The "Hopeless" echad argument

I have beat the echad drum for years. There are so many teachers and preachers in Christianity who abuse this word in an attempt to maintain the appearance of sound and Hebraic linguistically backed support for a much later developed trinitarian doctrine. It is absolute, nonsensical madness. Echad means exactly that, "one" and no more. No "plurality in unity", that is not what this word communicates. A presentation I have on the subject is available here.

Skip Moen also seems to have a similar pet peeve in relation to the violence perpetrated onto this word:


"Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!" Deuteronomy 6:4 NASB

One – Paradigms, paradigms, paradigms. Everywhere we look, people operate according to paradigms. “Evidence” is a function of presupposed paradigmatic expectations. Once I have made up my mind about a worldview, I will find all the evidence I need to support it (and I will discount any “evidence” that doesn’t support it). Thomas Kuhn’s seminal work[1] and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s examination[2] forever changed our way of thinking about language, thought and reality.[3] With this in mind, consider the “evidence” in Chaim Bentorah’s book Hebrew Word Study.

“In Christianity we believe in one God but in three persons. Without the beth [the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet] this could not be expressed. The numerical value of the word bereshit [the first word of Genesis] or BYASYT when using the mispar katan (digit sum) you have . . . a total of 913. When you add 9 + 1 + 3 you have 13. Applying the principles of the Gematria you would look at the Hebrew word echad . . . and find that the numerical value of that word is . . . 13. The word echad is the word for one and expresses the idea of oneness. Thus the Bible starts off expressing not just God but that God is one. But the Gematria would not work if the Bible started with an Aleph but starting with the Beth we have Scripture not only starting off with God but the oneness of God. I should point out that this is even important from a Christian perspective as the word echad not only expresses one but expresses a unity in one, a joining together into one, like ten ball players are one team. God is one, but one in an echad or a unity of one in three persons.”[4]

Are you kidding me? When I read this I had only one immediate thought: hopeless! What Bentorah proposes is that Moses and his audience really never understood the meaning of the words Moses used. He had to wait until some rabbis thousands of years later invented an esoteric mathematics for examining the Hebrew text and then he had to wait another thousand years until the Christians invented the idea of the Trinity and then we all had to wait until we figured out how to anachronistically apply this esoteric exegesis to the first word of the Torah in order to claim it supports God in three persons. Hopeless!

His suggestion that echad means a unity of plurality is nonsense. It is still one team, not 10 teams. One is still one, not many. Saying that God is one made up of many is like saying one is really ten, or three. One is not three. It is one. That’s what echad means—ONE! Playing with the numbers doesn’t help.

What’s worse is that it all depends on number manipulation. Do you suppose that only the word echad has a number value of 13 or that only bereshit had a numerical value of 913? Does every Hebrew word with the numerical value 13 support the doctrine of the Trinity? Let’s see. 2 Kings 18:2 mentions a woman named Abi. The numerical value of Abi is 13 (Aleph-Bet-Yod). Therefore, this woman must be a unity and must be connected to bereshit, right? Perhaps God is a woman, or this woman is God. Or take ‘oyev (Aleph-Yod-Beth), the Hebrew word for “enemy.” It has a numerical value of 13. Therefore, it must be a unity and God must be an enemy. Need we continue?

The problem isn’t the numerical values of Hebrew letters. Hebrews used letters as their counting system. So did many other cultures. The problem is having a theory first and then going to find evidence to support it. El has the numerical value of 31. El is one of the most ancient words for “God.” The Hebrew word govb also has a numerical value of 31. It means “grasshopper.” Of course, that fits God. God is a grasshopper, right? And 31 is 3 and 1, so that means el and govb are also connected to 3 and 1 which equals 4, and 4 is the value of Dalet. Therefore, God and grasshopper must be like doors since the Paleo-Hebrew of Dalet is a door. Oh, I forgot. 31 is also the numerical value of lo, meaning “not.” So I suppose this mean that God is also “not.” I hope you can appreciate the nonsense involved here. (If you want to see all the Hebrew words with a value of 31, click here.)

It is bad enough to stretch this into Kabbalah. It is ludicrous to stretch it into support for the Trinity. Paradigm thinking is just that—paradigm! If we decide that God is three in one, we will find it wherever we look. We will even make the evidence fit the doctrine. But that doesn’t make it true and it certainly does not mean that Moses disguised the Trinity in Gematria.

Let’s please, please stop being hopeless. What did the author mean? What did the words mean to the first audience? What were the cultural thought forms? Not how can we manipulate the structure to fit something we came up with thousands of years later.

If you want to believe all this craziness about Gematria, please be my guest. But don’t tell me that God hid all these things in the text and you are the only one who really understands.

[1] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

[2] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

[3] Benjamin Lee Whorf, Language, Thought and Reality

[4] Chaim Bentorah, Hebrew Word Study, p. 33.

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