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When questioned by a scribe “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered:

...“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
(Mark 12:29 ESV)
ἀπεκρίθη ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι Πρώτη ἐστίν ἄκουε Ἰσραήλ κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν κύριος εἷς ἐστιν

This answer seems to be based upon the Greek translation of Deuteronomy:

And these are the statutes and the judgments, which the Lord commanded to the sons of Israel in the wilderness as they were coming out from the land of Egypt. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord. (LXX-Deuteronomy 6:4 NETS)
καὶ ταῦτα τὰ δικαιώματα καὶ τὰ κρίματα ὅσα ἐνετείλατο κύριος τοῗς υἱοῗς Ισραηλ ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ἐξελθόντων αὐτῶν ἐκ γῆς Αἰγύπτου ἄκουε Ισραηλ κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν κύριος εἷς ἐστιν

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord is part of the Shema which is recited twice each day. The scribe agrees with Jesus, affirms how the Lord is identified, and adds his own explanation:

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. (Mark 12:32)
καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ γραμματεύς· Καλῶς, διδάσκαλε, ἐπ’ ἀληθείας εἶπες ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ἄλλος πλὴν αὐτοῦ

A scribe, γραμματεύς, is "a man learned in the Mosaic law and in the sacred writings, an interpreter, teacher. Scribes examined the more difficult and subtle questions of the law; added to the Mosaic law decisions of various kinds thought to elucidate its meaning and scope, and did this to the detriment of religion. Since the advice of men skilled in the law was needed in the examination in the causes and the solution of the difficult questions, they were enrolled in the Sanhedrin; and are mentioned in connection with the priests and elders of the people."

Therefore in saying εἷς ἐστιν καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ἄλλος πλὴν αὐτοῦ, the scribe affirms εἷς ἐστιν one He is, and gives his legal explanation of what it means, οὐκ ἔστιν ἄλλος πλὴν αὐτοῦ there is no other beside Him.

Shortly before being crucified, Jesus prayed and spoke of eternal life and the nature of God:

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ αἰώνιος ζωὴ ἵνα γινώσκωσι σὲ τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν καὶ ὃν ἀπέστειλας Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν

Based on the Shema, the correct term is one God. Even adding "true" is problematic as it implies more then one God. In other words, if Jesus is praying to "one God" as in the Shema, no further identification is needed. Also, in replacing εἷς with μόνον, Jesus exchanged a word whose meaning is clear with one whose meaning is ambiguous. In John, μόνον typically is understood to mean "alone" (cf. John 6:15, 6:22, 8:9, 8:16, 8:29, 12:24, 16:22). Some translation even understand John 5:44 as God alone.

This leads to three questions:

  1. Did Jesus and the scribe correctly understand the Shema?
  2. If so, was the scribe's explanation correct?
  3. If so, why did Jesus abandon the language of the Shema when praying?
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    Why is it problematic to imply there's more than one god? For example, there's mention of Ba'al in 1 Kings and other places. Also Beelzebub and other gods mentioned in scripture. Dec 13, 2022 at 10:38
  • @RevelationLad. Granting that Jesus is God, how is it possible that he did not correctly understand the Shema? Dec 13, 2022 at 11:06
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    Nothing suggests that Jesus or the author is praying/quoting Shema. Your que should rather have focused on the "only God AND Jesus" part which you may ask somehow go against the oneness of God, as it adds the Messiah in it. He is not repeating which is the first commandment here.
    – Michael16
    Dec 13, 2022 at 15:18
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    the idea of fixed phrase or language for prayer like pagans for Jews should be more diff to believe. If you understand it is not the recitation of command, either way one can use monos (only) for the oneness of God, there is nothing wrong.
    – Michael16
    Dec 13, 2022 at 15:57
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    I dont know why you see that phrase as same thing as recitation of a commandment. Saying :You are the only God, does not mean reciting a command. I have no reason to write any answer here. Like saying commentary is deviation from the actual verse. "...The verse is sometimes alternatively translated as "The LORD is our God; the LORD is one" or "The LORD is our God, the LORD alone."
    – Michael16
    Dec 13, 2022 at 16:37

2 Answers 2

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Let me address the questions as you have numbered them about the famous exchange between Jesus and the scribe in Mark 12:28-34.

  1. Correct Understanding

First, if Jesus did not understand the Shema, then nobody will ever understand it. Therefore, it must be axiomatic that Jesus understood the Shema.

  1. Scribe's Explanation

For what it is worth, I agree with the scribe's understanding (uncorrected by Jesus) in Mark 12:32, where he asserts that the Shema declares two truths:

  • the LORD is one (εἷς)
  • the LORD is God and there is no other (see also Deut 32:39, Isa 45:5, 46:9, etc)
  1. "Only True God" of John 17:3

First, whether one translates τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν Θεὸν as "only true God", or, "true God alone" makes little difference to the basic semantics. This is partly due to the strictures of English because it would be poor English to translate "alone true God".

Second, "only true God" is the title Jesus chose here. The Shema is a statement of factual truth as noted above. By contrast, Jesus uses the title, "Only True God" as a form of vocative address in His high Priestly prayer in John 17:3. Thus, the two, Shema vs John 17:3, are used in different contexts.

That is, "Only True God" is in apposition to the pronoun "you". The sentence would make perfect sense if it were deleted as in "Now this is eternal life, that they may know You, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent." Thus "whom you have sent" is also in apposition to "Jesus Christ".

Lastly, the title of "True God" also has good OT support in places such as: Jer 10:10, 2 Chron 15:3, etc, see also Isa 65:16, etc. This, combined with the declaration in Deut 32:39, Isa 45:5, 46:9 (the LORD is God and there is no other), means that "Only True God" is a valid title for God as per Jesus' prayer.

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OP asks, Did Jesus correctly state the Shema in Mark 12:29? Did Jesus and the scribe correctly understand the Shema? If so, was the scribe's explanation correct? If so, why did Jesus abandon the language of the Shema when praying?

There is nothing in the bible that hints, imply or expressly states that Jesus and the scribe incorrectly understood the language of the Shema. Jesus himself said the Jews (Jesus included) worship what they know. John 4:22. Granting without accepting that Jesus is God, how is it possible that he did not correctly understand the Shema? how is it possible that he did not correctly state the Shema?

John 4:22 ASV

Ye worship that which ye know not: we worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews.

The context of Mark 12:29 show the scribe's understanding is correct.

If so, why did Jesus abandon the language of the Shema when praying?

There is no verse in the bible that show Jesus abandoned the language of the Shema when he prayed in John 17:3. The Father is a single Person and is the only God, as John 5:44 also show. Even after Jesus resurrection, the apostles worship the same God mentioned in the Shema as Acts 3:13 shows.

John 5:44 ASV

How can ye believe, who receive glory one of another, and the glory that cometh from the only God ye seek not?

Acts 3:13 ASV

The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Servant Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied before the face of Pilate, when he had determined to release him.

There is no biblical support showing that Jesus abandoned the langauge of the Shema when he prayed to his Father/God in John 17:3. There is also no biblical support that Jesus is the God of the Shema.

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  • “There is no verse in the Bible that show Jesus abandoned the language of the Shema…” Other then 17:3. Unless you can explain how/why Jesus chose to use completely different terms to address the Father, we are left with unmistakable proof Jesus did not call the Father “one” God. Citing John 4:22 only reinforces the language of the prayer is not from Judaism. Dec 13, 2022 at 14:44
  • @RevelationLad. Jesus was praying to his God in John 17:3. Unless you can prove that Jesus is discussing the Shema with his God in John 17:3, you are just reading your assertion in to the text? Dec 13, 2022 at 22:20

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