step further.  Since God was often conceived as somehow ‘untouchable’, it was necessary to provide some kind of link between the Lord and His earthly creation.  One of the important links in rabbinic thought was ‘the Word’ called ‘memra’ in Aramaic, from the root of the Hebrew word to say (‘mr), the root used throughout Genesis 1, when God said and the material world came into existence.  

We find this memra concept hundreds of times in the Aramaic Targums, the translations and paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures that were read in the synagogues before, during and after the time of Jesus.  The Targum for Genesis 1.27 ‘God created man’ reads ‘The Word (memra) of the Lord created man.’  Genesis 3.8:  ‘They heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden’ in the Targum reads, ‘And they heard the sound of the Memra / Word of the Lord God walking in the midst of the garden.’  Exodus 20.1 (the giving of the 10 Commandments) ‘And the Lord spoke all these words’ in the Targum ‘And the memra / Word of the Lord spoke all these words.’  In the Targum of Deuteronomy 4.7 we read: ‘The memra of the Lord sits upon his throne high and lifted up and hears our prayer whenever we pray before him and make our petitions.’  Isaiah 45.17 ‘Israel will be saved by the memra / Word of the Lord.’  

In these passages and many others the memra, the Word of the Lord, becomes the mediator through whom God creates the world, gives the Law, hears their prayer and saves his people.   So if Jewish teachers could get hold of this idea of the Word as being God and also being ‘with God’ from the Tenach, is it so impossible that this ‘Word’ could be made flesh in the person of Yeshua the Messiah for the purpose of making God known to us: ‘And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.  For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Yeshua the Messiah?’

A fascinating (though somewhat difficult) book on this subject in ‘The Great Mystery’ by Hirsch Prinz.  Written in the 19th century this book quotes extensively from Jewish writings to show that Jewish scholars have long wrestled with the problem of the unity of God as revealed in the Hebrew Bible.  He quotes some astonishing writings which point to a view within Judaism of God as a plural unity.  He refers to the ‘Memra’ (‘Word’) through whom the world was made, also known as ‘The Middle Pillar’ and the Angel of the Covenant, also known as ‘Metatron’ who reveals God to mankind.  

He writes of a commentary on the Shema (Deuteronomy 6.4) concerning the threefold mention of God’s name (Sohar, Gen p 15, versa, Amsterdam Edition):  ‘Thus my teacher, Rabbi Simeon ben Yocchai, instructed me (Sohar, vol 3, p 26) that these three steps in God are three Spirits, each existing of itself, yet united in One.  His words are these:  ‘Thus are three Spirits united in one.  The Spirit which is downwards (that is, counting three) who is called the Holy Spirit; the Spirit which is the Middle Pillar, who is called the Spirit of Wisdom and of Understanding, who is also called the Spirit below.  The upper Spirit is hidden and in secret.  In him are existing all the holy Spirits (the Holy Spirit and the Middle Pillar) and all that is light.’  (Page 27-8).

He goes on to show how the ancient paraphrase of the Bible by Jonathan ben Uzziel teaches that it was through the Word (or Memra) who is uncreated and self existing that God created all things:  ‘That this Word is the essential and uncreated Word, one of the Three Heads which are one is evident from his being the Creator of man, as the Jerusalem Paraphrase of Jonathan ben Uzziel (Genesis 1.27) faithfully teaches me, saying: ‘And the Word of Adonai created man in his likeness, in the likeness of Adonai, Adonai created, male and female created he them.’  (Page 32).

He gives a number of references from rabbinic writings to the Divine nature of the Angel of the Covenant or the Angel of God who appeared to the Patriarchs and led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness.  Commenting on Genesis 31.11 (‘And the Angel of God spoke unto me in a dream’) he quotes Rabbi Moses ben Nachman who says ‘According to the truth this Angel promised here, the Angel, the Redeemer in whom is the great name; for in the Lord Adonai is everlasting strength, the Rock of Ages.  He is the same who has said;  ‘I am the God of Bethel’ (Genesis 31.13).  The scriptures have called him Malach (Angel / Ambassador), because through this designation of an Ambassador we learn that the world is governed through him.’  (Page 56).

He quotes extensively from a commentary by Rabbi Bechai on Exodus 23.21 about the Angel of the Lord, mentioned above:  ‘This Angel is not one of those created intelligences which can sin … This Angel is one of the Inherent Ones.  ‘For he will not pardon your transgressions’.  Because he belongs to the class of Beings which cannot sin; yea he is Metatron, the Prince of God’s countenance and therefore it is said: ‘to keep thee in the way’.’  (Page 58-60)

He goes on to say that this Angel is the one by whom God is made known in the world, who must be obeyed as God must be obeyed and whose power to forgive (or not forgive) sins ‘is not delivered to any of the created intelligences’.  So if he is uncreated, who is he?  This commentary clearly distinguishes between created angels who do have the power to sin and this Angel who is apparently different in nature from any created being.  

Developing this theme, he goes on to show how the Memra (word) is not only described as the Angel of God, but also as ‘Metatron’ in rabbinic writings.  Concerning this mysterious figure he quotes Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai in Zohar volume 3 page 227, Amsterdam edition:  ‘The Middle Pillar is the Metatron who has accomplished peace above according to the glorious state there.’  (Page 61).

Rabbi Bechai (Zohar page 114 column 1 Amsterdam edition) says of Metatron:  ‘God said to Moses, Come up unto the Lord; this is Metatron.  He is called by this name Metatron because in this name are implied two significations, which indicate his character.  He is Lord and Messenger.  There is also a third idea implied in the name Metatron: it signifies a Keeper; for in the Chaldee language, a keeper (or watchman) is called ‘Matherath’:  and because he is the keeper (preserver of the world), he is called (Psalm 121.4) ‘The keeper of Israel.’  From the signification of his name we learn that he is the Lord over all which is below; because all the hosts of heaven and all things upon earth are put under his power and might.’  (Page 61)

Commenting on Psalm 2 ‘Thou are my Son; this day I have begotten thee’ he quotes ‘Tikunei Ha Zohar’ cap.67, page 130:  ‘There is a perfect man, who is an Angel.  This Angel is Metatron, the Keeper of Israel; He is a man in the image of the Holy One, blessed be he, who is an emanation from him (from God);  yea, he, Metatron is Jehovah (Adonai); of him it cannot be said, he is created, formed or made; but he is the Emanation from God.’ (Page 70)

A man, who is an Angel and who is Adonai, the Lord?  If Jewish writings can reach this conclusion about the mysterious being who appears in the Hebrew Bible, why should it be considered so impossible that the final revelation of this one should come in him being born in human form and dwelling amongst us?  Is the ‘Memra’ (Word) whom the Targums speak of as being active in creation the same one as the ‘Logos’ (Word) revealed in John Chapter 1, the Word who was made flesh, the one through whom the worlds were made appearing in human form?  And since John was a Jewish disciple of Jesus, not a Greek philosopher is it not much more likely that he was thinking of the Rabbinic concept of the ‘Memra’ as he wrote his Gospel, rather than the Greek philosopher Plato’s concept of the Logos?

‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not. … And the Word was made flesh and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’  John 1.1-5, 14.  

Messianic Prophecies

So what do the prophecies in the Bible of the Messiah say about his nature?  According to Asher Norman Isaiah’s prophecy ‘destroys the Christian claim that Jesus is god.  He quotes Isaiah 11.1-2:  ‘A staff will emerge from the stump of Jesse and a shoot will sprout from his roots.  The spirit of Hashem (the Lord) will rest upon him (Messiah ben David), a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of Hashem.  He will be imbued with a spirit of fear for Hashem.’  Asher Norman comments on this:  ‘The prophet Isaiah said that the Messiah ben David would have ‘fear of Hashem.’  Logically God cannot fear himself.  Logically it is irrational to posit that God fears anything.  Therefore Isaiah’s prophecy destroys the Christian claim that Jesus is ‘god’.  

In the context Isaiah 11 is about the reign of Messiah in the coming Messianic kingdom or Millennium.  We agree that this passage is about the Messiah, and describes His reign on earth after He has judged the world in righteousness and brought an end to the reign of the wicked (verses 3-4).  At this time He will rule the world by the power of the Spirit of the Lord (the Holy Spirit).  This spirit will be upon Him and will bring wisdom, understanding, counsel and knowledge of the Lord as well as fear (honour, respect, awe) of the Lord to the peoples of the earth.  This period corresponds to the Millennial (1000 year) reign of Messiah described in the book of Revelation chapter 20 – a period which follows the second coming of Jesus.

The remainder of the passage shows that Messiah will do things which are impossible to do by any man, however great and gifted he may be.  His reign will not only affect human society, bringing peace and justice to the earth, but also the animal world: ‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young ones shall lie down together; 
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, 
and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.’  Isaiah 11.6-9

No man however great he may be can change the behaviour of wild animals, which is what this passage claims the Messiah will do.  Apparently Messiah will return the created world to the pre-Fall state, of vegetarian animals and non-poisonous snakes.  If this is to happen literally it must mean that Messiah ben David has divine power as God.  To avoid coming to this conclusion, Maimonides gave a non-literal explanation of this passage saying it means that the Gentile nations (wild animals / the wolf) will live at peace with Israel (the lamb).  But doing that is to change the meaning of the text.  

Isaiah goes on to say that in this day the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, will be in your midst (i.e. present among you).  ‘Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song;  He also has become my salvation (Yeshua).’   Therefore with joy you will draw water  from the wells of salvation (Yeshua).  …. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!  Isaiah 12.3-6.  

In fact a number of passages, which are associated with the coming of Messiah ben David and the Messianic kingdom age, imply that He is the Lord coming to save His people.  In the vision of Isaiah 2 of the coming Messianic kingdom in which there is peace and justice on earth, it is the LORD, ‘the God of Jacob’ who teaches ‘us his ways’ and judges between the nations, causing wars to cease.  

In Jeremiah 23.5 we read of the descendant of David who is clearly identified as the King Messiah.   In the next verse we read:  ‘In His days Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell safely:  Now this is the name by which He will be called:  THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’  The name given to the Messiah contains the divine name, a clear indication that the Messiah is to be a divine being.

Zephaniah describes the future King of Israel as the ‘Lord’ who is in your midst: ‘The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall see disaster no more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak. The LORD your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save.’  (Zephaniah 3.15-16)  See also Ezekiel 44.2, 48.35, Joel 3.16-17.  All these passages imply something much more than a great man coming along and sorting out the problems.  They imply the Lord Himself coming to save His people as Messiah ben David. 

Zechariah 14 speaks of the Lord coming to rescue Israel from the nations which gather against Jerusalem in the last days of this age.  The text says:  ‘Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle.  And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which faces Jerusalem on the east’   Zechariah 14.3-4.  The word used for the Lord is again the Hebrew name for God.   Following this event we read in Zechariah 14.9 that ‘the LORD shall be King over all the earth.’ The nations will then come up to Jerusalem to worship ‘the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.’  (Zechariah 14.16)

This passage is believed Jews to be about the Messiah coming at the end of days and today the Mount of Olives is covered in gravestones. It is the most prestigious place to be buried, because it is believed that the Messiah will come to the Mount of Olives, blow the trumpet for the resurrection of the dead and then those who are buried there will be the first to be resurrected.   The theological problem this raises for Orthodox Jews is that if we agree that Zechariah 14 is about the Messiah (and we do!) then the Messiah is called God.  Not only this but He will also apparently have feet and stand on the Mount of Olives.  If He has feet presumably He will have the rest of a body as well!

Jesus as Son of God

Asher Norman says that the term Son of God is used in the Bible of ordinary people.  It is used of Israel when the Lord says ‘Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn.’ Exodus 4.22.  Also in Hosea 11.1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.’  It is used in Psalm 2 ‘where God referred to the newly anointed King David:  ‘You are My son, today I have begotten you.’  Psalm 2.7.  

While we do not deny that there are these references to Israel as the son of God, the verses in Hosea 11 and Psalm 2 also have Messianic significance.  There are a number of other verses in the Tenach, which Asher Norman does not quote which do point to one who is Son of God and is clearly an exalted person who has divine status.  

In Isaiah 7.14 we read: ‘Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel’ (God with us).  In Isaiah 9.6 we read of one who is to born a child and yet who is the Mighty God and the Everlasting Father:  ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.  Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward even forever.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.’

How can someone be a son and the Everlasting Father at the same time?  If he is a mortal reigning on David’s throne how can he establish it with judgment and justice forever?  Why is he called ‘the Mighty God’?  One rabbinic explanation of these verses is that they refer to the godly King Hezekiah, but this cannot adequately explain this verse because not long after his death Judah would go into captivity in Babylon and the line of kings descended from David would cease to rule.  Also amongst the names given to this one are divine titles ‘Mighty God and Everlasting Father’.  The one spoken of being born as a male child has to be at the same time an eternal person.  This passage actually points to both the first and the second coming of Jesus as the Messiah.  At His first coming He was born as a child and given as a son, but had the divine nature and so could be called ‘Mighty God’.  He will bring in an everlasting kingdom and so will be ‘Everlasting Father’ Avi ad or father of everlastingness!  At His second coming He will rule on David’s throne bringing peace and justice to Israel and the nations.

In 1 Chronicles 17.11-14 the prophet Nathan comes to David with a prophecy about his son:  ‘And it shall be, when your days are fulfilled, when you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up your seed after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever.   I will be his Father, and he shall be My son; and I will not take My mercy away from him, as I took it from him who was before you.   And I will establish him in My house and in My kingdom forever; and his throne shall be established forever.’  

While the prophecy does apply to the line of kings which would follow David through his son Solomon, it clearly goes beyond that to speak of one of the line of David who would be a ‘son’ who would have an eternal kingdom, an eternal house and an eternal throne, something no human king could have, and something which clearly was not fulfilled in the now long ceased line of kings descended from David.  

Interestingly this prophecy is referred to in the annunciation of the birth of Jesus as the Messiah to Miriam by the angel Gabriel: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.   He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.   And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”  Luke 1.30-33.  Only an eternal person can have an eternal house, throne and kingdom and that is what is promised to Yeshua the Messiah here.

The ‘Son of Man’ / ‘Son of God’ theme is also found in Psalm 2 where we read of the King who will come to distress the nations at the end of days when they rage and take counsel against the Lord and His anointed (Messiah).  Clearly this Psalm goes beyond anything King David could accomplish and points to the Messiah as the Son of God:  ‘The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.   Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.’  Psalm 2.7-8.   In this passage again we see that the Son is given the nations for an inheritance and in the light of this they are instructed: ‘Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.’  Psalm 2.10-12.  

They should worship the Son who has the ability to deal with the nations in wrath for their rebellion against the Lord and who will bless all those who put their trust in Him.  This sounds like this one who is identified as the Son has divine power and should be worshipped.

In Proverbs 30.4 we read: ‘Who has ascended into heaven, or descended?  Who has gathered the wind in His fists?  Who has bound the waters in a garment?  Who has established all the ends of the earth?  What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know?’  Clearly the answer to the first four questions is God, the Creator.  So who is ‘His Son’ and what is His name?  Yeshua / Jesus, the Messiah, Son of God.

So what does the New Testament say?

As we have already seen, the opening verses of John’s Gospel read: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.   The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. …  No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.’  John 1.1-3, 14, 18.  John here identifies ‘the Word’ as being ‘with God and the Word was God.’  He clearly means that ‘the Word’ is Jesus when he says ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’  

John 1.1-14 shows Jesus as the Word of God through whom creation came into being.  In John 8.58 Jesus claims of Himself that he is pre-existent taking on one of the names of God for Himself:  ‘Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”   In John 10.30 He says, ‘I and My Father are one.’  In John 17.5 He says ‘And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.’  All of these verses point to the identity of Jesus as one who came from the Father in heaven, has an eternal nature and is equal in nature and status to the Father God.

John 5.22-30 shows Jesus as the one to whom the Father has committed the judgement of the world, an action which belongs to God alone: ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.  For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.   Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.’

Some say that John emphasises the divine nature of Messiah, while the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) do not.  However if we look carefully we see that the Synoptic Gospels also teach this.  

In Luke 1.30-38 the angel Gabriel announces the coming birth of the Messiah to Miriam (Mary), saying: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.   He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”  Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”  And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.’  The reason for the virgin birth is so that the Son of God can come into the world through the Holy Spirit implanting the seed in the womb of Miriam.  By this means Yeshua was conceived and born as Son of God and Son of Man at the same time.  

In Mark 2.1-12, a paralysed man is brought to Jesus to be healed by Him.   Jesus says to him, ‘Son your sins are forgiven you.’ The scribes observing this event say Jesus is speaking blasphemy because ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’  Jesus then demonstrates that He ‘has power on earth to forgive sins’ by raising the paralytic before their eyes.  In doing this He makes the claim to be God.  

In Matthew 26.57-8 at His trial before the Sanhedrin, the High Priest asks Jesus, ‘Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God!’  Jesus answers, quoting Daniel 7.13: Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The High Priest interprets this as Jesus claiming equality with the Father and accuses Him of blasphemy and being worthy of death.

In his letters Paul gives Jesus divine status:  ‘For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily’ Colossians 2.9.  ‘And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.’  1 Timothy 3.16,  ‘Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ,  who gave Himself for us.’ Titus 2.13.

In Philippians 2, Paul writes that Jesus existed ‘in the form of God’ and then appeared in the likeness of man.  The word used for form is ‘morphe’ in Greek which means the essential nature of something or someone.  So in this passage Paul is saying that Jesus’ essential nature is that of being God and that He was not committing any wrong act or robbery in claiming equality with God.  In taking on human form he emptied himself of his divine privileges, but in so doing he did not cease to be God:  ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Messiah Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’  Philippians 2.5-11.

Jesus is portrayed as being worshipped on earth and in heaven. ‘Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”’ Matthew 14.33. ‘And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”’ John 20.28.  ‘Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  And they sang a new song, saying:  “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals;  for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God;  and we shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5.8-14.  

Jesus never rebuked anyone for worshipping Him.  When anyone worships someone who should not be worshipped in the New Testament they are always told not to, because only God should be worshipped.     Acts 13.8-18, Revelation 19.10, 22.8-9.

While on earth the New Testament tells us that Jesus communicated in prayer with the Father, who is God, in heaven.  He also spoke of the Holy Spirit as a divine person who would come upon the disciples after His return to the Father in heaven.  At the same time the Bible speaks of God as being one.  The only way this can be explained by a believer in Jesus and the New Testament is that God is a divisible unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, known as the Trinity (a word which is actually never used in the New Testament).  

In our article ‘Messianic Prophecies fulfilled and as yet unfulfilled’ we list the major prophecies fulfilled by Jesus.  See also our articles Messiah has come  and Messiah will reign

Obviously our conclusion from this is that Jesus is the Messiah who has come once to fulfil the prophecies of the Suffering Servant by dying as a sacrifice for our sins and rising again from the dead.  He will come again to fulfil the prophecies of the Reigning King Messiah.  In the light of this it is not idolatry for Jewish people to believe in Jesus as Saviour and Lord and to worship God through Jesus as the mediator.  In fact the New Testament teaches that our eternal salvation depends upon it.