Anthony Buzzard, the Shema, and the Trinity

   Posted by: Rob Bowman   in Christology, Trinity

On Monday, August 25, the Unitarian writer Anthony Buzzard sent me a private message on Facebook, asking a theological question with no explanation of the purpose of his communication. I responded briefly and he followed with a more elaborate statement of his argument thinly veiled as a question. When I asked the reason for his communication with me, he simply restated his argument. I then asked him again on Friday, August 29, why he was communicating privately with me and if his intention was a private conversation or to get me to say something he could quote somewhere. Before he answered my question, Buzzard posted a YouTube video quoting selectively from my book Putting Jesus in His Place[1] and attempting to make a case that I was knowingly contradicting Jesus’ own teaching! He then sent me another private Facebook message saying he thought the conversation should be with everyone.

Buzzard’s claim that he was seeking a conversation with everyone is strange. He and I are both on Facebook and we even used to be in the same public Facebook group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Biblical Discussion Group. He could easily have initiated a public discussion in that group or in any of the other many online groups where I can be found, or by inviting me to join one of his groups. He still has not explained the reason for the private messages. This is not the first time he has done this. In November he sent me a private Facebook message taking issue with something else in my book. I very specifically told him that I was not going to get into a private discussion with him about such things.

In the YouTube video, Buzzard quoted selectively and out of context from Putting Jesus in His Place in order to pose his challenge. This is what he quoted:

If Judaism has a creed, it is the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, known as the Shema…. Jesus affirmed the Shema as the first and greatest commandment…. his view was in the mainstream of Judaism.[2]

Buzzard actually quoted from the last sentence only the words “in the mainstream of Judaism” and prefaced them with the word “thoroughly,” attributing to me the view that Jesus’ “definition of God” was “thoroughly in the mainstream of Judaism.” He then asked:

How in the world can you affirm that Jesus was a Unitarian monotheist, describing and substantiating the creed of Judaism—how can you affirm that on one hand and then say that you as a follower of Jesus are free not to follow that same creed that Jesus affirmed?

Well, of course, the answer is that I cannot do that, and in fact I do not do that. I never affirmed that Jesus was a Unitarian monotheist. And Buzzard is too smart of a person not to know that. Here is the paragraph from which Buzzard quoted:

If Judaism has a creed, it is the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, known as the Shema (meaning “Hear,” the first word of the verse): “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (ESV). The Septuagint translated the last part of verse 4, “The Lord our God is one Lord” (kurios heis). In first-century Judaism, the affirmations of “one God” and “one Lord” were synonymous and referred to the same divine being, YHWH, the God of the patriarchs, of Moses, and of the prophets. Jesus affirmed the Shema as the first and greatest commandment (Matt. 22:36-38; Mark 12:28-34; cf. Luke 10:25-28), and in that regard his view was in the mainstream of Judaism (emphasis added).[3]

As one can plainly see, I never said that Jesus was a Unitarian monotheist. I said that he affirmed the Shema as the first and greatest commandment. I then said that “in that regard” Jesus’ view “was in the mainstream of Judaism.” This statement is true and in no way conceded Buzzard’s claim (which is one of the two main arguments he constantly reiterates against orthodox theology) that Jesus understood the Shema in the same way that Jews did then or now. My use of the qualification “in that regard” made it clear, in fact, that in other respects Jesus’ views were not in the mainstream of Judaism. Buzzard ignored that qualification and attributed to me a concession I never made and was in fact careful not to make, because I understood then that Unitarians misconstrued Jesus’ affirmation of the Shema as an affirmation of Unitarianism. It was not. As I have argued elsewhere, Jesus included himself in the one deity of the Shema when he said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).[4]

It is also incorrect to claim that the Shema is a “definition of God.” I pointed this out to Buzzard in my first reply to his private message on Facebook, but he ignored what I told him. To say that Yahweh is one God—that he is one Yahweh (or one Lord)—is not a definition of God. It is an affirmation of exclusive loyalty to and devotion to Yahweh as the only God. It identifies Yahweh as the only God. It is therefore an implicit affirmation of monotheism. It is not, however, a definition of ‘God’ or an attempt to define the deity.

The Shema also does not affirm or teach Unitarianism. It affirms that Yahweh is the only God, not that Yahweh is a unipersonal being as opposed to a triune being. Might Jews have understood it that way? No, not really. Had the question been posed, it is hypothetically plausible that they might have misunderstood the Shema in that way. However, it would be quite anachronistic to claim that the Jews understood the Shema to preclude the triunity of the Divine Being. The issue had not yet arisen before Jesus came along. The Shema can fairly be understood to mean that Yahweh is a singular deity, even a single Being. This means that it would be plausible for Jews in the early first century to understand the Shema as precluding tritheism, the belief in three Gods. The doctrine of the Trinity, though, is not tritheistic and indeed adamantly opposes tritheism. On the other hand, no one in the early first century was thinking, “The Shema shows that the Lord cannot be three persons in one Being; it clearly means he is only one person and rules out any sort of plurality within the unity of the one God.” This is an argument that eventually was made only once the doctrine of the Trinity had begun to emerge. Buzzard’s polemic against the doctrine of the Trinity rests on an egregiously anachronistic understanding of pre-Christian Jewish thought.

Buzzard also completely ignores the point of my comment in Putting Jesus in His Place about the Shema. That point was that the apostle Paul took the creed-like statement of the Shema and reworded it into a confession of the Father as God and Jesus as Lord—in such a way that it affirms Jesus to be the one Lord of the Jewish Shema! “Jews would just as surely have understood Paul’s affirmation of “one Lord” (particularly in the same breath as affirming ‘one God’) as an echo of the Shema—yet with one potentially shocking twist: he identifies this ‘one Lord’ as Jesus Christ.”[5]

If Buzzard wants to have a public conversation about what I have written, he might try honestly engaging what I wrote.

[1] Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007).

[2] Ibid., 166.

[3] Ibid.

[4] So also Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Essays on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2008), 104-106.

[5] Bowman and Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place, 166.



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21 comments so far


Mr. Bowman, your notion that Jesus affirmed a Trinitarian creed in Mark 12:28ff would be rejected by so many expert witnesses!

We all know that Jews never did and still do not believe in the Trinity!

Is it your belief then that Deut. 5:4, 5 is a Trinitarian creed?

Or do you say that the creed of israel moved from a unitarian to a Trnitarian proposition the moment that Jesus uttered it?

Thanks for a brief reply.

August 30th, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Mr. Buzzard, now you have abandoned your previous misrepresentation of my position (that I supposedly agreed that the Shema was Unitarian and that Jesus himself affirmed Unitarianism), without acknowledging that you were wrong to make that claim, in favor of a new misrepresentation, that I supposedly think Jesus was affirming “a Trinitarian creed.” I said no such thing. Could you possibly try to listen to what I am saying instead of making up these wild misrepresentations?

The Shema is neither a statement of Unitarianism nor a statement of Trinitarianism. It is a statement of ancient monotheism. It is not theologically specific with regard to the issue that divides us.

Please direct any future comments to addressing the evidence presented in my post and now in this comment here that you are misrepresenting my position.

August 30th, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Thanks so much for your time.

Is there any commentator today who agrees with you that the Shema does not affirm either uniitary or trinitarian monotheism?

From my reading in Jewish and Christian commentary I have not found that proposed.

Certainly as you know, Jews insist on unitary monotheism and always have.

Believe me you have sparse support for your idea that “the Lord our God is one Lord” does not present a definition of how many God is.

Ancient monotheism as you rightly call it does not say how many YHVH is??

Does not Jesus go on to produce Ps. 110:1, where YHVH, one Person addresses adoni, another person who is not DEITY?

Can you cite me a scholar today who says that the Shema makes no statement about who God is in terms of number?

I don’t want to wear people out with masses of quotes but it is quite clear to huge tracts of commentary that the Jew and Jesus agreed that God was one Person.

But you say no: and appear to retreat into vagueness about “ancient monotheism”

The Jews would disagree with you.

So then you are not going to argue that ancient Jewish monotheism was Trinitarian. That is a relief!

Who else in this discussion agrees with Mr. Bowman that Mk 12;29 makes no proposition about how many God is?

August 30th, 2014 at 4:34 pm

{ you wrote}It is not theologically specific with regard to the issue that divides us.

{reply) I with respect beg to differ. Yeshua reference to the shema is Devarim 6:4 was the greatest commandment and the central Hebrew confession of thy faith. Jesus demonstrated the continuity and preservation of faith of the One God of Yisrael in Markos 12:28-31. I am sure you are aware that God-is-one-being-in-three- persons is not in the Bible at all! So why speculate on something the scriptures are silent on. When Yahweh says that he echad, I think we should believe him and not end with a question mark what he concluded with a period. Devarim 6:4 should not be a matter of confusion, but rather an affirmation of One unique uni-personal divine God, who is the Father.

August 30th, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Mr. Buzzard, the focus of my blog article was on your misrepresentations of the statements I made in the book Putting Jesus in His Place. You chose to ignore that issue and in fact proceeded to manufacture another misrepresentation of what I said. I explained this in my previous comment to you and asked you to address these misrepresentations in any future comment. Yet you chose to ignore that issue entirely.

For some reason you have shifted your terminology now from “Unitarian monotheism” to “unitary monotheism.” Perhaps you think that by doing so you can avoid the problem of anachronism I explained in my article. It won’t work, because by “unitary” we know you mean “Unitarian.”

There is no dispute here as to “how many God is.” God is one. There is one God. Yahweh is one. Yahweh is one God. Trinitarians regard this affirmation as essential to their doctrine. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three Gods. That’s Mormonism, not Trinitarianism.

August 30th, 2014 at 5:43 pm

It will be difficult to find exegetical commentators on Deuteronomy or on Mark who will claim that the Shema, or Jesus’ quotation of it, taught an explicit Unitarian view of God. Nor will they argue that it taught an explicitly Trinitarian view. Scholarly exegetes do not make the mistake of reading the biblical texts in such a flat-footed, anachronistic fashion.

Here is a typical comment on the Shema in its context in Deuteronomy:

“The Hebrew is literally, ‘Yahweh our God, Yahweh one,’ with the NRSV representing Yahweh as ‘LORD.’ On the basis of usage elsewhere in Deuteronomy, it is unlikely that ‘Yahweh our God’ should be rendered ‘Yahweh is our God,’ against the NRSV text; it is more likely that ‘is’ should be added between ‘Yahweh’ and ‘one.’ This yields the translation ‘the LORD our God, the LORD is one.’ It is then necessary to explain what is meant by ‘one.’ This most likely refers to Yahweh’s uniqueness. He alone is God, and he needs no other gods to assist him. However, this unique and incomparable God is also, for Israel, our God, not because of what Israel deserves or merits but because of God’s graciousness (cf. 7:7).” John W. Rogerson, “Deuteronomy,” in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, ed. James D. G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 157.

As this quotation illustrates, mining the Shema for a simple Trinity-killing proof text is not what good exegetes do.

August 30th, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Keefa, there is plenty of material in the Bible relevant to the doctrine of the Trinity. I have an outline study online that cites about a thousand biblical references pertaining to the subject: http://bib.irr.org/biblical-basis-of-doctrine-of-trinity

August 30th, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Robert, There are scores of textbooks which fully know that God is One Person in Judaism! Jews know that. The Jew who agreed with Jesus knew that!

Unitary monotheism is unitarian monotheism in my vocab. You know what this means.

You said that the Shema makes no proposition about how many God is! But it does.

“YHVH our God is one YHVH” and one means one, and not more, as you know.

Jesus is carefully distinguished from the One God in Ps 110:1.

The Father is “the only one who is true God” in Jn 17:3.

What a mess the church has made of an easy creed.

Thus, JAT Robinson at Cambridge:
“John’s Jesus is as undeviating a witness as any NT writer to the unitary monotheism of Judaism (Jn 17:3 5:44).”

August 30th, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Mr. Buzzard, this is the last time I will approve a comment from you that does not acknowledge the fact that you misrepresented me on your YouTube video. I think I have been quite tolerant in allowing you to post three separate comments now that did not address this core point of my article. That tolerance has limits, which you have now reached.

You seem to have difficulty avoiding such misrepresentations. You did it again in your most recent comment. I did not say that the Shema makes no statement about how many God is. To the contrary, I agreed that it teaches that God is one. All Trinitarians agree that God is one and that this is taught in the Shema. You cannot get away with this straw-man criticism of the doctrine of the Trinity here.

August 30th, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Mr. Rob Bowman
YHWH the One God of Israel is described by singular personal pronouns thousands upon thousands of times.(20,000) Since you quoted someone, I will do the same. According to Dr. J. H. Hertz the Shema excludes the trinity of the Christian creed as a **violation** of the Unity of God. Since Yeshua was a Jew by birth and under Torah he was instructed to follow this deuteromian commandment. After his baptism, when tempted by the Devil, he said: “Go away, Satan! For it is written, ‘It is the Lord(YHWH) your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render λατρεύσεις. The Shema in particular was meant to emphasize “the **single personality** of God.” According to the Jewish Talmud (Berakoth 19a), the concluding word, ʼEchadh′ (“One”), “should be specially emphasized while it was being enunciated by holding out each syllable.” (W. O. E. Oesterley and G. H. Box) In reference to God, this lengthened ʼEchadh′ also proclaimed his uniqueness. So not only does the Shema indicate uniqueness, but his single personality, and if such is the case then the Nicene Creed has been broken. Please answer me this question. If the Shema was compatible with the Trinity why was it banned in 600A.D. by means of the Justinian Edict?
Thanks in advance.

September 1st, 2014 at 12:30 am


In my previous response to you, I referred you to my outline study on the Trinity. Did you spend any time looking at it? If you had, you might have noticed that I specifically discussed the singular pronouns referring to God (http://bib.irr.org/biblical-basis-of-doctrine-of-trinity-part-two).

J. H. Hertz was a respected Jewish scholar in the first half of the twentieth century. It is not surprising that he claimed that the doctrine of the Trinity was incompatible with the Shema. This claim became a standard polemical Jewish argument against Christianity.

The bottom line is that one must consider all of the Bible’s teaching, not just one or two verses. When we do that honestly and in a sound manner, it becomes clear that the New Testament reveals more about the Lord God than what was revealed in the Old Testament. It does not contradict the Old Testament, but it goes further, and it contradicts some popular Jewish interpretations of the OT, some of which are still being pressed by Jews today against Christianity (e.g., the Messiah was supposed to destroy Israel’s enemies and set up an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem).

As to why the Code of Justinian banned the recitation of the Shema, the short answer is that Justinian and those in power with him had some real blind spots and shortcomings in their understanding. If they really thought the Shema per se was incompatible with the Trinity, they would be contradicting basic Christian doctrine on two fronts: Christianity then and now teaches that God is one, and it also teaches that the whole Bible, including Deuteronomy 6:4-5, is true. But I would like to see an exact quotation and a reference to a specific statute in the Code of Justinian, which is quite long, before accepting the claim (which others have also made) that the regulation was imposed because they perceived the Shema as incompatible with the Trinity.

September 1st, 2014 at 2:31 am

“The principle of “Servitude of the Jews” (Servitus Judaeorum) was established by the new laws, and determined the status of Jews throughout the Empire for hundreds of years…The use of the Hebrew language in worship was forbidden. Shema Yisrael, sometimes considered the most important prayer in Judaism…was banned, as a denial of the Trinity.” Code of Justinian, Orthodoxwiki.org

And during the Byzantine period “guards were sent to the synagogue to prevent recitation of the Shema because its proclamation of God’s unity was thought to impugn, if only implicitly, the Christian notion of the Trinity”. [Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. 4, p. 17.]

September 1st, 2014 at 6:04 am

Yes, I’ve seen those quotations. Those are modern comments on the matter. What I want to see are citations to the specific statements in the Code of Justinian. I have not seen those statements.

If Jews really were prevented by force of law from reciting the Shema, that was a stupid act of religious oppression and had nothing to do with belief in the Trinity. Again, I would like to see primary source documentation that any professing Christians in the medieval era thought the Shema was even implicitly contrary to the doctrine of the Trinity. If anyone did think that, they didn’t understand the Trinity.

September 1st, 2014 at 12:03 pm

The statements are found in the documents cited.

The same is echoed in many Modern era writers:

“…according to the NT witnesses, in the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles, relative to the monotheism of the Old Testament and Judaism, there had been no element of change whatsoever. Mk. 12:29 recorded the confirmation by Jesus himself, without any reservation, of the supreme monotheistic confession of faith of Israelite religion in its complete form.”
Werner, Formation of Christian Dogma, 219, 221, 223, 233, 235, 241.

“The OT is strictly monotheistic. God is a single personal being. The idea that a Trinity is to be found there is utterly without foundation.

There is no break between the OT and the New. The monotheistic tradition is continued.

Jesus was a Jew, trained by Jewish parents in the Old Testament scriptures. His teaching was Jewish to the core; a new gospel indeed but not a new theology…And he accepted as his own belief the great text of Jewish monotheism: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one God”
L.L. Paine, A Critical History of the Evolution of Trinitarianism, p. 4.

The one God. (a) theos is the most frequent designation of God in the NT. Belief in the one, only and unique God (Matt. 23:9; Rom. 3:30; 1 Cor. 8:4, 6; Gal. 3:20; 1 Tim. 2:5; Jas. 2:19) is an established part of primitive Christian tradition. Jesus himself made the fundamental confession of Judaism his own and expressly quoted the Shema (Deut. 6:4f.; Mk. 12:29f.; cf. Matt. 22:37; Lk. 10:27). This guaranteed continuity between the old and the new → covenant. For the God whom Christians worship is the God of the fathers (Acts 3:13; 5:30; 22:14), the God of → Abraham, of → Isaac and of → Jacob (Acts 3:13; 7:32; cf. Matt. 22:32; Mk. 12:26; Lk. 20:37), the God of Israel (Matt. 15:31; Lk. 1:68; Acts 13:17; cf. 2 Cor. 6:16; Heb. 11:16), and the God of → Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3). Just as God once made → Israel his → people, so now he has chosen those who believe in Christ as an elect race and a holy people for his possession (Acts 15:14; 20:28; 1 Pet. 2:9; Heb. 11:25)

The Bible lacks the express declaration that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of equal essence and therefore in an equal sense God himself. And the other express declaration is also lacking, that God is God thus and only thus, i.e. as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These two express declarations, which go beyond the witness of the Bible, are the twofold content of the Church doctrine of the Trinity.” K. Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.

September 1st, 2014 at 1:37 pm


It is obvious you are getting these quotations secondhand or worse. For example, your quotation from Werner cannot possibly come from six pages of his book. I don’t have a copy of the book handy, but it appears from the quotation and from what I know about Werner’s views that the quotation you are repeating secondhand may be taken out of context. As far as the statement goes, I actually agree with it. The NT is monotheistic, just as was the OT. Yahweh, the Creator of the universe, is the only God, the only proper object of religious devotion and worship. As I keep pointing out, that is a basic doctrinal premise of the doctrine of the Trinity.

I am pretty sure you have not read and would not agree with L. L. Paine. He argued that Trinitarianism, which he called Athanasianism, “has its roots in the New Testament.” That statement comes at the beginning of the same paragraph that you quoted—again, no doubt without ever having looked at the book yourself. Paine argued that the virgin birth of Christ was a second-century legend, that Paul was the source of what developed into the Trinity, and that Greek Trinitarianism remained firmly monotheistic. See Levi Leonard Paine, A Critical History of the Evolution of Trinitarianism: And Its Outcome in the New Christology (Boston: Houghton Mifflin; Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1900), 4-33.

I know you would not agree with Barth, since he advocated a doctrine of the Trinity that many scholars think bordered on modalism. What the quotation you repeated left out was that Barth maintained that the elements of the doctrine of the Trinity not found expressly in the Bible were implicit in the Bible, and that they were necessarily true if one accepted what the Bible does say expressly. So this is simply an instance of someone quoting the Bible out of context.

The Internet makes it possible for almost anyone with a computer to spout forth endless streams of scholarly quotations. Few people who do so have actually read the works they are quoting or understand what they are saying in context.

September 1st, 2014 at 6:20 pm

I have been able to determine that the person using the pseudonym “ELOHIMyhwh74” is either Anthony Buzzard or someone using the same computer. EY74 submitted comments under that pseudonym apparently to circumvent my decision that Mr. Buzzard would not be allowed to post additional comments if he did not address the problem of his misrepresentation of the statement in my book.

September 3rd, 2014 at 10:29 am
Dale Tuggy

As frequently happens when two learned people dispute, there are some misunderstandings (where we talk past one another) and both are partly right, or so I argue: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/6389

God bless,

September 3rd, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Dr. Tuggy, Thank you for Taking the Time and Trouble to give such a Thoughtful comment on your Trinities blog. 🙂 I will respond as my Time permits.

September 3rd, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Mr. Buzzard, if you’re still out there, the Shema does not address the personality of YHWH, whether it be uni or tri or anything else in its essence. Shema addresses YHWH’s singularity as the one and only deity in existence. If you could just stop trying to insert that meaning into the verse, you might actually see that you and Mr. Bowman agree on something: YHWH is one God.

August 31st, 2016 at 4:12 am

Mr. Bowman, thank you for posting your thoughts and research. I’m studying with 2 JW ladies (my first experience doing so) and over the last 9 months or so I’ve been trying to share God’s Word with them. It’s been a baptism by fire of sorts but a major blessing as well. Since the Internet is my only form of researching their views and seeking effective methods of ministering to them, sites like yours are tremendously helpful. I appreciate the balanced, almost academic approach to your posts. Those kinds are most beneficial to present to the JWs.

August 31st, 2016 at 4:22 am

Christine, thanks very much for your comment. I apologize for the delay in getting it posted; my mother passed away three weeks ago and that event has slowed some things down. God bless you and again I appreciate your kind encouragement.

October 1st, 2016 at 4:41 pm

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