New Evidence for “Christological Monotheism” in 1 Cor 8:6

In the second chapter of Jesus Monotheism, Volume 1 I present some new evidence for thinking that Paul places the Lord Jesus Christ inside of a redefined, split-open, first line of the Shema (“Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God the LORD is one”—Deut 6:4). Now the one God is a two-in-one God. He is both the one God the Father and the one Lord Jesus Christ.

Over the last 20 years much of my research has been on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. One aspect of recent advances in Hebrew Bible scholarship has intrigued me, ever since I first came across it in reading Jon D. Levenson’s, Creation and the Persistence EvilSometimes there are clear numerical structures in the Hebrew text that reinforce or deepen the plain meaning of the text. For example, Genesis 1 has numerical patterns that help to make the point that the living God has created a world of order, structure and beauty. The text is a kind of icon: its numerical structures embellish or reflect the truths of which it speaks.

Casper Labuschagne (in his Numerical Secrets of the Bible) has recently called the study of numerical patterns and structures in the Hebrew Bible “Numerical Criticism”. This  methodology is in its infancy, it raises interesting theological questions about how far we should go looking for meaning beneath the plain and obvious sense of the scriptural text. Some of Labsuchagne’s colleagues are skeptical about the extent or significance of the numerical structures that he and others have identified. But some numerical patterns are indisputable and it is well-known that in a few places in the NT there is a similar use of symbolic numbers, for example, in Rev 13:17–18 with the number of the beast and a carefully worked out structure to the genealogy in Matt 1:1–17. In these NT examples, as with the Hebrew Text of the OT, numerical significance is conveyed by means of gematria: the assigning of numerical values to letters. (In Matt 1:1–17 there is a fourteen generation structure to Jesus’ genealogy which conveys the notion that he is the son of David. The consonants in David’s name in Hebrew have the numerical value 14: (dalet = 4) + (waw = 6) + (dalet = 4) = 14)

One day while relaxing in the bath in 2013, musing on Paul’s confession in 1 Cor 8:6, and remembering that in a footnote in his classic article on the verse (in his Climax of the Covenant) N. T. Wright had noted its numerical structure, it dawned on me that that structure might have profound theological significance. The verse comprises 26 words in two equal halves—the first acknowledging the “one God the Father” and the second the “one Lord Jesus Christ—each of 13 words. The numerical value of the Hebrew name of God (Yahweh) is 26 and the Hebrew word “one” has a numerical value 13 (half of 26). As I explain in the book, this cannot be a coincidence. It can only mean one thing: all parts of the confession refer to entities (or persons) who together comprise (or reveal) the one God, Yhwh. And the fact that, although the confession is formulated in Greek, it assumes a numerical structure that comes from the Hebrew language surely also measn that this distinctive reworking of Deut 6:4 was formulated, very early on, in a bilingual (Hebrew and Greek) speaking context. In all probability, it was formulated in Jerusalem in the first years or months after Jesus’ death.

My numerical criticism of the confession in 1 Cor 8:6 is my favourite part of the book. The text’s numerical structure weaves a beautiful, almost magical, meaning. The implications are far reaching and remarkable. And I will never forget the moment it dawned on me. As things stand, the rest of the argument of Jesus Monotheism (in the remaining three volumes) depends in part on the implications of this piece of numerical criticism. Perhaps I have missed something in my analysis. If so, I hope that somebody will do me the kindness of pointing out the problem sooner rather than later.

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