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The Word "Echad"

In the days of Moses, the whole world—according to their delusion—had many different gods.  Some of these "gods" presided over whatever purpose one could imagine: a god for agriculture, another god for fertility, another for war, and another for love, etc.  Others were imagined to have presided over different areas of geography, as is evident in 1Kings 20:22-23, 28-29.  It is in this context that Moses wrote:

DEUTERONOMY 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one (echad) LORD:

In this verse, the word "one" indicates a quantity, not a unification of gods, nor of eternal "persons."

In the course of time, the LORD (YHVH) visited His people as the man Jesus Christ—the Messiah.  This very same verse not only provides one of the most compelling statements that God is likewise one "person," but it was reiterated by Christ Himself at Mark 12:29 (see below).

Over the next few centuries after the time of Christ, the church "fathers" (cf. Matthew 23:9) forgot how to reconcile Deuteronomy 6:4 with the fact that God is also referred to as the Father, as the Son, and as the Holy Ghost.  The idea that God eternally exists as three "persons" was then superimposed upon the original Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In order to do this, the church "fathers" still had to address Deuteronomy 6:4.  They did this by reinterpreting the Hebrew word "echad" (which means "one," in the ordinary sense of the word) to somehow mean "one, as united."  Thus, that verse became (mis)understood as:

DEUTERONOMY 6:4 Hear, O Israel:  The 1) LORD our 2) God is [a "united"] 3) LORD:


DEUTERONOMY 6:4 Hear, O Israel:  The 1) LORD our 2) God is, the 3) LORD is ["united"].

...in other words, "three persons, united," or, "three-in-one."  During the course of the 1500 years since the meaning of the entire verse was reinterpreted as stated above, the meaning of the Hebrew word "echad" had become fused in the mind of the Orthodox, the Catholic, and most of the Protestant churches as:

259  echâd, ekh-awd´;  a numeral from 258; prop. united, i.e., one; or (as an ordinal) first

This definition of the word was quoted from Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, Complete and Unabridged, Compact Edition, by James H. Strong, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, concordance p. 749, Hebrew lexicon p. 10.  It is incorrect.  To define the word "echad" in such a way is, from our vantage point this late in history, the result of a preference for the "traditions of men" (cf. Matthew 15:3, Mark 7:6-9), over-and-above the actual text of the Bible itself.

Jesus Christ was once asked what the greatest commandment was.  His answer began with:

MARK 12:29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one (heis) Lord:

This conversation between Christ and the scribe (cf. Mark 12:28) probably occurred in the Hebrew language.  If this is in fact the case, then when Christ Himself quoted Deuteronomy 6:4, the translator of Christ's words saw fit to translate the Hebrew word "echad" into Greek as the word "heis."  "Heis" is the Greek word for "one" in Mark 12:29.  According to concordance p. 752, Greek lexicon p. 26 of the above Concordance, the word "heis" means:

1520 εις heis, a primary numeral;

If, on the other hand, this conversation between Jesus and this (perhaps hellenized) scribe occurred in the Greek language, then the word "heis" came directly from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself.

In either case, based upon whatever the original Hebrew word "echad" meant in Deuteronomy 6:4, that word was brought into Greek as the word "heis"—a "primary numeral"—that is, a number.  The primary number "heis" was used at Mark 12:29 because the original Hebrew word "echad" is also a primary numeral (and numbers typically indicate a quantity).

Statistical information

To suggest that the Hebrew word "echad" means "united," or, "one in unification" cannot realistically be supported by the way that word is actually used in the Old Testament.  As it is used in the Law of Moses, the Hebrew word "echad" is equivalent to the English word "one," and is used the same way.

Usually, "echad" is used to indicate either a number or a quantity.  As is the case of the English word "one," the Hebrew word "echad" seldom indicates anything other than this.  Similarly, the word "echad," like the word "one," is sometimes used as a pronoun with a numeric function.  An example of this might be "One of the doors was locked," in which the numeric pronoun "one" is also the subject of the sentence.  "Echad" is occasionally used to indicate an ordinal position: that is, it is occasionally used to indicate which position within a sequence that something occupies.  Words like "first," "second," and "third," are examples of ordinal references: in such a case, "echad" would mean "first."

Originally, I had planned to poll the entire Old Testament for the word "echad," and note how that word was actually used.  That task would have taken "forever," so I decided to limit the search to within the Law of Moses only (and this still took a very long time).  The only exception to all of this was that I did not count the instance of the word "echad" at Deuteronomy 6:4 itself, since it is the meaning of that particular verse that is in question.

The word "echad" appears in the Law of Moses 387 times (including Deuteronomy 6:4 itself).  Excluding Deuteronomy 6:4, the word was used to indicate a numeric value, or, a quantity 359 times, or 93 percent (93%) of the time (numeric pronouns were included in this total).  The word "echad" was used to indicate a unification of several nouns on only 3 occasions, that is, eight tenths of one percent (0.8%) of the time.  The remaining instances indicated an ordinal position within a sequence of objects or occurrences (i.e., first, second, third, etc.) 24 times, or 6.2% of the time.

as a
as a
as an
Genesis 1 40 5
Exodus 2 81 11
Leviticus 0 47 1
Numbers 0 167 6
Deuteronomy 0 24 1
Total Instances: 3 359 24
Percent of Total: 0.8% 93% 6.2%

It may be illustrative for the reader to see the data for himself.  In this way, the reader can get a sense of how the word "echad" is actually used in the text of the Bible itself.

On the pages that follow, each instance of the word "echad" in the Law of Moses is listed, as well as the verse in which it appears.  A brief bit of analysis or reasoning is included, in order to provide a basis upon which that instance of the word "echad" might be categorized (i.e., as a union, as a quantity, or as an ordinal).

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Last modified: Fri Jul 29 20:29:09 CDT 2005