The word one is used more than two thousand times in Scripture. For the most part, these are simply natural used of the number to indicate a solitary individual or item. But in several distinct instances the singular number carries special and symbolic weight. These refer, in order of importance, (1) to God’s revelation of himself as one; (2) to a characteristic of unity related to a group or nation; or (3) to a significant individual.
The people of Israel worshiped the God who is one, symbolic of his supremacy over all things. When God introduces himself in Scripture, as in Deuteronomy 6:4, the emphasis is on the divine singularity of his being; “Listen, Israel: The LORD is our God. The LORD is the only God.” That last phrase also means “the LORD is one.” God is a unique category in which he is the only occupant. Others may be compared to God, but he is not to be compared to anyone else. Others may be called “god,” but they cannot measure up to God, nor are they divine-whatever might be claimed about them. Divine attributes like God being all-powerful imply that only one has that attribute.
Today the three large monotheistic religious groups (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) all retain the same firm concept of the oneness of God derived from the same revelation of God-the Old Testament. Apart from these three religions, the world may be more or less pluralistic in its acceptance of many alternatives to the oneness of God.
Our understanding of the God who is one expands in the New Testament to accommodate the idea that one God can also be one divine, inseparable relationship of three-the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus declared, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). Later he introduced the third person in the Trinity as the Helper: “However, the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything. He will remind you of everything that I have ever told you” (John 14:26). Here all three persons of the Trinity that is one God are seen in their functions as they impact Jesus followers.
The one God is God for all nations and people groups. Throughout the Old Testament, God may have chosen Israel for a special purpose, but he also consistently declared that he is the God of all people. Psalm 22:28 says, “The kingdom belongs to the LORD and he rules the nations.” When Paul preached to the philosophers in Athens in Acts 17, he didn’t hesitate to tell his audience that the “unknown god” they were acknowledging was in fact the one true God, Maker of heaven and earth.
Jesus gave the number one a further significant application when he compared the unity that exists in the Trinity with the unity that ought to exist within the church: “I have given them the glory that you gave me. I did this so that they are united in the same way we are. I am in them, and you are in me. So they are completely united. In this way the world knows that you have sent me and that you have loved them in the same way you have loved me” (John 17:22-23). In other words, we are to be one in much the same way the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF A LIFE
The number one also has important meaning when it comes to the value God places on individual lives. Several of Jesus’ parables highlight the significance of God’s care for individual people much as a shepherd singles out a sheep needing special care (Luke 15:1-10). Each person is a “one” God cares about. The great evangelistic verse John 3:16 includes the global perspective of one God who loves the world he created, but it also includes the individual response in the phrase “everyone who believes in him.” God has great plans for us a group, but he also sees us as individual people he loves and draws to himself.
Finally, when the one God created humans in his image (Gen 1:27), he made them male and female. And when God instituted marriage, he devised a relationship that would parallel on the human level the relationship in the Trinity: “That is why a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). The oneness of marriage points to the unity found in the Godhead.