Sir Anthony Buzzard is a Unitarian theologian and founder of Restoration Fellowship, a movement dedicated to proclaiming (among other things) the allegedly Unitarian creed of Jesus.
In this excerpt from his book, Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian, Sir Anthony explains why Jesus’ explanation from Mark 12:28-29 is so important to understanding the Unitarian view of God, and why the doctrine of the Trinity is allegedly false:1
May I invite you to join me in an exploration of a massively important episode in the teaching life of Jesus. This occurred towards the end of his short, strenuous itinerant ministry as a teacher and preacher of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. It is an event with the potential to affect dramatically your journey of faith — an event able to change radically the way we think about our Christian faith.
The story I am referring to is found in Mark 12, beginning with verse 28. Mark records here an encounter between Jesus and a Jewish theologian, a scribe. The gospel accounts of Jesus were written of course as “tracts” to commend the Christian faith to readers. We should read these documents as appeals to us to align ourselves with the Christian faith. We are obviously intended to pay close attention to this important interchange recorded by Mark.
Jesus is here found in conversation with a perceptive member of the ecclesiastical guild. The exchange between Jesus and the Jewish theologian is profoundly important for our worship of God in spirit and truth (John 4:24). The story is in fact unique in the New Testament. Jesus, in this interchange, is seen uncharacteristically as being in perfect agreement with a Jewish religious expert.
Sir Anthony continues, and explains that Jesus upheld the same creed the Israelites did. If, as he claimed, the Jews understood God to be unitarian, then Jesus did, too:2
If we are listening carefully to Jesus in conversation with the Jewish scholar (Mark 12:28-34 above), one crucial fact stands out. Jesus’ definition of who God is harmonizes precisely with that of the Jewish scribe. The scribe is in complete agreement with Jesus about the first principle of all sound worship of God. Both the Jewish theologian and Jesus, the ultimate Jew and theologian as well as the Christian Savior, confirm the classic words of sacred Scripture.
The first command, or imperative, Jesus recited and repeated was, “Listen, Israel!” This is a direct command of the Lord Jesus. Then he continued with the cardinal proposition of all biblical theology: “The Lord our God is one Lord.” Jesus reckons this command, “Listen carefully to the proposition that God is one Lord” as the key to all sound thinking and action. It is the pinnacle of all true religion: to give our full attention to a statement defining who the God is whom we are to worship and love — who the God is who is to be loved with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength. The second command to love our neighbors goes with the first, of course.
May I startle you by putting a very simple fact before you? The creed announced by Jesus is the creed of Israel, of the Hebrew Bible, the creed of the Jews. Jesus was a Jew and he and the Jewish scribe had no disagreement at all about who the God of the Bible is. Can one possibly argue otherwise? The story is plain and clear, essentially simple and delightfully free of the tangled and abstruse definitions of God in which later post-biblical theology became embroiled.
Each morning and evening every Jewish man had to recite Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. This was the daily confession of faith. Jesus made no innovations here. He answers the questioner by quoting the texts which they had in common and which both believed to be sacred and ultimately authoritative. In defining the true God, Jesus has nothing to say which is different from what Israel had known from the law throughout her history.
All historians and all Jews know that their God is a single Person. There is no ambiguity about Jesus’ response to the inquirer — none at all about how many God is. Jesus knows of no other God than the one revealed in the creed of Israel. This is the God of his own Jewish heritage, the God who had appointed him as Messiah. This same God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God of the Hebrew Bible. He is defined as “one Lord” (Mark 12:29). We are urged by Jesus to listen as he, Jesus, provides us with the only right definition of God.
If Jesus is to be our guide, his utterance here about the basis of true worship and the one true God is of paramount importance to us as believers.
Jesus is the one of whom God his Father had said, “This is My beloved Son. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7). “Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:29). “Is not the God of the Jews the God of the Gentiles also? Yes, of the Gentiles also” (see Rom. 3:29). Is the Church really listening?
There is no need for an army of theologians to help us discern the meaning of Jesus’ statement about who God is. The language is simple and precise — a plain proposition, a logical unit of intelligible communication. None of us has the slightest difficulty with statements of this kind. We all know what the number “one” means, and no one could possibly misunderstand the singular noun “Lord.”
Jews for the whole of their history had no problem with the cardinal tenet of the national faith. God was a single, undivided Divine Person, designated in their holy writings by thousands of singular personal pronouns and designating Himself as the one, single Lord of the universe, the one Divine Person who alone is God. This One God used every device known to language to convey the concept that He and no one else is God, that there is no other God. Singular personal pronouns define a single Person. Christians claim to be rooted in the grammatical method where the standard laws of grammar are decisive.
Here, Sir Anthony concludes and asks Christians to re-consider the doctrine of the Trinity in light of Jesus’ teaching:3
Bathe your minds in these Bible words and see if the one speaking is really three Persons. Is the God speaking here a Person, or is He as contemporary Trinitarians claim a “what” — a “substance” existing in three Persons? Imagine the chaos which the introduction of a triune God would bring to these matchless texts.
Singular personal pronouns of all forms are provided by Scripture to put beyond any possible doubt the fact that the God of the Bible is a single Person. To speak of the Holy One of Israel as the Holy Three, or tri-personal, does violence to language and theological truth. Worse, it is to defy the words of Jesus. Yet that is effectively what church tradition has done — and to the distraction and horror of the Jewish community to whom the Old Testament was committed, as Paul wrote: “What then is the superiority of the Jew? To them were entrusted the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2).
Those oracles present God as a unitary Person. Unitary monotheism, not Trinitarian monotheism, is the creed of Hebrew Scripture. Jesus never attempted to alter that magnificent fact. He reiterated it and called it the Great Commandment, the greatest commandment. And that God of the Old Testament, the God of Israel, is also the God of the Gentiles. Paul again: “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also” (Rom. 3:29).
Tyler Robbins is a graduate of Maranatha Baptist Seminary, a DMin student at Central Seminary (Plymouth, MN) and a pastor at Sleater Kinney Road Baptist Church, in Olympia WA. He’s also an Investigations Program Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist and is the author of What’s It Mean to be a Baptist?