By Tyson Thorne

February 28, 2017

TheShema large

The Shema is one of the most ancient revelations of God about himself. It is the first prayer a Jewish child learns to pray, and the last every bellieving Jew hopes to have upon his lips. But what is the Shema? It is broken into three parts, and comments on how we are to live and addresses the issues of polytheism, monotheism and even the Trinity. These truths make it one of the central teachings of the Bible itself, even though it is rarely preached on in Christian churches. This is a shame, especially since it is a central conviction of Paul's theology.

The Shema begins with "Hear, O Israel!" In Hebrew the ideas of hearing and obeying are linked together. In fact, there is no Hebrew word for "obey". When you see the word "obey" in your English translation, the word is actually "Shema", which means "to hear". Hearing is paired with the concept of obeying, or acting on what is word. This makes good sense for if one hears a truth, why would he not act on it? So the introductory command to hear doesn't simply mean to listen, but to live by the truth. What is that truth?

"The Lord is our God." How wonderful is it that God is so personal? This announcement shows that the Lord of the universe wants to be known by us. That is love. At the time this statement was made, God was solely the God of Israel but this was not to last. The prophet Zecheria proclaims, "“Sing out and be happy, Zion my daughter! For look, I have come; I will settle in your midst,” says the Lord. “Many nations will join themselves to the Lord on the day of salvation, and they will also be my people. Indeed, I will settle in the midst of you all" (Zechariah 2.10-11). Paul's understanding of the Shema is that God's promise to include all nations in the plan of salvation had come. This is why he became the messenger to the Gentiles.

The Shema ends with the phrase "The LORD is one!" The word translated as LORD is actually Elohim, it is not simply El (which means God), but Elohim (the plural, indicating the trinity) is one. This God of Israel, our Lord, is one. God is one, because God is love. So what we learn about the Holy Spirit and his gifts is true of the Godhead, our Lord and Savior.

The apostle Paul writes his letter to the nations from within his Jewish context, and assumes the Shema as one of the most basic and accepted statements of theology. So while he never quotes the Shema, we will see that this statement about God is clearly believed and taught in his letters.

Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of nations also? Yes, of the nations also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. (Romans 3.28-30)

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