December 3: Hebrews 1:3 (3b)

Hebrews 1:3, continued

Verse 3b

fe/rwn te ta\ pa/nta tw=| r(h/mati th=$ duna/mew$ au)tou=
“and bearing all (thing)s by the word of his power”

This is the second of the two participial clauses in verse 3ab, each of which illustrate different aspects of the pre-existence Christology that came into prominence during the period c. 60-90 A.D. It is helpful to keep in mind the syntactical structure:

    • (the Son) “who” (o%$)
      • being…” (w&n) [3a]
        • “…a beam (shining) forth of the splendor (of God)”
          a)pau/gasma th=$ do/ch$
        • “…an engraving of th(at which) stands under Him”
          xarakth\r th=$ u(posta/sew$ au)tou=
      • “and bearing all (thing)s by the word of His power” (fe/rwn te ta\ pa/nta tw=| r(h/mati th=$ duna/mew$ au)tou=) [3b]

Both of the key participles (w&n, fe/rwn) are present-tense forms, and, as such, may be intended to establish characteristics of Jesus the Son of God that are eternal (i.e., ever-present); or, at least, that they have fundamental meaning and significant in the present, rather than simply referring to events or conditions in the past. The first participle (cf. the discussion in the previous note) is a form of the verb of being (ei)mi), and thus the clause functions as a declaration of who Jesus is. The second participle is of an active/transitive verb (fe/rw), meaning “bear, carry”, and refers to what Jesus (the Son) does.

The doing of Jesus involves the act of creation—that is, of God creating the universe. This is a central aspect of the early pre-existence Christology, and it is influenced by Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom/Logos tradition, being originally derived (primarily, if not exclusively) from the ancient Wisdom-tradition in Proverbs 8:22-31. For the basic details on this line of tradition, cf. the discussion in the previous note, as well as the earlier notes on the Colossians hymn (1:15-20).

However, while the Colossians hymn, like the Johannine prologue, refers to Jesus’ role in creation in terms of “making, establishing, forming” (kti/zw, ti/ktw), here in v. 3b the emphasis seems to be on sustaining the universe, maintaining its unifying bond of existence. Let us see how this is expressed by examining the two component phrases of the clause.

fe/rwn ta\ pa/nta

As noted above, the participle is the verb fe/rw (“bear, carry”), and it expresses how the Son’s divine character is manifest in the world—he carries all things, meaning that he supports and sustains all of Creation. Particularly important to this line of Christology is the substantive use of the adjective pa=$ (“all”), in the plural, as a comprehensive (and emphatic) reference to everything in the universe (“all things,” ta/ pa/nta). The adjective is used repeatedly (7 times) in the Colossians hymn (ta\ pa/nta in vv. 16-17, 20). While this coincides with Pauline usage, the same emphatic term here in Hebrews demonstrates that the language in Col 1:15-20 could just as easily be derived from an earlier (non-Pauline) hymn or confessional statement.

tw=| r(h/mati th=$ duna/mew$ au)tou=

This sustaining of creation is done “by the utterance [r(h=ma] of his power”, which blends the Wisdom/Creation traditions (cf. above) with the fundamental religious/cosmological idea of God creating the universe by His speaking a word. Both of these ideas are established more clearly in the Johannine Prologue (1:1-3ff), but they are certainly present here as well, and relate to the divine pre-existence of Jesus as the Son. The same divine power that brought the world into existence now providentially sustains it.

The noun r(h=ma is used, rather than lo/go$ (as in the Johannine prologue), but the same basic idea of the spoken word is involved. Admittedly, lo/go$ is more closely rooted to the underlying Wisdom tradtion, since it connotes the Divine thought and reason that brings shape and order to the universe. This all-pervasive sustaining and ordering of creation is attributed, famously, to the Divine Wisdom in Wis 7:24ff. In the writings of Philo of Alexandria, this is expressed in terms of the Logos (Lo/go$), as the means by which God sustains the cosmos (On the Migration of Abraham §6, cp. Who Is the Heir? §7, On Dreams 1.241. In certain passages, the Logos is referred to as a “pillar” that supports the universe, and to the “bond” (desmo/$) that holds all things together (On the Work of Planting §8; On Flight and Finding §112; cf. Attridge, p. 45).

“His power,” of course, refers to the power of God, and indicates that the creative (and world-sustaining) power of the Son (like the Logos) is that of the Father Himself. The pre-existent Jesus thus shares the same Spirit (i.e. Power) of God, affirming a central point of the developing Christology, common to the great hymns in Philippians and Colossians, as well as other key Christological passages of the New Testament.

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