David Bernard on Monotheism

Crucial to a proper understanding of Christianity is knowing that it is strictly monotheistic. Christianity, along with Judaism and Islam, are fiercely monotheistic. Monotheism comes from the Greek word “mono” meaning singular or one and “theos” meaning God. Outside of these three major world religions there are many divergent views on both the quantity and quality of gods that exist in the universe.

An atheist denies the existence of God or any eternal, supreme being. Agnostics assert that the existence of God is unknown and probably unknowable. Pantheists equate God with nature or the forces of the universe and there are a multitude of world religions which are polytheistic in nature in that they worship and claim the existence of multiple gods.

David Bernard, theologian, pastor and author of several scholarly works, wrote about Judaisms and, by extension, Christianity’s strict monotheism.

The classic expression of the doctrine of [the oneness of] God is found in Deuteronomy 6:4. “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD.” This verse of Scripture has become the most distinctive and important statement of faith for the Jews. They call it the Shema, after the first word of the phrase in Hebrew, and they often quote it in English as “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one.” Traditionally, a devout Jew always tried to make this confession of faith just before death.

In Deuteronomy 6:5, God followed the announcement of the preceding verse with a command that requires total belief in and love for Him as the one and only God: “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” We should notice the importance which God attaches to Deuteronomy 6:4-5. He commands that these verses be placed in the heart (verse 6), taught to the children throughout the day (verse 7), bound on the hand and forehead (verse 8), and written on the posts and gates of houses (verse 9).

Orthodox Jews literally obey these commands today by binding tefillin (phylacteries) on their left forearms and on their foreheads when they pray, and by placing mezuzzah on their doors and gates. (Teffilin are small boxes tied to the body by leather straps, and mezuzzah are scroll-shaped containers.) Inside both types of containers are verses of Scripture handwritten in black ink by a righteous man who has observed certain purification rituals. The verses of Scripture usually are Deuteronomy 6:4-9,11:18-21, Exodus 13:8-10, and 13:14-16.

During a trip to Jerusalem, where we gathered the above information, we attempted to buy tefillin. The Orthodox Jewish merchant said he did not sell tefillin to Christians because they do not believe in and have the proper reverence for these verses of Scripture. When we quoted Deuteronomy 6:4 and explained our total adherence to it, his eyes lit up and he promised to sell to us on the condition that we would treat the tefillin with care and respect. His concern shows the extreme reverence and depth of belief the Jews have for the concept of one God. It also reveals that a major reason for the Jewish rejection of Christianity throughout history is the perceived distortion of the monotheistic message.

Many other Old Testament verses of Scripture emphatically affirm strict monotheism. The Ten Commandments begin with, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7). God emphasized this command by stating that He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5). In Deuteronomy 32:39, God said there is no other god with him. There is none like the LORD and there is no God beside Him (II Samuel 7:22; I Chronicles 17:20). He alone is God (Psalm 86:10).

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Sin (Part 1 of 3)

I know some big words. Words like existentialism and idiosyncratic. I can both define the word “empirical” and use it in a sentence. I can even spell mayonnaise without using spellcheck (most of the time). I might be somewhat of a sesquipedalian. So I was surprised as I was scrolling through an edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary and came across some words I had never heard before.

Words like monomachy, mensal, lambrequin, fuligin, and cataphract. Words, so ancient and arcane, that no one even knows what they mean anymore. Many of these words are so obscure that they have been phased out of modern editions of dictionaries.

There is another word that is quickly becoming lost in modern languages. It is a word with ancient roots and rich in meaning. Unfortunately, it is rarely used by the modern speakers and writers and it is in danger of becoming undefinable by many. This word in danger of being lost is, sin.

Ask someone on the street today, “What is sin?” and you are likely to get a variety of answers. Some would say sin is anything that hurts someone else. Sin might be doing something that is illegal. Some suggest that there is no such thing as sin. Sin is simply an ideological relic of our religious past.

The truth is that sin is a real word with real meaning. We will never fully understand what it means to say, “Jesus died for your sin” unless we understand what sin really is.

Sin is called many things in the Bible. We’re given an array of words throughout scripture that give us an understanding of the nature of sin. It’s called rebellion, folly, madness, idolatry, foolishness, blindness, deafness, and death. Sin is a law at work in the hearts of men and women that challenges the law of God. The Bible is clear that sin is “the transgression of the law” (1John 3:4). Sin is, to put it simply, the act of violating God’s laws and God’s order.

Some sins are things we do, sins of commission, sins we commit. Other sins are things we don’t do and those are called sins of omission. If we lie to someone, that is a sin because it violates God’s law of truth. It is a sin of commission. If we fail to protect, or come to the rescue of someone who needs us, that is sin. That is a sin of omission, something we neglected to do.

Either way, if it’s something we did or something we failed to do, sin is that which violates God. Sin doesn’t just violate God’s law and His order. God’s order and His laws issue from His nature, from what He is. Sin violates the nature of God Himself. It is a rebellion against all that God is.

Sin is the word we use to describe anything that opposes the nature and order of God. That’s why God and sin cannot be in the same place. James reveals the truth that salt water and fresh water don’t come from the same source. “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.” (James 3:11-12). Sin is at odds with the nature of God and the two will never blend. God brings righteousness, peace and joy. Sin corrupts, decays and destroys.

Sin ruins everything.

The ultimate problem that sin presents is that it separates us from God. It is our separation from God, caused by sin, that brings the trouble into our lives. Sin is what denies the blessings and promises that a righteous life brings to those who honor God and His order. Sin separated God from Adam and Eve in the garden and God has been seeking to rid us of sin ever since. He wants to restore that relationship we had with Him before sin started ruining everything.