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Peake’s Commentary and Jesus’ Affirmation of the Shema

Peake’s Commentary and Jesus’ Affirmation of the Shema

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Unitarian writer Kegan Chandler begins his critique of Trinitarian theology by seeking to show that Trinitarianism actually repudiated the monotheistic teaching of Jesus himself. Jesus referred to the affirmation that the Lord is the only God (Deut. 6:4), known in Judaism as the Shema (from the first word of the verse in Hebrew, meaning “Hear”), as the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-29). Chandler, following Anthony Buzzard, argues that since the Jews understood the Shema to teach a Unitarian view of God, Jesus was affirming that view. In the course of making this argument, Chandler quotes Peake’s commentary:

One respected commentary adds: “There was no real doubt as to the great commandment, the Shema was repeated daily by the Jews. It was the foundation text of their monotheism, which was not a speculative theory but a practical conviction.”

In a footnote, Chandler writes:

Peake adds: “in this Jesus stood in complete and conscious agreement with Pharisaism” (Arthur Samuel Peake, A Commentary on the Bible (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1920), p. 696).1

This use of Peake’s commentary goes back in Unitarianism at least to 2009, when Buzzard’s son-in-law Carlos Xavier quoted it in the same way:

“The Shema was repeated daily by the Jews. It was the foundation text of their monotheism, which was not a speculative theory but a practical conviction… in this Jesus stood in complete agreement with Pharisaism.”2

What Xavier, followed by Chandler, does here is to quote the commentary so that the reader will understand it to mean that “Jesus stood in complete agreement with Pharisaism” in “their monotheism,” i.e., the monotheism of what later became Rabbinical Judaism. However, this is not what the commentary is saying. Regrettably, Xavier and Chandler have quoted the commentary’s statements out of context, perhaps unintentionally, as well as somewhat inaccurately. Here is a full, precise quotation of those statements in context:

There was no real doubt as to the greater commandment. The Shema (Dt. 64f.) was repeated daily by the Jews. It was the foundation-text of their monotheism, which was “not a speculative theory but a practical conviction” (pp. 618ff.). Jesus adds to it Lev. 1918. Love to God finds its only adequate fulfilment in love to one’s neighbour. God’s worship lies in social duty. [696] Love to one’s neighbour must be rooted in love of God. Wellhausen says, “the combination was first effected in this way by Jesus”; this is not certain, and, at any rate, “in this Jesus stood in complete and conscious agreement with Pharisaism” (Schlatter, Das Wort Jesu, p. 221).3

In context, what H. G. Wood, the author of the commentary on Mark in Peake’s Bible commentary, was saying (by way of quoting Adolf Schlatter) was that Jesus agreed with the Pharisees in maintaining that the way to love God is through loving one’s neighbor. Wood was not asserting that Jesus agreed with the specific form of monotheism accepted by the Pharisees. He was asserting that Jesus agreed that love of God was fulfilled in love of neighbor.

The first part of Wood’s comment refers to the monotheism confessed in the Shema as “not a speculative theory but a practical conviction.” Although Wood places these words in quotation marks, he does not appear to be giving a direct quotation from some earlier source. Rather, he appears to be summarizing a point made earlier in the commentary in an essay on “Contemporary Jewish Religion” by another author, Claude G. Montefiore.4 In that essay Montefiore describes the virtual consensus belief among Jews in Jesus’ day “in a single supreme God.” The achievement of this monotheism among the Jews “was a religious, not a philosophical, achievement. The One and Only God was not a philosophers’ God, though some might conceive Him more or less philosophically.” This “religious monotheism…was to their minds and feelings the essential distinction between them and all other nations. It was their wisdom; it was their righteousness.” Specifically, the Jews associated their monotheism with the repudiation of all idolatry and insisted that the surrounding nations had failed to discern “the unseen Creator” who was back of “the visible creation.”5

Thus, when Wood states that the monotheism of the Jews was “not a speculative theory but a practical conviction,” he is summarizing Montefiore’s point that Jewish monotheism was not a philosophical definition but a religious and practical belief that the Lord, the God of Israel, was the Creator of all things and that only this one God should be worshiped to the exclusion of all idolatrous worship of created things. Whether this one and only God is to be understood or conceived only as “Unitarian” (itself a philosophical attempt to define the oneness of God) or might be understood as triune is not under discussion in Peake’s commentary, explicitly or implicitly. 

NOTES


1. Kegan A. Chandler, The God of Jesus in Light of Christian Dogma: The Recovery of New Testament Theology (McDonough, GA: Restoration Fellowship, 2016), 6 n. 12.

2. Carlos Xavier, “Splitting the Shema: A ‘How Not to’ Guide,” and “Judgment Day,” In the Name of Who What (blog), March 23 and 31, 2009. The first of Xavier’s articles was repeated on a blog by another Buzzard devotee, Bruce Lyon, The Faith of Jesus, June 26, 2015.

3. H. G. Wood, “Mark,” in A Commentary on the Bible, edited by Arthur S. Peake, with the assistance of A. J. Grieve, introduction by Melancthon Woolsey Stryker (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1920), 695-96 (on Mark 12:28-34).

4. Claude G. Montefiore, “Contemporary Jewish Religion,” in Commentary on the Bible, edited by Peake, 618–26. Note that Montefiore’s essay begins on page 618, matching the citation in parentheses in Wood’s comment. That the parenthetical reference is to pages within the commentary is confirmed by the presence of several other such citations on the same page of Wood’s commentary.

5. Montefiore, “Contemporary Jewish Religion,” 618-19.