1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul and the Shema, part I of II

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.

//These are the words of Paul. Scholars have long wondered if Paul was purposefully echoing the Shema of the Old Testament. That verse reads like this:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD –Deuteronomy 6:4

This echo, then, may be a subtle indication of Paul’s christology … meaning, Paul believed Jesus was divine, a part of the Godhead. The argument is that Paul, being a strict monotheist, was making an explicit claim that Jesus and God are One. But does that mean Paul is actually including Jesus in the divine entity? Scholars are divided.

For myself, I just can’t see it. I don’t think Paul thought of Jesus as anything like today’s concept of the second part of the Trinity. The verse before this one in Paul’s letter to Corinth reads like this:

For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many)

So Paul seems to me to be saying there are lots of gods, and lots of lords but we recognize only one god and we recognize only one lord. In separating “lord” from “god,” it is significant that Paul simply never calls God “Lord” the way he does Jesus. There is no “Lord God” in Paul’s writings; only “Lord Jesus,” but there are many, many references in Paul’s writings that treat “God” and the “Lord” as separate entities.

There is no christological claim in Paul’s Shema echo except to identify Jesus as the anointed one of God; the one God chose to be Lord. More tomorrow.

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2 Comments

  1. You seem to create a sort of false dichotomy here.

    In one paragraph you say, “The argument is that Paul, being a strict monotheist, was making an explicit claim that Jesus and God are One.” Then you say in the next one, “I don’t think Paul thought of Jesus as anything like today’s concept of the second part of the Trinity.” But this fails because just to say that Paul is placing Jesus in the Godhead, or equal with God, is not to say Paul was presenting Trinitarian theology 300 years early. It seems you are saying there are two options – Paul sees Jesus as not God or Paul is a Trinitarian.

    But there is no reason to set it up this way. I don’t know if any conservative scholars try to argue Paul was a Trinitarian, but I just finished Wright’s big book on Paul and he certainly does not say this. He says Paul rethought monotheism in light of Jesus, placing Jesus on the level of God.

    Really, Wright (and I suspect other scholars who use 1 Cor 8:6 in the way you disagree with) make an argument that you don’t leave an option for. You want to force a false dichotomy, either A (Trinity) or B (human, anointed) when they are moving past such things to a C.

    Besides which, the argument is that Lord is YHWH, the name for God in the scriptures. So your, dare I say, second false dichotomy, is setting God against Lord. By calling Jesus Lord , Paul is making a move to put Jesus high above mere human. Unless you want to go back and say a first century Jew, such as Paul, would have seen all the references to God and Lord in the Jewish scriptures as to two different entities.

    • Lee Harmon

      I’m thinking about what you say, Dave. Jesus equal with God? I’m unsure. Setting aside whether Paul thought like a trinitarian, I don’t see evidence that he thought of Lord (Jesus) as on the same level as YHWH (God) and certainly he didn’t link the two like Trinitarians do. Does that mean I’m putting Lord against God? No, I’m simply not equating the two…at least, not in Paul’s mind. He gives no hint that he thinks that way.

      I must read Wright’s book!!

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