Is Jesus included in the “divine identity” in 1 Corinthians 8:6?

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Following a bit of an exchange on Facebook, I have been looking again at the now widely accepted contention, associated especially with Wright, Bauckham and Fee, that in 1 Corinthians 8:6 Paul has taken the extraordinary step of including Jesus in the Shema and therefore in the divine identity. The Shema reads: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4 LXX). The argument is that Paul has taken this traditional confession and divided it between the Father and the Son: “for us one God, the Father, from whom all things and we for him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things and we through him” (1 Cor. 8:5-6).

So, for example, Wright in his essay “Monotheism, Christology and Ethics: 1 Corinthians 8” in [amazon:978-0800628277:inline], 129:

There can be no mistake: just as in Philippians 2 and Colossians 1, Paul has placed Jesus within an explicit statement, drawn from the old Testament’s quarry of emphatically monotheistic texts, of the doctrine that Israel’s God is the one and only God, the creator of the world. The Shema was already, at this stage of Judaism, in widespread use as the Jewish daily prayer. Paul has redefined it christologically, producing what we can only call a sort of christological monotheism.

And Fee in [amazon:978-0801049545:inline], 90:

What Paul has done seems plain enough. He has kept the “one” intact, but he has divided the Shema into two parts, with θεός (God) now referring to the Father, and κυριός (Lord) referring to Jesus Christ the Son.

I argued in my review of Chris Tilling’s chapter in [amazon:978-0310519591:inline] that what we have in 1 Corinthians 8:6 is not a bifurcation of the Shema but a convergence: Paul brings together the Jewish monotheistic confession and the apocalyptic narrative about Jesus, who suffered, died, was raised, and was given authority to rule at the right hand of God. I am still inclined to hold to that view. What follows overlaps with other posts on this subject (see below), but I have tried to take greater account of the overall pattern of thought in the letter.

1. The statement “there is no God but one” in verse 4 looks like an allusion to the Shema, but kyrios, which occurs twice in the Shema, has already been dropped. Why has Paul not actually quoted the Shema in full here, especially if he means to divide it between “one God, the Father” and “one Lord, Jesus Christ”? Why should we not suppose that he has in mind to say one thing about God and another thing about Jesus.

2. In view of this, Paul’s argument about the oneness of God, who is the Father, is closer to Malachi 2:11-12 LXX than to the Shema—or perhaps more precisely, it draws on the Shema by way of the sort of argument against Jewish idolatry that we find here:

Did not one God create us? Is there not one father of us all? Why then did each of you forsake his brother, to profane the covenant of our fathers? Judah was forsaken, and an abomination occurred in Israel and in Jerusalem, for Judah profaned the sacred things of the Lord with which he loved and busied himself with foreign gods. The Lord will utterly destroy the person who does this until he has even been humiliated from the tents of Jacob and from among those who bring sacrifice to the Lord Almighty.

3. The further point could be made that the Malachi passage differentiates between the “father” who created Israel and the “Lord” who will “utterly destroy the person who does this”. It is the same God, of course, but it may suggest a plausible literary-conceptual background for Paul’s argument. Jesus as Lord is cast as the eschatological judge, as part of the apocalyptic narrative, in 1 Corinthians 4:4-5; 5:5; 11:32.

4. In 1 Corinthians 8:5 Paul asserts first that there are “so-called gods”, then that “there are many gods and many lords”. In the argument of verses 4-5, therefore, even though the Shema has seemingly been invoked, the kyrioi are introduced as a separate category—or perhaps a sub-category having in view deified rulers. In other words, the premise for verse 6 would appear not to be that God as Lord is one; it is that God is one, whom Israel is to love “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (cf. 1 Cor. 8:3), and there are also “lords” to be reckoned with.

5. Whether or not verse 6 reflects the Shema—I’m not ruling it out completely—we have to keep in mind that the affirmation that Jesus is kyrios is not simply a statement of identity but sums up a narrative. Jesus was raised as Lord (1 Cor. 6:14; 15:20). He has been given authority to reign at the right hand of the Father “until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (15:25). At some point in the future he will be revealed to the world (1:7-8). Finally, he will give the kingdom back to the Father and be subjected to him (15:24, 28). [pullquote]This coherent apocalyptic narrative about Jesus as Lord presents him not as an integral part of the divine identity but as an independent agent.[/pullquote] If this agent is in any sense included in the divine identity, as Fee argues (91), it would appear that he must retain sufficient autonomy to renounce the title of “Lord” at the end. It is at best a temporary arrangement.

6. Fee insists that “there is nothing in this passage or in its surrounding context that would even remotely suggest that Jewish wisdom lies behind Paul’s formulation” (93). That raises too many questions to address here, but I will suggest that 1 Corinthians 8:6, nevertheless, has important points of contact with the particular argument that Paul puts forward earlier about the wisdom of God.

The cross is the wisdom of God, by which he is bringing “to nothing things that are” and causing the “rulers of this age” to pass away (1 Cor. 1:21-24, 28; 2:6; cf. 7:31). Because the weak and foolish Corinthians are “in Christ Jesus”, they will be instrumental in this eschatological process and will inherit the age to come (cf. 6:9).

The language that Paul uses to speak of this participation, however, anticipates the statement in 1 Corinthians 8:6. Or so it seems to me. On the one hand, it is from God (ex autou) that the Corinthians are “in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1:30). So later: “from whom (ex hou) all things and we for him”. On the other, Paul writes in a different context but still with reference to the foolishness of the wisdom of this age: “all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor 3:21–23). In other words, “all things” are through Jesus—indeed, those “called to be saints” in Corinth owe their very existence as such to him.

In neither case is the correspondence exact because the argumentative context is different, but when Paul speaks about the being of believers in relation to all things in language which (pace Fee) has been thought by many to echo a Jewish Wisdom theology, there seems to be a reasonable case for starting with the prior argument about the wisdom of God.

If we read 1 Corinthians 8:6 in the light of Paul’s wisdom argument—rather than of a general Wisdom theology—the “one God, the Father” may appear not as the original creator but as the one who is forming a new world by means of a foolish wisdom, and Jesus Christ is the one Lord through whose suffering the “all things” of this new world has become possible. In other words, Paul is making a statement about new creation, not about the original creation.

Here, though, as in Philippians 2:6-11, Jesus is Lord because he suffered, because he became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”. It is this persistent narrative, rather than the Shema, as Dunn has argued, that determines the sense of the affirmation “for us… one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things and we through him”. It is the whole narrative—right through to the “end”—that accounts for, and sets limits to, the association of Jesus as Lord with God the Father.

I find this language a continual struggle. It appears to me that the ‘divinity’ of Christ Jesus is what is a stumbling block, yet frequently it is the humanity of Jesus that is a problem. E.g. the appointment of Jesus as Judge in this week’s readings that is laughed at in Athens yet affirmed by 1 Peter.

I am a Christian yet I often enjoy the teaching at the synagogue. The sages know the TNK and the Christians seem to be disconnected from their textual roots. Yesterday I had conversation around Moses and hearing G-d’s voice at the burning bush that I could never have had with anyone in my Christian congregation.

An additional continuing struggle is how Christians read the OT and how we find Christ in its texts. We tend to impose (it is not difficult to do this) rather than to read with the obedience that Jesus presumably read with (learned/heard with). And we simply don’t ask the right kind of questions.

You raise a good question — how can one who is Lord, and who is given the Name that is above every name, refuse his own identity at the end? What roots in the OT resonate with this? It almost seems like groundless theological speculation. (Feeling grumpy — better take care).

peter wilkinson | Fri, 05/23/2014 - 09:16 | Permalink

As you have pointed out, the echoes of Malachi 2:10-12 in 1 Corinthians 8:6 are striking, with “one Father — one God” of Malachi 2:10 reappearing in 1 Corinthians 8:6 as “one God, the Father”. But then things become more complex. Instead of a straightforward echo, we have in 1 Corinthians 8:6 “one God, the Father” bracketed with “one Lord, Jesus Christ”. This takes us back to the divine identity, whether the Shema, or the Malachi passage (which also echoes the Shema) is taken as Paul’s reference. Jesus is explicitly being placed alongside God the Father in 1 Corinthians 8:6.

This does not rebut your interpretation of the passage according to an apocalyptic narrative, it simply says that the Kyrios identity of Jesus in the Corinthians passage makes him more than an “independent agent”.

In your previous discussion of this passage, I noted that Paul does something even more extraordinary in his ‘rewriting’ of the Shema. In exchanging the positioning of “one Lord” and “one God”, Paul is associating Jesus with YHWH (“one Lord”), and in the positioning of the title in the Corinthian passage, lest we should have failed to grasp the point, “one Lord” (Jesus/YHWH) stands where we would have expected to fine “one God”. The divine ifentity of Jesus is doubly reinforced.

Again, this is not to contradict your observation that “Lord” comes in when foreign deities or rulers (“lords”) are being opposed. But I do think it needs to be considered that in both the Shema and Malachi, foreign deities are in view, and the name YHWH (Lord/Kyrios) is given to contra-distinguish the “God” of Israel from all other “gods”. He is not only “God”, but he has a unique name — YHWH, Kyrios, or Jesus Christ.

@peter wilkinson:

Peter, I don’t see how this addresses the fundamental point that the close association of Jesus with God the Father has come about because God the Father raised the man Jesus and seated him at his right hand, bestowing upon him—temporarily—the authority to judge and rule the nations. This is certainly an authority that YHWH previously reserved for himself, but the point is not that Jesus is included in the divine identity. It is that God gives away something that previously belonged to the divine identity. Israel’s king is given the power to rule in the midst of his enemies; the Son of Man is given the kingdom that is taken from the fourth beast; Jesus is given the name which is above every name. The fact that he has been “placed alongside” God does not mean that he loses his independent identity. On the contrary, the continuation of the narrative strongly suggests that he keeps it: he comes to deliver his followers from wrath, and ultimately he gives back the authority to rule to God the Father.

By the way, the fact that kyrios is substituted for YHWH in the LXX doesn’t mean that YHWH and kyrios are simply interchangeable, which is how you deal with the terms. The background to Paul’s argument is not the substitution of kyrios for YHWH but a narrative about God and his king or God and his people.

I don’t understand your point about exchanging the position of “one Lord” and “one God” in the Shema:

Hear, O Israel: YHWH our God, YHWH is one. (Deut. 6:4 MT)

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord. (Deut. 6:4 LXX)

@Andrew Perriman:

The more I look at this, I’m in less doubt that if Paul is echoing Malachi’s “one Father”  … “one God” with “one God, the Father”, he is even more clearly than Malachi also echoing the LXX shema with “one God” … “one Lord”.

Since “one God, the Father” is followed by “one Lord, Jesus Christ” in 1 Corinthians 8:6, for which there is no parallel in Malachi, Paul was either being incredibly careless, or he was associating Jesus with the divine being, just as “one Lord” is associated with God in the LXX shema.

If LXX Malachi’s imprecation against idolatrous faithlessness to YHWH also substitutes Lord for YHWH, Paul’s meaning is confirmed from both Malachi and Deuteronomy: Jesus is Lord (Kyrios) as YHWH.  

In the MT and LXX shema, the order is: YHWH (Lord) — God -YHWH (Lord). I was suggesting that Paul reversed the order, making Jesus, as Lord, stand in the place of the second term, which in the shema was God. He may have simply been following Malachi in this, but as I’ve pointed out, it’s difficult not to see that he goes beyond Malachi in bringing out the echo of the shema.

I don’t see why it is impossible to believe that God raised Jesus, the God/man, from the dead. The question of Jesus’s identity hangs over the whole story, which the idea of Jesus as an “independent agent” has not resolved. I think a great deal is read into 1 Corinthians 15:28 (assuming that’s what you are referring to) to make the reign of Jesus a temporary state of affairs. It suggests that Jesus was not subject to God in the interim, whilst becoming subject afterwards. There needs to be a better reading.

@peter wilkinson:

It looks to me as though you’ve completely avoided addressing my main point—that lordship is given to the man whom God raised from the dead. And if you can find a “better reading” of 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 that gets round the problem of the final subordination of the Son, let me know.

@Andrew Perriman:

The main issue of the thread is the inclusion or not of Jesus in the divine identity, so I suppose I could also say that you have avoided the main point of my last reply.

I do take note of your main point about lordship being given to the one raised from the dead, but that doesn’t seem to be the main point of lordship in the shema in Deuteronomy 6:4, to which lordship is also integral. I don’t think you can say that neither Malachi nor 1 Corinthians 8:6 has strong overtones of the shema.

I don’t see a problem with God the Father giving God the Son lordship after raising him from the dead. Jesus was voluntarily surrendering himself into the hands of God the Father on the cross; I don’t see that this necessarily means that he was therefore an “independent agent”.

I am closer to you on the political significance of that lordship than I used to be, but not at the expense of abandoning its wider and direct significance for creation, and the triumph of (God’s) life over Satan, evil, sin and death (major themes of the gospels). If that seems metaphysical, so be it. It seems very concrete and historically embedded to me. 

My main point is that both Malachi 2:10-12 and 1 Corinthians 8:6 point back to Deuteronomy 6:4, and whilst I also agree with your striking observation that 1 Corinthians 8:6 takes in Malachi 2:10, I find that 1 Corinthians 8:6 has even stronger echoes of the shema than Malachi.

The only reservation I have about the Malachi passage is that “one father” might refer to Abraham as much as God. There is no doubt that Paul was referring to God in “one God, the Father”, of course.

Don’t take any of this as personal; I really do enjoy your posts, which I find invigorating and refreshing. 

@peter wilkinson:

Hi Peter,

I have found this “splitting of the Shema” business one of the most desperate and creative attempts to get Jesus to be identical to YHWH.  There are many reasons for it.  But considering this novel attempt and applying it practically to the scripture recitals in ancient synagogues, the Universal Confession of Faith of the synagogue would become something like this:

Shema Yisrael, Yeshua Avinu, Yeshua echad.

Or in Greek,

Akoue Israel, Iesou ho Pater hemon, Iesou eis estin.

Or do you think those ancient Christians were able to completely compartmentalise their ideas or strain cognition to COMPLETELY ignore this subsequent confessional jibber-jabber?

The coiner of this “splitting of the Shema,” NT Wright, has concocted a most successful snake-oil blend!

@Jaco van Zyl:

Jaco — two things echo the shema in 1 Corinthians 8:6. The first is the LXX terms God and Lord (standing for YHWH), now applied to God (the Father) and Jesus in the Corinthians text.  The second is the repetition of “one” applied to God the Father and Jesus. The one without the other might be inconclusive. Taken together, they reinforce the association.

Even supposing we are not meant to hear the shema in the language, there is a bracketing of God (the Father) with Jesus, in one God — one Lord, without qualification. If Paul had not wanted to us to notice this association as of equals, you’d have thought he would have made his meaning clearer.

As an acknowledgment to the narrative/historical interpretation, both shema and the Corinthians text include anti-idolatry polemic in their meaning.

@peter wilkinson:

Thanks Peter, but your response does not address  the very obvious challenge to the “split Shema” proposal I posted above.  What one ends up with is confessional gibberish, and it is simply unthinkable that Christians could settle for that, especially in the synagogue and in their public kerygma.

Furthermore, this “split Shema” gives an answer to the question, “Is there any God apart from Yahweh?” that would result in polytheism.  According to you, Wright and Bauckham, you’ve got to answer YES!  Because, in addition to Yahweh (kyrios) Iesou, there is the One God (not Yahweh, because Jesus is Yahweh) and that is the Father.  What nonsense is that?

That is not all.  Campaigners for this “split Shema” are committing the fallacy of necessity by insisting that the Shema and only the Shema could inform the text in 1 Cor. 8:6.  Alongside the Shema, and in keeping with the theme of theocracy and rulership, Paul was contextualising the Shema using Ps. 110:1.  Then there is no splitting of the Shema, there’s no permutation of kurios and theos, there’s no thought-terminating theological neologisms, and certainly no confessional gibberish.  God, the Father, remains one (Shema), and Jesus, the glorified human lord executes His rulership (Ps 110 Session).

I’m afraid no amount of linguistic vagueness and logical acrobatics can satisfy the very obvious errors in this “split Shema” proposal.  Sentiment and novelty have given it more popularity that it truly deserves.  Sadly religion still is the area where Man behaves the least rational.


@Jaco van Zyl:

 I think it is vital that we look at how Paul employed the use of “Lord” elsewhere in his writings in order to ascertain if he applied YHWH of Deuteronomy 6:4 unto the Lord Jesus in 1 Corinthians 8:6. Since this passages appears in 1 Corinthians and for the sake of brevity this book alone will be in view.

     1. In 1 Corinthians 1:2-3; 16:19, 22-23 Paul teaches that the Lord Jesus is the proper recipient of prayer — and prayer is due unto God alone. Elsewhere, He is worshiped as “Lord” (6:17; 7:22, 35 cf. v. 5; 10:21-22; 12:3).

 The utmost importance that there is only one Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) cannot be divorced from the fact that He alone is to be prayed unto/worshiped. 

     a. NIDOTTE: Inside the covenant circle God demands of his people a completely exclusive worship (cf. 6:4) (3:938, Jealous, H. G. L. Peels). 

     b. For the Hebrews were “worshipers of the one God and of Him alone.” (“Monotheism” in The Jewish Encyclopedia of the Bible, see the first paragraph, the underlined is mine).

     c. Judaism 101: G-d is the only being to whom we should offer praise. The Shema can also be translated as “The L-rd is our G-d, The L-rd alone,” meaning that no other is our G-d, and we should not pray to any other.

 If the Lord Jesus was the proper recipient of prayer/worship only 1 time in the Bible would demonstrate that He is YHWH. The fact that the Bible teaches He is the proper recipient of prayer/worship multiple times further strengthens the fact that He is YHWH.

     2. As “Lord” His attribute is “glory” (2:8; cf. Psalm 24:10).

     3. YHWH (LORD) of the Old Testament is applied unto the Lord Jesus several times.

     a. 1:31 with Jeremiah 9:23-24.

     b. 2:16 with Isaiah 40:13 - Notice that Paul applies YHWH of Isaiah 40:13 unto the Father in Romans 11:34 and unto the Lord Jesus in 1 Corinthians 2:16.

     c. 10:21-22 with Malachi 1:7 and Deuteronomy 32:19-21. 

     d. 10:26 with Psalm 24:1.

    4. 1 Corinthians 4:5 teaches that the Lord (in reference to Jesus) fully knows the hearts of all which demonstrates that He is omniscient (God).

     5. In 1 Corinthians 4:19; 16:7 (cf. Hebrews 6:3) we see that the will of the Lord Jesus is supreme.

Charles | Sat, 05/24/2014 - 13:11 | Permalink

Andrew, insightful comments.  With your thoughts here, there are deconstruction ramifications to modern evangelical Christology, and “Peter” shows us a typical reaction.  Yet you have responded well to his knee-jerk thoughts that Jesus might somehow be “less than” God or not included in God’s identity.  For first-timers, a shock to the system.

But again, the text presses in upon us to consider conclusions if we push past 4th-century creeds and take seriously the 1st-century context.  Appreciate your bold presentation.  Those of monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Islam) are beginning, in small circles I’m aware of, to take note, showing us that there may be more we have in common than we once thought.  And one of Dunn’s concerns, which I share, is a reapproachment between Christianity and Judaism.  At the same time, while there is much common ground, as Dunn states it, the clearest expression of God is in Christ (while being distinct from God).  In my humble, this is a clear enough boundary to ensure a Christology for the new age that is robust to engage in inter-faith dialogue while continuing in the essential character of  early Christianity and even modern Christianity.  For your Christology as stated here opens itself to humanity’s deepest yearning for one God, and can include all Abrahamic faiths in its essential understanding.

Cheers, Charles


I’m not sure it’s quite as simple as that, but you make some important points. Thanks.

What obvious desperation from Trinitarian and “deity of Christ” theologians.

A New Testament verse which states explicitly that the one God is the Father — really states that the one God is two! — the Father and someone else.

And what Jesus called the greatest/chief commandment, that YHVH is one — really means that YHVH is three in one!

Remind us all, Trinitarian and deity of Christ believer, who are the brothers of YHVH that Paul mentioned in 1 Cor. 9:5?