Mathematics Gone Mad:
When One is Supposed to Mean Three
... I am referring to the argument that the Hebrew word for “one” in the Hebrew language — the word echad — really means “compound one.” Imagine it! Your bill at the store adds up to eleven dollars. This is exactly ten plus one dollars, but wait — the “one” in this case is really “compound one.” That being so, you owe in fact twelve dollars or perhaps thirteen or any other figure you like to think of.
This would be grist to the mill in the world of “Candid Camera.” “One dollar,” says the cashier in a matter-of-fact tone, “really means ‘compound one.’ You see, if I say ‘one tripod,’ do you realize that ‘one’ in that case really means three? Or if I say ‘one centipede,’ is it not clear that by ‘one’ I really mean a hundred? What about one square? Surely it is obvious that ‘one’ in that case means four, because a square has four sides? ‘One cricket team’ evidently implies that one is the same as eleven.”
Or again, if I say “one cluster of grapes,” would it not be proven that one can mean a whole lot more than one? What about “one family” or “one team”?
You will see here that we have entered the world of Humpty Dumpty, who in Through the Looking Glass replied to Alice “in a rather scornful tone”: “When I use a word, it means exactly what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” With that piece of mindless stupidity Humpty Dumpty put himself above the law, above the laws which rule all communication.
Alas, under a pretense of learning, a number of authorities continue to convince the churchgoing public with argumentation alarmingly similar to our examples above. Bible students have been told that when it comes to God being one (Deut. 6:4: “The Lord our God is one Lord”) “one” really means “compound one.” And from that “fact” it is supposed to follow, with equal lack of logic, that the “compound one” in this case means three. Therefore the God of the Bible is really three Persons.
What’s wrong with this stunning proposition?
Echad in Hebrew — one — functions very much like the English word “one.” It is the numeral one. When you count in Hebrew, you begin “echad (one)…” Often it actually translates the indefinite article in English. You can have “a large statue.” The Hebrew word corresponding to “a” is echad, one.
Take a standard lexicon of the Hebrew language and the first definition of the word “echad” is “a single…” “A single day” is yom (day) echad (one). In several cases echad is translated as “unique,” one of a kind. It appears also in English as “only one.”
The Brown, Driver and Briggs Lexicon of the OT says nothing about “one” meaning “compound one.” What in fact is “compound one”?
“Compound one” is not to my knowledge found in any lexicon as a definition of echad. The numerical adjective “one” can of course, in English and Hebrew, modify a collective noun. A collective noun is a word like “family” or “cluster” or “team.” We sense at once that these words suggest one and many at the same time. But note carefully “one cluster of grapes” is still one cluster and not two or more clusters. If someone tells you that the word “one” contains in itself a notion of plurality, point out to them that it is the noun cluster and not the word “one” which signals plurality. The word “one” continues to describe a single object — one single cluster. Should that noun contain the notion of plurality (cluster, family, etc.) it is the noun in question which conveys the plural idea. Thus when Adam and Eve became “one flesh,” you know from the context that the two of them were combined in “one flesh.” But this was precisely “one flesh,” and not “two fleshes.” “One couple” means a single couple and not more than one. One just means one.
There is nothing in the word “one” which speaks of plurality. It still means “a single…” never “more than one.” Evening and morning formed “a single day” (yom echad). It is therefore completely misleading to say that “one” means more than one, that it is “compound”! There is as little logic in the claim that God being “one” means that He is really more than one as in saying that “one pentagon” proves that one really means five!
In a long section entitled “The Word Echad” Robert Morey (The Trinity: Evidence and Issues, Word Publishing, 1996, pp. 88-103) states that “the word echad refers to compound oneness in which a number of things are described as ‘one’ ” (p. 88). Morey footnotes this remark to the entry in the standard Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament by Brown, Driver and Briggs. But the lexicon offers no such definition of echad as Morey proposes. Nothing at all is said about “compound oneness.” Echad is defined as one, each, every, a certain, and as a substitute for the indefinite article “a.” Listed also as possible meanings are “only,” and such usage as “the one…the other,” “one after another,” “one by one, eleven (one plus ten).”
Morey’s illustrations of “compound unity,” which he claims is the real and only meaning of echad, are startling: “Day one.” Morey thinks that this combination of one and day proves that one means more than one, because “one day” is a combination of evening and morning. Adam and Eve were “one flesh.” Morey contends, “They were one, but two, and two, but one” (p. 88). “The people were one” is supposed also to mean that one means “compound one.”
In response to Morey’s case for plurality in the word one, it is necessary to point out that he has simply listed cases where the numerical adjective “one” modifies a collective noun, a noun, that is, whose meaning, either in itself, or from the context, contains the idea of plurality. Note that it is the noun, and not the word “one” which signals the idea of plurality. One congregation is still only one congregation, no matter how many members it may have. One flesh is still one flesh though two are involved as a single couple. “One day” is still one single day and not two or more days. When we read that God gave the people one heart, the meaning of one is still “one single” and not more than one heart.
To repeat: The Hebrew numeral “one” functions, in fact, just like the English word “one.”
Morey’s listing of a fraction of the evidence does no sort of justice to the
facts. Echad appears about 960 times in the OT. Listing a handful of
examples in which “one” modifies a collective noun proves absolutely nothing in
favor of the Trinity. It invites readers into a sort of smoke screen, leaving
the actual meaning of “one” in multiple biblical examples unexamined. Morey does
not include in his analysis the fact that there are hundreds of occurrences of
echad modifying a noun which have no suggestion at all of plurality.
“Abraham was one (echad)” hardly suggests that there was plurality in Abraham (Isa. 51:2; Ezek. 33:24). In the second example the NIV translates: “Abraham was only one man, yet he possessed the land.” The Hebrew says that Abraham was echad, “one.” The proper English for echad in this case is “only one,” “only one man.” Thus when Deuteronomy 6:4 says that “God is one Yahweh,” it means exactly that: “only one Yahweh.” That is the biblical view of God throughout both Testaments. It is the heart of the greatest of all commandments and any deviation from that strict monotheism threatens the core of biblical revelation — which amounts to a theological disaster. Jesus expressly confirmed the central tenet of Judaism that “God is one Lord” (see his discussion with a Jewish scholar in Mark 12:28ff). Jesus was not a Trinitarian and nor was the Jewish scribe who engaged him in the discussion. Jews do not believe in the Trinity and are offended that anyone could try to force the Hebrew Bible into a Trinitarian mold.
A serious weakness of Morey’s proposal is the fact that echad appears in English frequently in situations where plurality is as far as possible removed from the meaning: “a single (echad) stalk,” “a single (echad) house,” “a single year,” “a single cluster of grapes,” “a single donkey, “a single witness,” “ a single flea,” “ a single scroll,” “ a single great statue” (citations from NASU, New American Standard Updated). Furthermore, Job 23:13 says that God is unique (b’echad, NASV, NASU). The Song of Solomon celebrates a young virgin as “unique” (echad): “She is unique. She is the only one of her mother” (Song 6:9). In Ezekiel 7:5 a unique (echad) disaster is coming. Zechariah 14:7 describes “a unique (echad) day.” It is therefore completely fallacious to argue that a different word (yachid) would have to be used if God is a single Person. As we see, echad itself bears the connotation of “unique” or “single” frequently. Yachid is anyway a rare word in the OT and carries a meaning which would be quite unsuitable for God, i.e. “lonely” or “desolate,” “only begotten.”
In His revelation the One God has in fact exhausted every device of language to tell us that He is one single Person. The word “three” occurs in no biblical text describing the God of Israel. On the contrary God is said to be “a single Yahweh” (Deut. 6:4), and a single God. He describes Himself as “by Myself,” and having “no one besides Me,” and as being “alone.” Language has no more effective ways than this of conveying the notion of God as a single undifferentiated Divine Individual. Constant singular personal pronouns denote this stupendous fact — known to the Jews throughout their history and to the Christians of the New Testament. Thousands of times the God of Israel and the God of Jesus speaks of Himself as “I,” “Me,” and “Him” — never “We three.” No occurrence of the word God in the Bible can possibly mean “God in three Persons.”
Some 1325 times in the New Testament and thousands of times in the Old, God (in the Greek NT ho theos — the God) means the Father.
Morey states that the word echad is “the only way that the Hebrew language has to indicate to the reader that God is a composite unity of several Persons and not just a solitary Person.” He has abandoned the grammatical and lexical fact that “one” is correctly translated in the English Bible as “a single,” “only one,” etc. Echad, in itself, never points to plurality or “compound oneness.” It is ironic that Morey cites Genesis 3:22 where God says that “man has become like one of us.” Could echad possibly mean “two or more”? Was man like “two of us,” or “three of us”?
Morey’s analysis omits mention of the fact that the personal name for the One God, Yahweh (the tetragrammaton), occurs all 6,823 times with a singular verb and pronouns.
The extraordinary linguistic gyrations necessary for making one into three
are unnecessary once we pay attention to three primary facts. The Father
of Jesus Christ is called by Jesus “the only One who is truly God” (John 17:3).
Jesus also confirmed the central tenet of biblical religion in both Testaments,
the Shema (Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:28ff). Paul imitated Jesus perfectly by
1 Corinthians 8:4-6 that there is for believers “One God, the Father.” That should be clear. No one else, then, can be so called. Secondly “Son of God” means in the Bible a person given existence or appointed to a special relationship with God, either Adam, an angel, Christians at their rebirth as believers, the nation of Israel (Exod. 4:22) and supremely the uniquely originated Son of God Jesus Christ
(Matt. 1:20, Luke 1:35; I John 5:18; Acts 13:33, not KJV).
Thirdly, Jesus is the Lord Messiah, not the Lord God. There cannot be two Lord Gods! Such a confession moves us into paganism and polytheism. Once we utter the words “the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God” we have uttered words which according to our lifelong use of language mean that we believe in three who are God.
The Bible urges no such confession on us and in fact warns us against the insidious dangers of importing alien notions of God into the biblical creed.
Be on the alert at the checkout counter. If you are told that the package of three candy bars, marked one dollar, really costs three or more dollars, because “one” means “compound one,” be suspicious. It may be that you have just been caught on “Candid Camera.” The same critical and analytical approach is highly recommended in regard to the creeds uttered or tacitly assumed when entering churches.
 For simplicity I have cited the word in its masculine form.
Taken from: http://www.focusonthekingdom.org/51.htm#1