Saturday, January 15, 2022

Hebrews 1:5-14 Explanatory Notes

Hebrews 1:1-4 (video/podcast)
1:5 For to which of the angels at some time has he said, "You are my Son; I today have given you birth?"
    And again, "I myself will be to him as Father, and he himself will be to me as Son."
    6. And again, when he leads the firstborn into the ordered world he says, "And let all the angels of God worship him."

1. This will not be the only time that the author strings three Scripture quotations together in the pattern of
    1) quote
    2) and again quote
    3) and again quote.
We see it again in 2:12-13. This pattern suggests that these three quotes all go together.

The theme that links the three quotes is that of Sonship. Hebrews 1:4 ended by mentioning the name that Jesus has inherited, a name that is greater than the angels. While it is tempting to identify this name as "Yahweh" or "Lord," [1] the train of thought pushes us to see the name--or perhaps more precisely, the office--as that of Son. The office or title that Jesus inherits is that of "Son of God."

"Son of God" is a royal title. It is the title of a king. Psalm 2 itself was an enthronement psalm, likely read at the coronation of a king of Judah. The king was "begotten" on the day of his enthronement as the son of God (Ps. 2:7). The author of Hebrews seems to know this fact, and this understanding of the Messiah's birthing seems also attested in the Dead Sea Scrolls. [2]

Hebrews is not making a comment in relation to Jesus' eternal Sonship, although this statement in no way precludes it. That just simply is not what Hebrews is talking about. [3] Hebrews is making a statement about Jesus' exaltation and enthronement to God's right hand. In fact this entire chain of quotations (called a catena) is a celebration of Jesus' enthronement as cosmic king. This timing is clear from the previous two verses (1:3-4) which talk about the inheriting of the title Son after making a cleansing for sins and sitting at the hand of Majesty in the heights.

The second quote (2 Sam. 7:14) even more clearly refers to the human king Solomon. In conversation with David, God indicates that Solomon will be the son of God. This sense of the human king as God's "son," God's representative and family on earth, was common in the Ancient Near East, and the author of Hebrews seems to be aware of this understanding.

2. We better understand Hebrews 1:6 when we see it as the third quote in this series. In isolation, it is not entirely clear what entrance it has in mind. There are at least three possibilities.

Given our knowledge of the Gospel of Luke, it is natural for us to think of the angels singing in Luke 2 at Jesus' birth. Jesus comes into the world, and the angels worship him. It is thus quite possible that we are again introducing foreign elements into Hebrews from elsewhere. In many datings of Hebrews and Luke, it is not likely that the Gospel of Luke was yet written. The author of Hebrews may not even have known that story. 

If we take the word again with "he leads," you might take 1:6 in relation to the second coming. "When God leads his firstborn again into the world..." This is tempting because the verse in question from Deuteronomy 32:43 is in the context of God vindicating his people in judgment against those who hate him. 

In the end, the structure of the three quotes probably tips the scales in favor of the verse referring once again to the exaltation and enthronement of Jesus at God's right hand. We get a picture of the heavenly throne room where God is seated on the throne. Jesus is led into the highest heaven, the truly ordered world, and the servants of God, the angels, bow before their enthroned king.

This picture fits the imagery of Hebrews well. Hebrews has a pervasive dualism between the heaven where God dwells and the created realm of skies and earth. The heavenly Jerusalem is the true Jerusalem (e.g., 12:22). [4] We are destined to be with the angels in the true Mt. Zion in heaven along with other "spirits of the righteous having been perfected" (12:23). This is the coming, "ordered world," that the author is speaking about (2:5), not the earthly one.

3. The wording of the quotation in verse 6 is quite interesting. You will not find this exact wording in any English translation of Deuteronomy 32:43. Perhaps it existed as a variation in manuscripts the author of Hebrews had but that we no longer do. 

The typical Hebrew version we have says, "Praise his people, you nations." The oldest Greek translations we have say instead, "Let all the sons of God worship him." That is much closer to what Hebrews says. It is just the beginning of strong evidence that the author of Hebrews operated out of the Greek translation of the Old Testament and not the Hebrew.

We do find "Let all the angels of God worship him" in a later Christian version of this passage called the Odes. It is just not clear whether it is drawing from the tradition of Hebrews or represents another translation that was already in existence. The bottom line is that the author of Hebrews is either paraphrasing the Greek or quoting a version that no longer exists.

7. And, on the one hand, to the angels he says, "The one who makes his angels spirits and his ministers flames of fire,"

If the first three quotes go together (1:5-6), the second triad of quotes also go together (1:7-12). The structure this time is an "on the one hand" in verse 7 and an "on the other hand" in verse 8. Hebrews 1:8-12 then has two quotes, both of which contrast with what is said about the angels in 1:7.

Hebrews quotes Psalm 104:4, which in the Hebrew says, "making the winds his messengers and flaming fire his ministers." But the Hebrew word for "wind" can also be translated, "spirit." Hebrews flips the sense of the psalm, following the Greek translation. The psalm talks about making winds into messengers. Hebrews talks about making angels ("messengers") into spirits.

There are two main points of contact between what 1:7 says about angels and what 1:8-12 say about Jesus the Son of God. First, the angels are ministers or servants of God. By contrast, Jesus is the Son of God, the king. Second, winds and flames are transitory. They blow on or burn out. By contrast, Jesus' reign is forever and ever.

8. But on the other hand to the Son,

     Your throne, O God, [is] forever and ever 
          and the staff of straightness [is] the rod of your kingdom.
          9. You loved righteousness and hated lawlessness.
     For this reason, God, your God, anointed you,
          oil of rejoicing in the presence of your companions.

The first quote is from Psalm 45:6-7. When a New Testament author like the author of Hebrews quotes something, the meaning of that quote in Hebrews is a function of how Hebrews is using it. So the meaning of these verses in Hebrews may not draw upon every aspect of the quote. Presumably, there were key "points of contact" between the quote and the rhetorical goals of Hebrews. Similarly, the meaning of the quote in Hebrews does not have to equate exactly to its original meaning. [1]

In this case, there seems to be a significant amount of continuity between the two meanings. Psalm 45 is a royal psalm, a psalm for the wedding of a king. So Hebrews 1 focuses on Jesus as the Son of God, the king enthroned at his exaltation to God's right hand. Psalm 45:6 is really quite remarkable, for it calls a human king "God." That it refers to a human king is clear from the bridge and her virgin attendants who follow (45:13-14), as well as the mention of sons (45:16).

The psalm thus does not literally mean that the king is a god, of course. The king is godlike, even God's representative on the earth. The next verse (45:7) goes on to distinguish between the king as "God" and the king's God, who is the literal God. Calling the king "God" in the psalm is thus like calling the king "Son of God."

We see most clearly what the author of Hebrews had in mind when we compare this quote with Hebrews 1:7. The two key points of 1:7 are that the angels function as servants and that their role as ministers is temporary. Psalm 45:6-7 show that Jesus is king, not a servant, and his reign is forever, not temporary.

Jesus' throne is forever and ever. They function like winds and flames. Jesus was anointed as Christ, as king, as Son of God from among humanity. They serve humanity as ministers (cf. 1:14).

10. And "You from the beginning, Lord, founded the land,
                and the works of your hands are the skies.
     11. They themselves will perish, but you will remain.
     And all as a garment will become old,
          12. and as a wrap you will roll them.
          As a garment even they will be changed.
     But you [are] the same and your years will not be used up.

The second quote is from Psalm 102:25-27. Amazingly, the author of Hebrews draws on a passage about Yahweh as creator and applies it to Jesus. We remember that 1:2 already says of Jesus that he was the one "through whom God made the worlds." It is hard to know whether the author meant this imagery metaphorically or literally. After Hebrews 1, God the Father is consistently called the creator (2:10; 3:4; 11:3).

To know the author's primary point in using the quotation, we turn again to 1:7, which contrasts with both quotations. On the one hand, the angels are ministers. Jesus is not only the Son of God, but here is "Lord." The Hebrew behind the word Lord here is Yahweh. Although the author of Hebrews functioned out of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is quite possible he is equating Jesus with Yahweh.

Richard Bauckham at this point has made a strange suggestion, namely, that Jesus inherits the name Yahweh at his resurrection. According to Bauckham, Jesus was always Son of God, but he inherits the name Yahweh at this point. We would probably dismiss this suggestion out of hand if it didn't provide a plausible reading of Philippians 2:9-11. There, God gives Jesus the "name above all names" at his exaltation after death. Yahweh is very plausibly the highest name.

Whatever Hebrews precisely had in mind, it is clear that this is an office and identity far higher than that of the angels, who are "ministering spirits" (1:14).

Similarly, whereas the role of the angels is temporary and transitory, like the creation, Jesus' role will continue forever. They are like winds and flames. They are like the skies and the land that will eventually grow old and be wrapped up like a garment.

The quote is parallel to what the author will say in 12:26-27, where God "shakes" and "removes" the skies and the earth. This shaking is part of the soon-coming judgment of the world. So the current configuration of the created realm is about to be "rolled up," just as the role of the angels as ministering spirits to humanity is about to end (see Hebrews 2). 

Meanwhile, Jesus remains forever. His years will not come to an end. 

The imagery of the changing of a garment may imply that Hebrews looks for a new creation with new skies and a new earth. 12:26-27 are quite stark in their removal language, but it would be unprecedented for Hebrews to see a complete and final removal.

13. But to which of the angels has he said at some time, "Sit on my right [hand] until I should put your enemies as a footstool for your feet"?

This verse forms what is called an "inclusio" with 1:5. The framing of the quote is very similar, "to which of the angels has he said at some time." An inclusio serves like bookends, indicating that the material between the two bookends goes together. 

Psalm 110:1 is actually quoted here. It was alluded to in 1:4, but here the author brings it fully into the open. The centrality of this verse for Hebrews is so great, that George Buchanan once suggested Hebrews might be a sermon on the verse. It is a verse about the exalted Jesus. Yahweh tells his Messiah that he is enthroning him.

The entire catena or chain of quotes thus reiterates over and over that Jesus is king, that God has put him in a position much higher than that of the angels. 

14. Are they not all ministering spirits sent for ministry because of those about to inherit salvation? 

The celebration of Hebrews 1 ends with a clear statement of the role of angels in salvation history. They are "ministering spirits." They are not kings. They will not rule. They are servants. By contrast, Jesus is king. Jesus is Son of God. Jesus is Lord. Jesus will reign forever and ever.

In chapter 2, we will learn that humanity was intended to rule the creation, but they have not fulfilled this role because of sin. The angels serve as ministers to them as they await salvation. And Jesus became one of them to solve their problem. But now Jesus is greater than the angels again (1:4). Soon, their role as ministering spirits to humanity will end because humanity will rule with Christ as brothers and coheirs. 

[1] So Richard Bauckham

[2] 4QFlorilegium

[3] J. B. Lightfoot and others are thus introducing foreign elements to the text's arguments when they read these verses in the light of later Christological debates.

[4] See also 11:10, 16; 13:14.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

Interesting idea, that the author may not have known of the announcement by the angels.