[B-Greek] The Lord is one (person)

Iver Larsen iver_larsen at sil.org
Mon Nov 6 13:40:26 EST 2006


----- Original Message ----- 

> Thanks to Yancy Smith and to Iver about the proper way to translate
> the Greek KURIOS HO THEOS EMON KURIOS EIS ESTIN (Mark 12:29). A
> learned article in JETS by Daniel Bock "How Many is God? An
> Investigation into the Meaning of Deut. 6:4-5 (June 2004, pp.
> 193-212) says that "the unambiguous meaning of the Greek NT
> (following LXX) of Mark 12:29 is ''the LORD our GOD is one LORD."
> Apparently that view is not as certain as he thinks.

Indeed, if the meaning of the Greek text was absolutely clear without ambiguity, why start an
investigation? KURIOS is ambiguous in the NT, because it can refer either to YHWH, to Christ or to 
any lord or master. The translation suggested above is the most unlikely one of several possible 
ones. I would even go as
far as saying that the one suggested above is pretty impossible, especially if we realize that this
is a literal translation of a Hebrew text. It is unlikely for at least two reasons. KURIOS here 
stands for a proper name KURIOS=YHWH, not a common noun kurios=adonai, nor does it refer to Jesus 
Christ, and you don't qualify a proper name with the adjective "one". Secondly, if hEIS were to be 
attributive to KURIOS, it should have been
placed before it, because hEIS is inherently emphatic and comes before the noun it modifies (unless 
there is a good reason to front the noun in which case hEIS functions almost as the indefinite 
article in English).
It is "unambiguously" clear from the word order and the reference to YHWH that it is used as a 
predicate here - YHWH is one (god), or more fully: YHWH is the one (and only true God).

> You suggest that "the Lord is One" makes better logical sense of the
> second half of the verse in the Greek.
> I note that you add (person) after one (EIS).

That was in the context of distinguishing between hEN meaning one (thing/concept) and hEIS meaning
one (person). hEIS/hEN is in most cases used substantively and therefore the audience has to infer 
an implied noun from the immediately preceding context or from standard convention or infer a very 
general word like thing, if neuter, or person, if masculine. In this particular context where we 
have YHWH/KURIOS hO QEOS hHMWN, YHWH hEIS ESTIN, the second part is an idiom that does not carry 
over into English, and is therefore difficult to
understand. I am a consultant for a translation into an African language, and in this language
there is no problem having exactly the same expression as in Hebrew/Greek. "YHWH is one" means that
YHWH is the one and only true God. This is clear from the previous context which talked about YHWH
being "our God". He is not only our God, but the only (true) God (or if you want: the only God for
us).

> The phrase "God is one" (person) occurs a number of times in the NT.
> The Amplified version at Gal. 3:20 has "God is only one Person."
> NASU "God is only one."
> Would it be right to say that the meaning of "God is one" is, in view
> of the masculine numeral following, "God is only one person"?  Just
> as in Rom. 5 the Greek which speaks of the "disobedience of the one"
> (TOU ENOS) means the disobedience of one person (ie Adam).
> Anthony.

No, to say that "God is only one person" doesn't make sense to me. In Mark 12:29, the first 
statement was that YHWH is our God. Since the topic is God or gods, then we can infer this word and 
assume that "YHWH is one (god)" means that YHWH is the one and only God for us.

Expressions with hEIS and ESTIN are difficult in English. Let us look at some of them in the NT:

Matt 23:8 hEIS GAR ESTIN hUMWN hO DIDASKALOS
(Literally: For one is your teacher, but it really means "For you have only one (true) teacher")
Matt 23:9 hEIS GAR ESTIN hUMWN hO PATHR hO OURANIOS
(Literally. For one is your heavenly Father, but in better English: "For you have only one heavenly 
Father")
Matt 23:10 KAQHGHTHS hUMWN ESTIN hEIS, hO CRISTOS
(Literally: your leader is one, the Christ, or "You have only one (true) leader, the Messiah").
Mrk 12:32 hOTI hEIS [QEOS] ESTIN KAI OUK ESTIN ALLOS PLHN AUTOU
(that he is one (god for us) and there is no other but him, or possibly: we have only one God and no 
other god than him.)
1 Cor 12:12 KAQAPER GAR TO SWMA hEN ESTIN KAI MELH POLLAI ECEI
(For just as the body is one and it has many members, or: For just as we have only one body but it 
has many members.)
1 Cor 12:14 KAI GAR TO SWMA OUK ESTIN hEN MELOS ALLA POLLA
(For even the body is not one member but many, or: For even the body does not have one member only, 
but many.)
Jas 2:19 SU PISTEUEIS hOTI hEIS ESTIN hO QEOS
(You believe that God is one, or: You believe that there is only one (true) God)
Jas 4:12 hEIS ESTIN [hO] NOMOQETHS KAI KRITHS
(The lawgiver and judge is one, or: There is only one (true) lawgiver and judge)

Iver Larsen 




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