Friday, August 26, 2016

The Timing of Hebrews 1

The older I get, the more I find it incredible that the timing of Hebrews 1 isn't obvious to everyone.

1. The verbs of Hebrews 1:1-4 center on recent events involving Jesus, especially his exaltation:
  • God "spoke" is the main verb of this introduction, and he spoke "in these last days" in contrast to the speaking of God through the OT prophets. The timing is thus squarely recent.
  • Jesus is a Son who "sat on the right hand of Majesty in the heights," a clear reference to the exaltation. "Sat" is the main verb of the relative clause in 1:3-4, squarely placing the timing of that clause at the exaltation.
  • Yes, 1:2 looks back ("through whom he made the worlds") and forward ("whom he placed heir of all things"), but the point of view from which we look forward and back is now, at the time of Jesus' exaltation/enthronement.
  • Jesus sat, "after making a purification" - timing again is clear, exaltation
  • "Having received a name/title better than the angels" - train of thought isn't ambiguous in the slightest. He sits, he receives the title. He was lower than the angels on earth (2:9). Now he's greater (1:4). He gets the title/name at the exaltation.
  • So the most focal locus for the descriptors "being a reflection of glory and a stamp of substance" is the exaltation because this is what the relative clause is talking about.
Nothing here seems even slightly ambiguous or controversial. I'd like to see anyone go a different way without some special pleading going on.

2. This is the literary context for the chain of OT quotes that follows:
  • "For to which of the angels has he said at some time, 'You are my Son.'" Train of thought, train of thought, basic IBS and exegesis. "For" means we are getting either an explanation or a substantiation. Thus, this is overwhelmingly the most likely title in view. (I'm open to Rissi's, it's all three: Son, God, Lord, but still not tipped in that direction)
  • Bauckham is a brilliant eisegete at this point. There's not a hint anywhere in the context that the name he receives at his exaltation is YHWH. The author of Hebrews probably doesn't even know Hebrew. And even if he did know that "Lord" sometimes translates YHWH, NT authors often didn't pay attention to the original meaning. They were good Pentecostals.
  • So "Son" is the most likely name/title in view, especially given the train of thought from 1:4 to 1:5.
  • The timing of "You are my Son" is thus the exaltation. This fits with the history of NT tradition. Acts 13:33 clearly puts the timing of Ps. 2:7 also at the exaltation. Interestingly, this verse is used of the Messiah in the Dead Sea Scrolls and even in the original psalm was likely an enthronement psalm.
I pause again to wonder whether anything other than eisegesis will lead a person to a different conclusion. Where's the ambiguity?

3. At least the starting focus of the chain of quotes is thus also the exaltation, when Jesus is enthroned as royal Son of God. It's not that 2:5 denies pre-existence or "eternally begotten." It just isn't talking about those questions at all. Those questions come from a different time and place.
  • 1:6 is thus most likely picturing the exaltation. It is tempting to place it at the judgment, the "second" coming (given the context in Deuteronomy). Those of us who've seen some Christmas plays immediately think of Luke and the angels at Jesus' birth, but we can't be sure that the author of Hebrews even knows that story!
  • The context and the literary form (quote, and quote, and quote) suggest this is God leading Jesus into the heavenly world (2:5). The angels bow as their king enters the heavenly throne room. I feel the tug of other interpretations, but the force of context is squarely in this direction. 
  • 1:7-12 is a grammatical package ("on the one hand," "on the other hand" in Greek). 1:7 thus gives us the key to know what the main point of 1:8-9 and 1:10-12 is. The point is that angels are transitory and servant while Jesus is eternal and king.
  • Note again the enthronement focus of the quote in 1:8-9. God has anointed Jesus as king above his companions. An enthronement ceremony again fits perfectly with the clear exaltation context of the earlier verses. "Therefore God, your God, has anointed you." Jesus as God is distinguished from God the Father as God, with God the Father having the clear supremacy.
  • Now we get to the "Lord" quote. See how far into the train of thought we are? We are almost done. Do we really only get to the hidden key point now? This look back to creation and forward to eternity is surely not the center of the timing. Surely it is just as in 1:2. From the standpoint of the exalted Jesus, we look back and forward. The main point, a la 1:7, is the eternality and unchangingness of Christ's role.
  • The chain ends with a statement that again clarifies (1:13-14). Angels are, in one of their roles, servants for humanity. This is a role that is about to end. The timing, once again, is overwhelmingly clear. It is positioned at the end of the ages, with Jesus poised to rule and humanity on its way to glory.
I have obviously gone over this train of thought over and over again. I've worked through Bauckham multiple times. I just don't think it's even close. This is clear, straightforward IBS, an alarmingly missing skill among card carrying PhDs, IMO.

1 comment:

Jon Rinker said...

Dr. Schenck,

Thank you for discussing the flow of thought on Heb 1:14. I'm tracking with you. I am currently studying the use of Psalm 102:25-27 in Heb 1:10-12. The core of that Psalm is focused on the fulfillment of Yahweh's promised deliverance and restored rule in Jerusalem. It seems to me, then, that the quote at 1:10-12 is not merely about the Son as eternal Creator, but, based on the focus of Ps 102, about the Son who fulfills the expected rule in Zion as King. Thus, the author's choice to quote from Ps 102 further emphasizes Jesus' enthronement as royal Son. I believe most people are missing the main context of Ps 102. What are your thoughts on this? Thank you. Jon

Side Note: Have you read David Heath's view (in NeoT 46.1) that Heb 1:7-14 is a chiasm that is also parallel to 12:26-29? His view is that the earth shaking in the parallel 12:26-29 shows that this is the focus of 1:10-12, where "as a coat you will roll them up" is the center of his chiasm. Whether or not you buy into his book-level chiasm, is a chiasm credible for 1:7-14?