Sola Scriptura: Romans 16:25; Hebrews 1:1-2

Sola Scriptura

In our studies thus far, we have seen how the Scriptures (that is, the Old Testament) continued to be authoritative for early Christians, but only in a secondary (and supplemental) sense. The primary source of authority was what we may broadly call the Apostolic Tradition. This may seem to contradict the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura; however, to make such an unqualified conclusion would be quite misleading. In point of fact, the Apostolic Tradition was the basis for the development of the inspired writings of the New Testament—and the greater revelation that was contained in those writings, ultimately to be regarded as sacred Scripture by every Christian.

With the passing of the first generation (or two) of apostles, by the end of the 1st century (and into the 2nd), the authoritative Apostolic Tradition had come to be preserved in written form (i.e., the New Testament Scriptures), gradually taking the place of the communication of that Tradition in the person of the apostles themselves (and their representatives). It seems clear, for example, that the publication of the Gospel of John was stimulated by the death of the ‘Beloved Disciple’, the leading apostolic figure of the Johannine Community (Jn 21:20-24). The authority of the apostles was based on their personal connection to Jesus himself.

The very word a)po/stolo$ (apostolos) derives its significance from the fundamental meaning of the verb a)poste/llw (“set [out] from, send forth”). An apostle is someone “sent forth from” Jesus, as his representative, an idea rooted in the early Gospel tradition and the ministry-work of Jesus in Galilee (Mark 3:14-15ff par; 6:7-13 par; Luke 10:1ff). Commissioned and sent out by Jesus, they were given (and possessed) his own divine (and inspired) authority, to preach (the Gospel) and work healing miracles. This formed the pattern for the broader apostolic mission of early Christians (Acts 1:8, 21-22, etc). The earliest congregations were founded by missionary work that was an extension of this apostolic mission, and thus the principal source of religious authority for these 1st-century congregations was the authority of the Apostolic Tradition.

The Apostolic Tradition has three fundamental components:

    1. The proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel
    2. The words of Jesus—sayings, teachings, parables—along with his example (of what he said and did), preserved and transmitted by the apostles to the early congregations (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-4)
    3. The authoritative teaching by the apostles

A study will be devoted to each of these components; we begin with the first of these.

1. The Proclamation (Kerygma) of the Gospel

The “good message” (or “good news”), the eu)agge/lion, or Gospel, has its origins in the preaching of Jesus (Mark 1:14-15 par, et al), being carried on, even during his lifetime, by his disciples, acting as his representatives (i.e., as apostles) (Luke 9:6, etc). However, following the resurrection (and ascension) of Jesus, the “good message” gradually came to take on a distinctive form—as a thumbnail narrative of Jesus’ life and work. The sermon-speeches in Acts preserve examples of this early Gospel proclamation (kerygma). In these speeches, the Gospel narrative is extremely simple, focusing on the death and resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, and only slowly incorporating certain details or aspects of his earthly ministry. Noteworthy examples, representative of the earliest preaching, are: Acts 2:22-24, 29ff, 36; 3:13-15; 4:27ff; 5:30-32; 10:37-42; 13:26-32. It is easy to see how these simple narrative statements, over time (c. 35-60 A.D.), would develop into the larger narratives of the Gospels.

It must be emphasized that, from the very beginning, this Gospel proclamation held primary authority for early Christians, taking precedence over the Old Testament Scriptures. This can be seen already in the way that the Scriptures supplement (and support) the kerygma in the sermon-speeches (on this, cf. the earlier study, and throughout the series “The Speeches of Acts”). The revelation of the inspired Old Testament Scriptures (i.e., of the old covenant) are thus subordinate to the Gospel; they continue to hold authority for Christians, primarily, insofar as they point the way to the greater revelation of Christ (in the new covenant).

There are a number of New Testament passages, many of which were written when the composition and development of Gospels was still in its very early stages, which indicate that the proclamation of the Gospel (with its seminal narrative) was being compared with the Scriptures—being on a par with them, and even altogether surpassing them in many important ways. I wish to examine a couple of these passages briefly.

Romans 16:25-26

“And to Him having the power to set you firm(ly), according to my good message [eu)agge/lion] and the proclamation [kh/rugma] of Yeshua (the) Anointed, according to the uncovering of (the) secret [musth/rion] having been kept silent in (the) times (of) ages (past), but now (hav)ing been made to shine (forth) even through (the) writings of (the) Foretellers, according to (the) arrangement of (the) God of the Ages, unto hearing under trust, unto all the nations, having been made known…”

The authenticity of the doxology in Rom 16:25-27 continues to be debated, with many commentators convinced that it was neither originally part of Romans, nor written by Paul. Even if this were granted, the wording reflects genuine Pauline thought (and style), as well as the thought-world of Christians in the mid-to-late 1st century. Three key nouns are used which are largely synonymous in context: (1) eu)agge/lion (“good message,” i.e., Gospel), (2) kh/rugma (“proclamation,” transliterated as a technical term, kerygma), and (3) musth/rion (“secret,” i.e., mystery). All three are important early Christian terms, and they all refer to the seminal message (and narrative) of the Gospel. The expressions and phrases that contain these words are also closely related:

    • “my good message” —i.e., the good news of Christ that is preached by apostles like Paul
    • “the proclamation of Yeshua (the) Anointed” —the genitive can be understood in either a subjective sense (Jesus’ preaching) or objective sense (preaching about Jesus), or both.
    • “the uncovering of the secret kept silent…” —the noun a)poka/luyi$ (“removal of the cover from, uncovering”) emphasizes that the Gospel is a divine (and inspired) revelation, akin to the prophetic revelations (by God) during the time of the old covenant (cf. below).

The use of the term musth/rion (“secret”) in this respect is authentically Pauline (1 Cor 2:1, 7; 4:1; 13:2; 14:2; 15:51; cf. also 2 Thess 2:7), though it is perhaps more prominent in the disputed letters of Colossians (1:26-27; 2:2; 4:3) and Ephesians (1:9; 3:3-4, 9; 5:32; 6:19). For more on the meaning, background, and use of the term, see my earlier word study. Indeed, of the three terms, musth/rion has the greatest theological significance. Here, it relates to a distinction between the two ages or dispensations—the old and new covenants, respectively—that is fundamental to early Christian thought:

    • Old Covenant (periods of time/ages past): the Gospel-secret has been “kept silent/hidden” (verb siga/w)
    • New Covenant (“now”): it has been “made to shine forth” (vb fanero/w), i.e., has been made manifest, revealed, and has at last “been made known” (vb gnwri/zw).

The Gospel proclamation is expounded out of the Old Testament Scriptures (“writings of the Prophets”), which is fully in accord with the earliest Christian preaching and teaching, even going back to the teaching of Jesus himself. The Scriptures (especially the Psalms and the books of the Prophets) contained, in a secret and hidden way, the seeds of the Gospel (e.g., Gal 3:8); but it required the new inspired revelation of the apostles in order to “uncover” and make known this secret. On this basis alone, the Gospel represents a superior kind of revelation, however it is rooted in the Scriptures and supported by them. Indeed, without the New Covenant revelation, people remain blind to the true meaning of the Scriptures (2 Cor 3:14-16, etc).

Hebrews 1:1-2

“(In) many parts and many ways (in times) of old, God (was) speaking to the Fathers by the Foretellers, (but) upon (the) end of these days He spoke to us by a Son, whom He set (as one) to receive the lot of all (thing)s, through whom also He made the Ages…”

The same dispensational contrast—between the old and new covenants—serves as a key theme that runs throughout Hebrews, and it is established at the very beginning of the introduction (exordium, 1:1-4). It marks the current time—i.e., of the first generation(s) of believers—as a turning point, marking the beginning of a New Age (= new covenant), and presenting  a clear dividing line between the time now and all that has gone before:

    • Old Covenant: “(in times) of old [pa/lai]” —God spoke through the Prophets
    • New Covenant: “at the end [e)p’ e)sxa/tou] of these days,” that is, in the eschatological present time—God has spoken through His Son

There is a clear contrastive parallel here between the Prophets and Jesus (the Son of God), as the source of divine-inspired revelation (communicating the word of God) in each dispensation (and covenant), respectively. The superiority of the revelation in the person of Jesus is obvious, and the author develops the point systematically throughout his work. Here, this superiority is expressed by contrasting the singular revelation in Jesus with the multifaceted way that God spoke through the many different Prophets. For Jews and Christians in the first-century, of course, the revelation through the Prophets (in the old covenant) was known only through its preservation in the Scriptures (the Prophetic writings, including the Psalms). The Torah (Pentateuch) doubtless would also be included, but emphasis is given on the Prophetic oracles as the vehicle for God’s revelation.

The comparison between Jesus and the Prophets, as well as the idea of God speaking (vb lale/w), might suggest that it is the words of Jesus that are primarily in view here. The preserved words and teachings of Jesus are certainly a key component of the authoritative Apostolic Tradition (cf. above), and will be discussed in the next study; however, I believe that a much more comprehensive and holistic view of the Tradition is being expressed here. This can be affirmed by what follows in vv. 2-4, beginning with the statement that God “set” (vb ti/qhmi) Jesus (His Son) to be the “heir of all things”. This phrase reflects the fundamental Gospel tenet of the exaltation of Jesus (to the right hand of God in heaven) following his resurrection (Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56 [cf. Mk 14:62 par]; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1, etc). The earliest Christology was unquestionably an exaltation-Christology, focusing almost entirely on Jesus’ deity, and identity as the Son of God, in terms of his resurrection (and exaltation) by God the Father. However, by the time Hebrews was written (c. 70 A.D.?), early Christians had begun to evince a pre-existence-Christology as well, and Hebrews combines both of these Christologies (e.g., the ‘Christ-hymn’ in vv. 2-4, on which cf. my earlier study; cp. also the study on Philippians 2:6-11.

In any case, the point is that the declaration in v. 2b is a key component of the Gospel kerygma; thus, the contrast between the Prophets and Jesus can also be understood as a contrast between the Prophets and the Gospel. And, from the standpoint of our study, it is important to note that the written record of the Gospel (taking shape during the years c. 35-90 A.D.) forms a close parallel to the written record of the Prophets (in the Old Testament Scriptures).

Statements such as those in Rom 16:25-26 and Heb 1:2 thus are seminal (and foundational) for establishing the authority of the New Testament Scriptures. And, the authority of these new Scriptures (of the new covenant), while being on a par with the old Scriptures—in terms of their divine/prophetic inspiration and revelatory content—far surpasses that of the old. This is a vital principle that must be maintained—for believers, the new covenant in Christ (manifest through the presence of the Spirit) has entirely eclipsed the authority of the old covenant (cf. 2 Corinthians 3).

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Psalm 110:1

Psalm 110:1

It may be argued that no Scripture influenced early Christian belief regarding the person of Jesus more than the opening verse of Psalm 110. Its significance can be seen on several different levels:

    • The Messianic identity of Jesus—that is, as the royal Messiah from the line of David (cf. Parts 6, 7, 8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”)
    • In relation to the exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God in heaven, and, developing from this, the exaltation-Christology that dominated early Christian thought
    • The application to Jesus of the figure-type of Melchizedek (as developed especially in Hebrews)
    • It was also a seminal text in the shift from an exaltation- to a pre-existence-Christology

We may begin with the role of Psalm 110:1 in establishing the Messianic identity of Jesus. In particular, we must consider the Synoptic episode in Mark 12:35-37 par, where Jesus discusses the relationship between “the Anointed (One)” and the “Son of David”. Central to the episode is Jesus’ citation of Psalm 110:1, which in the Greek version (LXX) begins:

ei@pen o( ku/rio$ tw=| kuri/w|
eípen ho kúrios tœ kuríœ
“The Lord said to my Lord…”

The dual use of ku/rio$ (“lord”) at first glance is confusing, and is due to specific circumstances surrounding the recitation (and translation) of the Divine Name hwhy (YHWH, Yahweh). The original Hebrew reads,

yn]d)al^ hw`hy+ <a%n+
n®°¥m YHWH la°dœnî
“Utterance of YHWH to my Lord:…”

Early on in Jewish tradition, the Tetragrammaton hwhy (YHWH) was replaced with “(my) Lord” (ynda) when the text was recited; this, in turn, generally led to the common practice of translating hwhy with Ku/rio$ (“Lord”) in Greek, and to the double-use of ku/rio$ in LXX Psalm 110:1. A similar wordplay could be attested for Aramaic—ya!r=m*l= ar@m* rm^a& °¦mar m¹r¢° l®m¹r°î (cf. Fitzmyer, WA p. 90).

In the original context of the Psalm, the Lord (YHWH) speaks to “my Lord” (the king). Most scholars would hold that the setting (as in Psalm 2) involves the enthronement or inauguration of the (new) king, a time at which nobles and vassals might choose to rebel or to gain power and independence for themselves (Ps 2:1-3; 110:1). God gives to the king assurance of His protection and support, including victory over all enemies, i.e. the surrounding nations (Ps 2:4-11; 110:2-3, 5-7). Much like Psalm 2, this Psalm refers to the king in exalted, ‘divine’ language, very much in keeping with ancient (Near Eastern) ideas of kingship.

I would divide the Psalm as follows:

    • Declaration (utterance/oracle) of YHWH— “Sit at my right-hand…” (verse 1)
      • Promise by YHWH of (divine) power/victory over the king’s enemies (verses 2-3)
    • Declaration (oath) of YHWH— “You are a priest…” (verse 4)
      • Promise of the king’s power/victory over the peoples, in terms of YHWH’s judgment against the nations (verses 5-6)
    • Concluding declaration of YHWH’s establishment of the king’s rule (verse 7)

It should be noted that much of the vocabulary and syntax of this Psalm remains obscure, with verses 4 and 7 being especially difficult to interpret.

As discussed in Parts 6 and 7 of this series, Psalm 2 was interpreted and applied to the coming/future Anointed King (from the line of David) in a number of Jewish writings of the period (such as the 17th Psalm of Solomon). However, apart from its use in the New Testament, there is little evidence for a similar Messianic interpretation of Psalm 110 at the time of Jesus. In one text from Qumran (11QMelch [11Q13]), Melchizedek (Ps 110:4) appears as a Divine/Heavenly figure who functions as Judge against the wicked (Belial), but this scenario (col ii, lines 9-13) is derived from Psalm 82:1-2 rather than 110:1. His appearance (as Judge and Deliverer) is also connected with the Anointed One of Daniel 9:25 and the Messenger of Isa 52:7 who brings the good news of salvation (col ii, lines 15-25). A similar paradigm may underlie the “Elect/Righteous One” and “Son of Man” figure in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), which many scholars hold to be roughly contemporary with Jesus and the early New Testament writings.

In any case, Jesus cites Psalm 110:1 as though a Messianic interpretation were understood, but he shifts the meaning of “Anointed One” (o( xristo/$, Christ/Messiah) away from the royal Davidic figure-type and toward a different reference point—a Divine/Heavenly figure, closer, perhaps, to the “Son of Man” of 1 Enoch and Jesus’ own sayings (cf. Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 pars; Luke 12:8, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8, and pars in Matthew; also John 1:51; 3:13; 5:27; 6:62). Certainly, it was understood this way in early Christian tradition, associated specifically with the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God in Acts 2:34-36 (cf. also Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; 1 Pet 3:22, etc). In the Synoptic saying of Jesus in Mark 14:62 par, he identifies himself (as “the Son of Man”) who will appear at the right hand of God, in connection with the coming/end-time Judgment (Mk 13:26 par). Thus Jesus may be identifying himself with a pre-existent Heavenly/Divine figure akin to that in 1 Enoch 37-71. In Hebrews 1:13, Psalm 110:1 is cited in the context of belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus, though in Heb 5:6 an association with the resurrection (and exaltation) seems to be more in mind.

Mark 12:35-37 / Matt 22:41-46 / Luke 20:41-44

In this Synoptic episode (set during Passion week in Jerusalem), Jesus himself raises a question regarding the relationship between the “Anointed (One)” and the “Son of David”, based on an exposition of Psalm 110:1. The precise meaning and intent of Jesus’ argument continues to be debated by commentators. Only traces survive of the historical setting—it appears to be part of a scholarly discussion between Jesus and certain authorities on Scripture (Scribes/Pharisees), a context that is best preserved in Matthew’s account (Matt 22:41-43ff) which records at least part of an exchange. In Mark and Luke, this is framed as a pair of (rhetorical) questions by Jesus:

    • Question 1: How do they count/consider the Anointed (One) to be the son of David? (Lk 20:41)
    • Question 2: (But) David calls him “Lord” and how is he (then) his son? (Lk 20:44)

The second question is based on the common-place idea that the son would call his father “Lord” (“Master, Sir”), not the other way around. The first question assumes that the “Anointed (One)” —here the future Anointed King/Ruler—would be a descendant of David, which is attested in Jewish writings of the period, as well as in the New Testament (cf. the previous two articles). The identification is derived from Scriptures such as 2 Sam 7:11-16; Psalm 132:10-12, etc. It is in this context that Jesus cites another Scripture—Psalm 110:1 (Lk 20:42-43 par), and the way he uses it would indicate that it was commonly understood in a Messianic sense; however, there does not appear to be any other surviving evidence for such an interpretation in Judaism at the time of Jesus (see the discussion above).

In my view, Jesus uses Psalm 110:1 as a clever way to shift the meaning of “the Anointed (One)” from the Davidic King figure-type over to a different reference point—that of a coming Divine/Heavenly figure, generally referred to elsewhere by Jesus as “the Son of Man” (from Daniel 7:13).

Acts 2:32-36

Psalm 110:1 is one of three central Scriptures cited in Peter’s Pentecost speech (Acts 2:14-41, cf. the previous article on Psalm 16:8-11). The citation (in vv. 34-35) is virtually identical to the Greek (LXX) version [109:1]:

Ei@pen o( ku/rio$ tw=| kuri/w| mou Ka/qou e)k deciw=n mou,
e%w$ a*n qw= tou\$ e)xqrou/$ sou u(popo/dion tw=n podw=n sou.
“The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit out of [i.e. from/by] my right-hand,
until I should set your enemies (as something) under-foot [i.e. a ‘foot-stool’] for your feet’.”

The only difference is the first definite article (o() for ku/rio$ (i.e. “[the] Lord”), which is omitted in some manuscripts.

The Exposition/Application.Psalm 110:1 follows on the citation of Psalm 16:8-11, with a definite continuity of thought: just as Ps 16:8-11 refers to God not leaving his Holy One down in Hades to see ruin/corruption—implying the resurrection—so with Ps 110:1 we see the result and after-effect of the resurrection—Jesus exalted (as Lord) to the right hand of God the Father in Heaven. This is stated clearly in the kerygmatic statement in vv. 32-33 (see below), but decisively in verse 36, which serves as both exposition and kerygmatic declaration. In its original context, Psalm 110 was probably connected with the coronation or inauguration (enthronement) of the king (cf. the discussion above). Of course, this very ambiguity lies at the center of the early Christian view of Jesus as “Lord” [ku/rio$] (see below).

However, there can be no doubt that early Christians saw in this Psalm (as in Psalm 2) a reference to Jesus’ exalted/divine status. The fact that verse 1 was already cited by Jesus in early Gospel (Synoptic) tradition (Mark 12:36-37 par) may have contributed to the association, even though the exact meaning and force of the question Jesus asks is not entirely clear (cf. above).

Here in Acts, Ps 110:1 is applied specifically to Jesus’ exaltation to God’s right hand in Heaven following the resurrection, which is somewhat problematic for orthodox Christology, for it could be taken to mean that Jesus had a position at God’s right hand only after (and as a result of) the resurrection/exaltation. This was discussed in an earlier note; and see also my article on Adoptionism. For more on this idea, cf. below on Acts 2:36.

Kerygmatic statement/formulae.—There are two statements which should be noted: (a) verses 32-33, following the exposition of vv. 29-31 and prior to the citation of Ps 110:1 in vv. 34-35, and (b) the climactic declaration in verse 36. Here is the statement in vv. 32-33:

“This Yeshua God made to stand up (again)—of which we all are witnesses—(and) therefore he was lifted high to the right [lit. giving] hand of God, and receiving the announcement [e)paggeli/a, i.e. promise] of the holy Spirit (from) alongside the Father he poured this out—(of) which [also] you see and hear.”

In some ways this continues the kerygmatic statement from vv. 22-24, which summarizes Jesus’ earthly life and ministry up to the moment of resurrection; now is described the resurrection (and post-resurrection appearance[s], “of which we all are witnesses”), the exaltation to God’s right hand in Heaven, and the sending of the Spirit (which Jesus receives from the Father). There can be little doubt that such credal summaries were an important part of early Gospel preaching and proclamation (kerygma). The climactic declaration in verse 36 is, however, especially striking:

“Therefore let all the house of Yisrael safely/certainly know that God made him (both) Lord and Anointed—this Yeshua whom you put to the stake!”

Here we have the two titles most widely used and applied to Jesus in the early Church— “Lord” (ku/rio$) and “Anointed” (xristo/$, i.e. Messiah / ‘Christ’). It would seem the implication here is that both titles apply to Jesus as a result of the resurrection and exaltation, which, again, is somewhat problematic from the standpoint of orthodox Christology. Also difficult is the statement that God made (e)poi/hsen) Jesus Lord. I have discussed these points in some detail in an earlier note.

Psalm 110:1 in Hebrews

Hebrews 1:13 apparently cites Ps 110:1 in the context of Jesus’ pre-existent nature and status as God’s Son (Heb 1:2-3ff). This represents a considerable development in early Christology, moving in the direction of subsequent orthodox belief. Mention should also be made of the obscure and highly enigmatic reference to “Melchi-zedek” in Ps 110:4—the entire verse, in context, is extremely difficult to interpret, with a wide range of scholarly suggestions available. Be that as it may, Christians applied this specific reference from the Psalm to Jesus as well—most famously in the seventh chapter of Hebrews (Heb 7). For more on this, cf. Part 9 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with a related study on the idea in Hebrews.

References marked “Fitzmyer, WA” above are from J. A. Fitzmyer, A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays (Scholars Press: 1979).

December 4: Hebrews 1:3 (concluded)

Hebrews 1:3 (conclusion)

As we conclude our study on the ‘Christ hymn’ in Hebrews 1:2b-4 (spec. verse 3), it is worth keeping in mind the syntax of the passage (vv. 3-4), in which a complex sequence of four participial clauses is governed by an initial relative pronoun (o%$):

    • o%$ (“who”)
      • w&n a)pau/gasma… (“being [the] beam [shining] forth…”) [3a]
      • fe/rwn ta\ pa/nta… (“bearing all [thing]s…”) [3b]
      • kaqarismo/n poihsa/meno$… (“[hav]ing made cleansing…”) [3c]
      • tosou/tw| krei/ttwn geno/meno$(“[hav]ing come to be so much stronger…”) [4]

The clauses in verse 3ab, discussed in the previous two notes, reflect the pre-existence Christology that gradually came to prominence among early Christians, as believers gradually came to the realization that Jesus must have had existence as the Son of God even prior to his life on earth. The remainder of vv. 3-4 more properly follows the older conception of Jesus as the Son—that is, divine Sonship in terms of his death, resurrection, and exaltation to the right hand of God the Father in heaven (i.e., the traditional exaltation Christology). Verse 3c summarizes this concisely:

“(hav)ing made cleansing of sins, he sat on the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Greatness in high (place)s”

Interestingly, the actual death and resurrection of Jesus, so central to the early Gospel preaching, is not even stated, but simply taken for granted. The author moves from the atoning/saving aspect of Jesus’ work straight to his exaltation. In some ways, this reflects the unique theological emphasis of Hebrews, focusing on the work of Jesus as a fulfillment of the priestly office (cf. Part 9 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed,” with its supplemental study on Hebrews). The noun kaqarismo/$ (“cleansing”) alludes to the Old Testament sacrificial ritual and purity regulations (LXX Exod 29:36; 30:10; Lev 15:13, etc; cf. 2 Peter 1:9), with the related verb kaqari/zw (“make clean, cleanse”) being more common in the New Testament (used in Hebrews, 9:14, 22-23; 10:2).

The motif of the exalted Jesus receiving a position at the “right hand” of God in heaven is a key element of the early Gospel preaching, and is central to the exaltation Christology affirmed by all first-century believers—cf. Mk 14:62 par; [16:19]; Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22. As a motif, it is derived primarily from Psalm 110:1, as a Messianic passage applied to Jesus (Mk 12:36 par; Acts 2:34; Heb 1:13), though perhaps influenced by other Scriptures as well (such as Dan 7:13-14). The pre-existence Christology that developed in the second half of the 1st-century complements (and mirrors) the traditional exaltation-aspect. This is a pattern that can be seen in the two major “Christ hymns” (Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20) we have studied, and the two aspects are especially well-balanced in the Christology of Hebrews.

The closing lines in verse 4 build upon the idea of the Son’s superiority (over the Angels), again expressed in terms of his exaltation after his death. The language and thought, in this respect, is quite similar to that of the Christ-hymn in Philippians (2:9-11). However, the specific use of the comparative/superlative adjective krei/ttwn (“stronger [than]”) is distinctive to Hebrews (12 of the 15 NT occurrences), and is central to the message of the letter—namely, that the New Covenant, realized in the person of Jesus, is far superior to the Old Covenant, mediated through the priesthood, sacrificial ritual, and regulations of the Torah.

As in the Philippians hymn, the exalted Jesus is given a name (o&noma). As I discussed previously (cf. the notes on Phil 2:9-10), the context of the Philippians hymn indicates that this name—one “th(at is) over every name” —is God’s own name, as embodied in the title ku/rio$ (“Lord”), according to the traditional substitution of yn`oda& (“my Lord”) for YHWH. Here in Hebrews, however, the reference seems to be to the title “Son of God” —that is, the identification of the exalted Jesus as God’s Son (cf. the citation of Psalm 2:7 in the early Gospel preaching, in the specific context of Jesus’ resurrection, Acts 13:33; cp. Rom 1:4). The pre-existence Christology establishes that Jesus was already God’s Son, prior to his earthly life; however, the wording here in verse 4 is drawing upon the older line of tradition. Note how the author of Hebrews applies Psalm 2:7 to both aspects of 1st-century Christology—exaltation and pre-existence (1:5; 5:5).

Indeed, it is at just this point (v. 5) that the author introduces the citation of Psalm 2:7 (along with 2 Sam 7:14):

“For to who among the Messengers did He ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have caused you to be (born)’, and again: ‘I will be unto a Father for him, and he will be unto a Son for me’?” (v. 5)

In inclusion of 2 Sam 7:14 confirms the Messianic context of the birth/sonship motif in Psalm 2:7. As we have seen, this originally applied to the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, and, in particular, his death and resurrection. In this he was to be recognized as God’s Son, but still in the figurative sense that the Messianic interpretation would have entailed. Now, however, a deeper Christological meaning has been given to it, since Jesus is now seen as God’s Son from before the beginning of Creation. This also gives to all the birth and sonship images a new depth, as the author continues in verse 6:

“And, again, when He brought His first-formed (child) into the inhabited (world), He says: ‘And all the Messengers of God must kiss toward [i.e. worship] him’.”

The citation presumably comes from Deut 32:43 LXX, but it is the wording used to frame the citation that is especially significant. It refers to the Son’s incarnation, or coming into the world of human beings (cp. John 1:9ff, 14). But here the context makes quite clear two important points about Jesus as God’s Son: (1) he is God’s “firstborn” child prior to the incarnation, and (2) the citation of Psalm 2:7 (and 2 Sam 7:14) also applies to his sonship prior to the incarnation. This represents a genuine development in early Christian belief regarding the “birth” and sonship of Jesus, one quite similar with what we find in the Gospel of John. It remains to consider again how the author of Hebrews frames this dual aspect of Jesus’ sonship—the ‘older’ aspect of his resurrection/exaltation, and the ‘newer’ aspect of his pre-existent deity. Chapter 1 closes with a pair of Scripture quotations (from the Psalms) applied to Jesus as the Son. It is part of the running comparison between the Son and the other heavenly beings (Angels):

“And toward the Messengers He says (v. 7)… But toward the Son (He says, v. 8)…”

The first passage, from Psalm 45:6-7, alludes to the exaltation of Jesus, of his being raised (as Son) to the throne of God; the second passage (Psalm 102:25-27), by contrast, implies the Son’s pre-existence, with its Creation-setting: “You, Lord, down at (the) beginning, set (the foundation for) the earth, and the heavens (are) the works of your hands”. In the original Psalm, of course, the “Lord” (ku/rio$) is YHWH, but here it is meant to apply more properly to Jesus, based on the common dual-use of ku/rio$ among early Christians (cf. above). The final citation of Psalm 110:1 (v. 13), a Messianic passage at least as important as Psalm 2:7 (compare Acts 2:34-35 with 13:32-33), demonstrates again how the early Christian understanding of Jesus as the Son of God has been transformed in the light of the growing Christological awareness. In Acts 2, this Scripture is interpreted in terms of Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation, while here in Hebrews it has an altogether new and deeper meaning—one which combines the exaltation motif with divine pre-existence.

References above marked “Attridge” are to Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1989).

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.

December 2: Hebrews 1:3 (3a)

Hebrews 1:3

Verse 3 contains the third (and most complex) of the three relative clauses in vv. 2b-3 (cf. the discussion in the previous note), and represents what may be considered the start of the ‘hymn’ proper. Syntactically, the initial relative pronoun (o%$) in v. 3 governs the entirety of vv. 3-4, a complex sequence of four participial clauses:

    • o%$ (“who”)
      • w&n a)pau/gasma… (“being [the] beam [shining] forth…”) [3a]
      • fe/rwn ta\ pa/nta… (“bearing all [thing]s…”) [3b]
      • kaqarismo/n poihsa/meno$… (“[hav]ing made cleansing…”) [3c]
      • tosou/tw| krei/ttwn geno/meno$(“[hav]ing come to be so much stronger…”) [4]

The first two participles are present-tense, the last two are aorist (past-tense). There is a definite (and multifaceted) parallelism to this structure, with the outer clauses emphasizing being (who the Son is), and the inner clauses doing (what the Son has done). Moreover, the first two clauses attest to a pre-existence Christology, while the last two clauses highlight the more traditional exaltation aspect. The complexity of this structure, strongly suggests that, if an earlier hymnic statement was used by the author, it was heavily adapted, shaped according to the distinctive language and thematic emphasis characteristic of Hebrews.

Today’s note (and the following) will focus on the first two participial clauses (v. 3ab) and the pre-existence aspect of the hymn.

    • (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]
Verse 3a

w&n a)pau/gasma th=$ do/ch$ kai\ xarakth\r th=$ u(posta/sew$ au)tou=
“being a beam (shining) forth of the splendor (of God), and an engraving of th(at which) stands under Him”

The wording of this clause draws heavily upon Hellenistic Jewish philosophical language and Wisdom tradition. This may indicate that v. 3 is only patterned after a 1st-century hymnic statement, and not a quotation of an actual hymn-fragment, the traditional confessional/kerygmatic phrasing (cf. Rom 1:3-4) being reformulated in more sophisticated terms.

The predicate of the statement in v. 3a consists of a pair of genitival phrases, which need to be examined in some detail.

1. a)pau/gasma th=$ do/ch$—The noun a)pau/gasma (occurring only here in the New Testament) literally refers to a beam or ray [of light] (au&gasma) coming out from (a)po/) a source. Here is another indication that the author is drawing upon Wisdom traditions, since in Wis 7:26 the Divine Wisdom (Sofi/a) is said to be an a)pau/gasma “of the splendor of the All-mighty” (cf. also Philo of Alexandria, On the Creation §146; cp. On the Work of Planting §50; On Dreams 1.72; On the Special Laws IV.123b, etc). As is typically the case, the word do/ca (“esteem”), when used of God, refers to that which makes Him worthy of our esteem and honor, expressed in a visual manner as an overriding greatness or splendor. It can also refer to the divine/heavenly state, in which God Himself dwells. To say that the Son is an a)pau/gasma means that he (himself) is a manifestation of the very glory of God, and that the ray of light he possesses, or embodies, comes from the same Divine source.

2. xarakth\r th=$ u(posta/sew$ au)tou=—The noun xarakth/r, here parallel with a)pau/gasma, literally means “engraving” or “imprint”, something cut or stamped into a surface. Sometimes the related motif of a seal (sfra/gi$) is employed, to express the idea of a Divine image (ei)kw/n) being imprinted. Again, this reflects Wisdom traditions, and Philo uses this imagery a number of times (On the Creation §25; The Worse Attacks the Better §§83, 86; On Flight and Finding §12; The Work of Planting §18). The Logos is the Divine Image, which is then imprinted upon creation, and, in a special sense, upon the human mind. Like a)pau/gasma, the noun xarakth/r occurs only here in the New Testament; however, Paul uses the common noun ei)kw/n (“image”), in a similar Christological sense, in 2 Cor 4:4 and Col 1:15 (cf. the earlier note), the latter being closer to the thought and wording of Hebrews.

The noun u(po/stasi$ (occurring 5 times in the New Testament, including 3 in Hebrews [3:14; 11:1]) literally means that which “stands under” (u(po/ + the verbal root i%sthmi), and is a technical philosophical and scientific term for the “substance” or “essence” of something, or that which underlies a particular phenomenon. Thus, the Son is an imprint of God’s essential nature and identity, which is very much built into the idea of the Son as reflection of the Father. Eventually, the term took on a special theological significance, within the developing Christology of the 3rd and 4th centuries (cf. Origen, Against Celsus 8:12 for an early example of this trend), and came to be used to denote the distinct ‘persons’ of the (Trinitarian) Godhead. It would be quite anachronistic (and a mistake) to read this developed and specialized meaning of the term back into a first-century passage; however, it cannot be denied that the use of u(po/stasi$ here in Hebrews contributed to the Christological development of its meaning. Cf. Attridge, pp. 42-5.

There are highlighted in verse 3 two distinctive aspects of the early pre-existence Christology that came to prominence in the second half of the 1st-century, and are reflected in the ‘Christ hymns’ we have studied:

    • That the pre-existent Jesus, in some way, represents the “image” of God the Father, and shares in the divine honor and splendor (do/ca)
    • That he functioned as God’s agent, as the means by which God the Father created the universe

The first of these is emphasized in the 3a clause, the second in the 3b clause that follows, and which we will examine in the next daily note.

December 1: Hebrews 1:3 (continued)

Hebrews 1:2b

The context of the “Christ hymn” in Hebrews 1:1-4 was discussed in the previous note. The hymnic portion is vv. 2b-3, a statement on the person of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, containing both of the key Christological views—the earlier exaltation Christology, along with the pre-existence aspect that emerged and developed in the second half of the 1st century.

One of the details that marks verse 3 (and vv. 2b-3) as a Christological hymn (or credal/confessional statement) is the use of the relative pronoun (o%$), referring to the subject of Jesus (the Son), to introduce and govern the poetic content (on the characteristic device, cf. the earlier note on Phil 2:6). This use is indeed confessional—that is, early Christians are making a fundamental statement regarding who Jesus is. More to the point, the statement expresses what it means to say that Jesus is the Son of God.

From the beginning, all believers would have embraced and accepted the exaltation Christology—i.e., the Sonship of Jesus defined in terms of his being raised and exalted to a place at God’s “right hand” in heaven. By all accounts, the pre-existence aspect represents a later development, and may still have been relatively new in the context of the hymns of Philippians and Colossians. This may explain the importance (and the rise) of these Christological statements; they were intended, at least in part, to familiarize believers with the idea of Jesus’ divine/eternal pre-existence, and to communicate this as an established (orthodox) belief in congregations throughout the Greco-Roman world.

There are actually three parallel relative clauses that govern vv. 2b-3:

    • “…in a Son” (e)n ui(w=|)
      • whom He set as heir of all things”
        o^n e&qhken klhrono/mon pa/ntwn
      • through whom He even made (all) the Ages”
        di’ ou! kai\ e)poi/hsen tou\$ ai)w=na$
      • who, being…carrying…”
        o^$ w*nfe/rwn

The first two clauses (2b) reflect the exaltation and pre-existence aspects, respectively (cf. above).

o^n e&qhken klhrono/mon pa/ntwn
whom He set as heir of all things”

The initial relative clause draws on traditional (Messianic) language applied by early Christians to the exaltation of Jesus. The idea of God “setting” (vb ti/qhmi) a chosen one (i.e., the Davidic ruler) as His “son” and “heir” is part of the ancient royal theology, encapsulated in a number of Psalms that came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense—most notably Psalm 2 (vv. 7-8), but cf. also 89:28; and, on the Messianic application, cp. Isa 55:12; Dan 7:14; Ps Sol 17:23; 1 Macc 2:57. This language presumably underlies the declaration in the kerygma of Acts 2:36, that God “made” (vb poie/w) Jesus to be Messiah and Lord. The exalted Jesus had the place of God’s heir, as Son to the Father, close by His side in heaven. The inheritance motif is also utilized in Wisdom tradition, both in the sense of wisdom as a(n everlasting) possession of the righteous, and also for the eternal inheritance that belongs to the divine Wisdom itself—e.g., Sirach 24:8, 23; 1QS 11:7-9. It is also a theme that plays an important role throughout Hebrews, as believers in Christ are promised a share in his inheritance (1:14; 3:1; 6:17; 9:15; 12:25-29). Cf. Attridge, p. 40.

The second relative clause emphasizes the divine pre-existence of Jesus as God’s Son:

di’ ou! kai\ e)poi/hsen tou\$ ai)w=na$
through whom He even made (all) the Ages”

This is expressed in terms of Jesus’ role (as God’s agent) in the original creation of the universe, much as it was in the Colossians hymn (1:15-17, discussed previously), as also in the Prologue of the Gospel of John (1:2ff). In both the Colossians hymn and the Johannine prologue, Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom tradition has been applied to the person of Jesus. According to the ancient tradition preserved in Proverbs 8:22-31, the Wisdom of God (personfied) was viewed as His first and highest creation, and functioned as the means by which God created the world. This tradition was preserved and developed within the Greek wisdom literature (Sirach 24; Wisdom 7:22; 8:4ff; 10:1ff; 1 Enoch 42, etc), and became one of the strands of the distinctive Hellenistic Jewish Logos-theology that would be so influential on early Christian thought. The place of the Logos (Lo/go$), the personified Word/Wisdom of God, and its role in creation, is best seen in the writings of Philo of Alexandria; of the many passages that may be cited, see esp. Who Is the Heir? §§130ff; On the Special Laws I.80-81; III.83, 207; On the Migration of Abraham §6; On the Cherubim §125f; On Flight and Finding §95; On Dreams 1.215 (cf. Attridge, p. 40f). The influence of this Wisdom/Logos tradition on the Johannine prologue is obvious, but, as I previously discussed, the author of the Colossians hymn (whether Paul or another) almost certainly drew upon it as well. The pre-existent Son, Jesus, was the means by which (“through whom”) God the Father created the universe.

This brings us to the third of the relative clauses in the Hebrews “hymn,” and the one which is most central to the overall message and theology of the author. This is the dual-statement in verse 3 proper, and we will examine it closely in the next daily note.

References above marked “Attridge” are to Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1989).

November 30: Hebrews 1:3

Hebrews 1:1-4

As with Paul’s greeting in Romans (1:1-7, discussed in the previous notes), the opening of Hebrews (1:1-4) contains a portion that many commentators believe derives from an early Christian ‘hymn’ on the person of Christ. The term “hymn” in such instances is perhaps misleading, as it suggests a self-contained composition of multiple stanzas, performed (sung/chanted) in a worship setting. The expression “confessional formula” may be closer to the mark, as short creeds or confessions of faith tend to be written in poetry (or rhythmic prose) and often have a hymnic character. All of the “Christ hymns” in the New Testament, many of which we have already studied in these notes, share certain formal, stylistic and thematic details. Hebrews 1:1-4, and verse 3 in particular, contain a number of these common features, and reflect a distinctive Christology that developed in the second half of the 1st century A.D.

The point of Christological development marked by the Hebrews “hymn”, along with its date, is problematic, due to the longstanding questions regarding the authorship (and genre) of the book, as well as the relative dating of Hebrews in relation to Colossians and 1 Timothy, etc. Though attributed to Paul by tradition, Hebrews is anonymous, nor can the circumstances of when, where, and to whom it was written be determined with any certainty. It lacks many features typical of a letter or epistle, and is best viewed as a work of instruction, with strong expository and exhortational aspects, meant to be distributed and read by believers over a wide territory. In this regard, it is similar to the ‘letters’ of James and 1 John, as well as certain other New Testament writings.

The dating of Hebrews has varied widely and has been difficult for commentators to pin down. The tendency has been to date the work to the late-first century (c. 90-100 A.D.), based primarily on the high Christology and the extent of the typological interpretation employed by the author. In terms of the Christology of Hebrews, the best we can say is that is almost certainly post-60 A.D., since it evinces a pre-existence Christology that goes somewhat beyond the Pauline references in Romans and the Christ-hymn in Philippians. However, the Christology in Heb 1:1-4ff is comparable, in many ways, to that of Colossians (especially the hymn of 1:15-20); and, if that letter is genuinely Pauline, then a date of 60-70 for Hebrews becomes more plausible. If Hebrews was known by the author of the work known as 1 Clement (see 36:2-6), usually dated to c. 90-95 A.D., then it increases the likelihood that Hebrews had been written and distributed by 90 A.D. I am not sure that it is possible to establish a more precise date for the composition of Hebrews than the period 70-90 A.D.

The exordium (introduction) to Hebrews covers the first four verses of chapter 1 (1:1-4), a single flowing sentence in Greek. This opening passage sets the tone and theme for the entire work, and has a fundamental Christological emphasis. Here is how the passage begins:

“(With) God (hav)ing spoken (in) former (time)s to the Fathers, (in) many parts and many ways, in the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets], upon these last days He spoke to us in a Son…” (vv. 1-2a)

The initial contrast is between the Old and New Covenants—between God speaking to His people (Israel) through the Prophets, and to His people (believers) through His Son (vv. 1-2a). Out of this initial statement, a complex Christological declaration is developed (vv. 2b-4). Verses 1-2 deal specifically with the idea of God’s revelation, beginning with “God spoke”, and indicating a contrast:

V. 1: God (has) been speaking [lalh/sa$] V. 2: (God) spoke [e)la/lhsen]
    • (in) many parts and many ways
    • (in) old (times) [pa/lai]
    • to the Fathers [toi=$ patra/sin]
    • in the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] [e)n toi=$ profh/tai$]
 
    • in one new way (implied)
    • in these last days [e)p’ e)sxa/tou tw=n h(merw=n tou/twn]
    • to us [h(mi=n]
    • in (the) Son [e)n ui(w=|]
 

The new revelation (to us) is marked primarily by two elements or characteristics: (1) it is eschatological, set in the “last days”, (2) it takes place in the person of the Son. The Greek e)n ui(w=| does not have the definite article, so it is possible to translate “in a Son”, but it is clear from the context that God’s Son—the Son—is meant. Verse 2b presents the nature of this Son, with a pair of relative clauses:

    • whom [o^n] He has set (as the) one receiving the lot [i.e. heir] of all (thing)s
    • through whom [di’ ou!] He made the Ages

The first of these draws on the idea of Christ being exalted to heaven following the resurrection, in common with the earliest Christian tradition; the second expresses Christ’s role in creation, implying some sort of divine pre-existence. These two Christological approaches were shared by several strands of early tradition (e.g. Paul, the Gospel of John), and were not deemed to be contradictory in any way. Indeed, we have seen them incorporated in the “Christ hymns” we have already examined (Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; 1 Tim 3:16; Rom 1:3-4). The author of Hebrews will present the two views side-by-side at a number of points in the letter.

Before proceeding with a detailed study of vv. 2b-4, let us present the entire passage, the whole sentence, in translation:

“(With) God (hav)ing spoken (in) former (time)s to the Fathers, (in) many parts and many ways, in the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets], upon these last days He spoke to us in a Son, whom He set (as the one) receiving the lot of all (thing)s, (and) through whom indeed He made (all) the Ages, (and) who, being a beam (shining) forth of the splendor (of God), and an engraving of th(at which) stands under Him, and (himself) bearing all (thing)s by the utterance of his power, (hav)ing made cleansing of sins, he sat on the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Greatness, in (the) high (place)s, (hav)ing come to be so much mightier than the Messengers, (even) as he has received as (his) lot a name (that) bears through (beyond what is) alongside of them.”

Not only is this masterful and majestic sentence a summary of the key themes that will be developed in the letter, it also effectively summarizes the Christian Gospel of Jesus Christ at the time the letter was written (c. 70-90 A.D.). The Christology of the passage follows a paradigm comparable to that in Phil 2:6-11, moving from the Son’s divine pre-existence to his exaltation (as Son) following his death and resurrection; this paradigm may be summarized:

    • Divine pre-existence as the Son
      • Incarnation (human life)
        • Sacrificial Death
      • Resurrection (restoration to life)
    • Exaltation as the Son to God’s right hand

The pre-existence (pre-incarnation) side is presented in vv. 2b-3a with a series of clauses that modify the word “Son” (ui(o/$). Each of these relates to that noun with a relative pronoun (o%$):

    • “…in a Son” (e)n ui(w=|)
      • whom He set as heir of all things”
        o^n e&qhken klhrono/mon pa/ntwn
      • through whom He even made (all) the Ages”
        di’ ou! kai\ e)poi/hsen tou\$ ai)w=na$
      • who, being…carrying…”
        o^$ w*nfe/rwn

If the author is drawing upon a pre-existing hymn or confessional formula, it is not clear at what point in the passage this begins; it may be that all of vv. 2b-3 reflects a type and style of hymnic statement on the person of Jesus Christ that was widely in use at the time. We will begin a detailed study on this portion in the next daily note.

July 20: Hebrews 9:8, 14; 10:15, 29

Hebrews 9:8, 14; 10:15, 29

When we turn to the letter to the Hebrews, we find a number of references to the Spirit. For the most part, however, these are traditional in nature (cf. the notice in 3:7 on the Spirit-inspired character of the Scriptures), and not nearly as prominent or significant as one might expect in a theological writing of this sort. The lack of emphasis on the Spirit may simply be a reflection of the overwhelmingly Christological thrust of the letter; even so, if Paul (for example) had authored a similar work, the Spirit surely would have featured much more prominently. In particular, there is little or no mention of the idea, so frequent elsewhere in the New Testament, of believers being “in the Spirit” —that is, united with Christ (and God the Father) through the presence of the Spirit. The closest such reference in Hebrews is in 6:4, where believers are described as those

“…(hav)ing been (en)lightened, (hav)ing (both) tasted the heavenly gift and (hav)ing coming to be holders with (one another) of (the) holy Spirit”

The idiom of believers holding the Spirit together with one another certainly captures the essential idea of being united in the Spirit. The emphasis is on the initial experience of salvation (conversion), which entails acceptance of the Gospel, trust in Jesus, confirmation in the baptism ritual, and the presence of the Spirit. The author does not develop the idea any further. However, earlier in the letter (2:4), mention is made of the activity of the Spirit among believers, through miraculous and powerful “signs and wonders”, referring to the work of the Holy Spirit in terms of things (i.e. ‘gifts’) distributed (merismoi/) among individual believers and congregations (cp. Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor 12-14).

The four remaining references to the Spirit are contained within the “New Covenant” exposition in chapters 9-10. The bulk of Hebrews (3:1-10:25) expounds the central theme that believers in Christ are living under a new covenant, and that all the forms of the old covenant are replaced (and fulfilled) in the person of Christ. The author of Hebrews declares, even more forcefully than Paul does in his letters, that the old covenant has completely passed away, and is no longer in effect for believers. This is very much part of the early Christian eschatological worldview—that this “New Covenant” marks the end of the current Age, and the beginning of the new. For more on this aspect, cf. the article on Hebrews in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

In particular, Hebrews focus on the ritual dimension of the old covenant, as embodied in the Temple cultus—that is, the sacrificial offerings, and the priesthood that administered them. Interestingly, Hebrews never refers directly to the Temple itself (referring instead to the older tent [skhnh/] shrine or ‘Tabernacle’), nor does it make use of the early Christian tendency to interpret the Temple in terms of Jesus’ own person/body. Instead, the author utilizes the simpler contrast between the physical Temple on earth and the (spiritual) dwelling of God in heaven. Christ is identified, not with the Temple, but with the priesthood (spec. the High Priest) that offers sacrifice in the Temple sanctuary. The two main sections which describe Jesus as a (High) Priest are Hebrews 4:14-5:10 and 6:20/7:1-10:18; cf. the earlier article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Hebrews follows a well-established line of tradition in understanding the death of Jesus as a sacrificial offering. The author draws upon two principal types of sacrifice: (1) the offering which took place at the ratification of the covenant (Exodus 24:3-8), and (2) the sin offering at the ‘day of atonement’, when the High Priest would also enter the innermost part of the shrine (Leviticus 16). According to the Last Supper account, Jesus himself alluded to these same two sacrificial traditions, associating them with his own death (his “blood”). Thus, the idea of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice that marks the beginning of a “new covenant” is rooted in the Gospel tradition (Mark 14:22-25 par). The author of Hebrews does not contribute anything new in this regard; rather, he develops and expounds a set of ideas and associations that were already well-established in early Christian belief.

The references to the Spirit in chapters 9-10 are interesting in the way that they punctuate the exposition, following two parallel lines of thought; this may be summarized as follows:

    • The Spirit’s declaration of the new covenant (9:8; 10:15)
      • The role of the Spirit in establishing the new covenant (9:14; 10:29)

The first line of thought draws upon the traditional association of the Spirit with prophetic inspiration. This association came to be applied, in Jewish thought, specifically to the inspiration of the Scriptures—the Torah (Pentateuch), Prophets, and Psalms (cf. the earlier note on Nehemiah 9:20, 30, etc). The New Testament authors generally assume the Spirit-inspired character of the Old Testament Scriptures, referring to it a number of times, in passing, without any real need to comment on the matter further or to develop the theological basis for the idea. There is a clear example of this in Heb 3:7 (cf. above), and another allusion here at 9:8:

“…the holy Spirit making clear by this (that) the way (into) the (holy) of holies had not yet been made to shine forth, (while) the first tent was yet holding (its) standing [i.e. while it still was standing]”

The “this” (tou=to, in italics above) refers to the Torah regulations related to the sanctuary of the earthly Tent (Tabernacle) and Temple, summarized in vv. 1-7 as part of the “first (covenant)”. This idea expressed in v. 8 is that, through the inspired account of the Tabernacle/Temple ritual in the Scriptures—including the inspired source/nature of the building plan itself (Exod 25-31)—the Spirit has revealed the limitations of the old covenant, which are to be fulfilled in the new. This is part of the wider exposition in the section, whereby Christ’s sacrifice both completes, and takes the place of, the sacrificial offerings made in the Tabernacle/Temple complex.

More than this, the wording of verse 8 implies that the Spirit also reveals, at the same time, the perfection of the new covenant. The Spirit makes known to believers the truth that Jesus’ sacrificial death opens the way (o(do/$) for us into the holiest place—the innermost shrine where God himself dwells. This is but a step removed from the idea expressed in Ephesians 2:18 (discussed in a prior note), that in the Spirit we, as believers, hold the way leading toward God the Father (cp. John 14:6).

Moving ahead to 9:14, the author refers to the role the Spirit played in the sacrifice of Christ, which both brought cleansing from sin (for believers) and established the new covenant. Acting as High Priest, Jesus made the sacrifice (in his own blood) “through (the) Spirit of (the) Age(s)” (dia\ pneu/mato$ ai)wni/ou). The expression “Spirit of the Age(s)” was unusual enough that it prompted scribes to alter it to the more familiar “holy Spirit” (with a(gi/ou instead of ai)wni/ou); however, the reading with ai)wni/ou is almost certainly original. The adjective, difficult to translate literally in English, is often rendered as “eternal”, which tends to capture the general idea, if not especially accurate as a translation. The ai)wn– concept in the New Testament relates fundamentally to the Jewish and early Christian eschatological worldview, with the distinction between the current Age and the new Age to come. It also corresponds to the term <l*ou in Hebrew, which typically signifies either the distant past or the distant future, with the presence and power of God encompassing both (i.e. ‘eternal, eternity’). In the context of the exposition here in Hebrews, the distinction is between the earthly sanctuary, which is temporal in nature, and the heavenly sanctuary, which is eternal. The Spirit, of course, belongs to the heavenly sanctuary, where God himself has his dwelling.

The further associations of the Spirit with cleansing (vb kaqari/zw) and life for the dead, are well-established in Christian thought and tradition, as we have seen these notes.

At 10:15, the Spirit again declares the New Covenant (cf. above on 9:8), this time citing the famous prophecy of Jeremiah 31:33-34 (vv. 16-17). The declaration effectively brings the long exposition (of chaps. 3-10) to a close, concluding with a blunt restatement of the fundamental argument—namely, that the old covenant (with its sacrificial ritual) has come to an end for believers in Christ (v. 18). The sacrifice of Christ did away with the need for any further sacrificial ritual.

The reference to the Spirit in 10:29 properly belongs to the exhortation section that follows (10:26-12:13), but one which builds upon the New Covenant exposition of chaps. 9-10. After all, if there had been serious consequences for transgressing or rejecting the old covenant, how much more so is it now in the case of the new. This is the thrust of the warning in vv. 26-31, stated clearly enough in verse 29. In the old covenant, the person who sinned willfully and deliberately was “cut off”, and could not be restored to God (as part of his holy Community) through sin offering. So it is also in the new covenant, according to the author of Hebrews. A person who continues in blatantly sinful behavior, after coming to faith in Christ, will face the same Judgment as the wicked. They are said to be “trampling the Son of God under (foot)” and “bringing (it about)” that the “blood of the covenant” is treated as something “common” (i.e. profane), and not holy.

Moreover, the person who so violates the New Covenant is said to “bring injury (up)on the Spirit of (God’s) favor”. It is a rejection, not only of Jesus Christ (the Son of God), but one which brings insult and injury (vb e)nubri/zw) to God’s own Spirit. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ famous (and much-debated) saying on the “sin against the Holy Spirit” (Mk 3:28-29 par); on which, cf. my most recent discussion. The expression “the Spirit of favor” (to\ pneu=ma th=$ xa/rito$) is unusual (and unique in the New Testament), but clearly the term xa/ri$ (“favor”) refers to God’s favor—that is, the favor he shows to his people (believers). This means, primarily, the favor he shows in bestowing his Spirit upon us. The gift of God’s Spirit, of course, cannot be separated from the work of Jesus Christ and our trust in him, as is apparent from the strong Christological context of these references in Hebrews. Even though the author never develops this sense of the role of the Spirit in and among believers, he clearly accepts (and assumes) it as part of the early Christian worldview.

 

 

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Hebrews

Hebrews

Nearly everything surrounding the so-called Letter to the Hebrews—its authorship, date, audience, provenance, and genre—has been the subject of longstanding debate among New Testament scholars. Dating of the book ranges widely, between 60 and 100 A.D. Some commentators would use the references to the Temple, and lack of any specific allusion to its destruction, as an indication of a pre-70 A.D. date, but this is hardly decisive. The Christology of Hebrews shows a relatively high degree of development—perhaps more than in the Pauline letters, but less than the Johannine writings. I would tend to narrow the time-frame for composition to c. 70-90, probably leaning toward the earlier part of this period (c. 75-80?). This would be consonant with the eschatology of the book, for which two points may be noted: (1) the sense of imminence has faded somewhat, replaced by a more expanded form of traditional exhortation (warning of the Judgment, etc); and (2) a “realized” eschatology goes more firmly in hand with future expectation, though the former aspect is not nearly so prominent as it is in the Johannine Gospel and Letters (to be discussed in the next article).

Christology dominates Hebrews, and, to some extent, the Christological development of Messianic thought means that the early Christian eschatology has undergone development as well; cf. the earlier article dealing with the relationship between eschatology and Messianism. There are few passages in Hebrews which are fundamentally eschatological in emphasis; however, the traditions are present throughout, run through by a new and deeper line of theological exposition. It will perhaps be best to approach the eschatology of Hebrews by adopting a survey format, looking at particular aspects or elements of each passage, rather than attempting a detailed exegesis.

Hebrews 1:1-4

The prologue to Hebrews (1:1-4) offers a good example of the dynamic referenced above. The eschatological aspect of the passage is almost incidental, marked by the phrase e)p’ e)sxa/tou tw=n h(merw=n tou/twn (“upon [i.e. in] the last of these days”), v. 2. On the surface, this detail seems thoroughly eschatological, emphasizing that believers are living in the end-times, looking toward the imminent return of Jesus, etc (cp. Acts 2:17; James 5:3; 2 Pet 3:3; 2 Tim 3:1; cf. also 1 Pet 1:5, 20; Jude 18). However, in the context of Hebrews, the traditional phrasing serves rather a different purpose, establishing a contrast that represents (and foreshadows) the end of the old Covenant and the beginning new—a central theme that is developed throughout the letter:

    • God speaks in the old (pa/lai) times and ways–through the Prophets, but
    • He speaks in new way now in the last days—through his Son Jesus

Also eschatological in significance are the references to inheritance (receiving the lot or portion, klh=ro$) and to the Ages (ai)w/n, pl.) in v. 2, but, here again, the emphasis is Christological—God set Jesus to be the heir of all things (cf. also verse 4), even as He made all of Creation (all the Ages) through him. The earlier concept of Jesus’ divine status and position as the result of his exaltation is here combined with a clear belief in his eternal pre-existence. This developed Christology effects the way that the traditional eschatological motifs are expressed and understood in Hebrews.

Hebrews 1:14

The introductory section that establishes the theme of Jesus’ superiority (vv. 5-14) builds on the prologue, and concludes with a statement of the idea that believers will inherit salvation, even as Jesus inherits all things in glory alongside the father. This is yet another example of the early Christian understanding of salvation as eschatological—to be experienced at the end-time; believers are “…the (one)s being about [me/llonta$] to receive the lot/portion of salvation”.

Hebrews 2:2-3ff

This is the first of several exhortative passages in Hebrews, which draw upon the traditional theme of the coming Judgment, used as part of ethical and religious instruction. In earlier writings, the warnings are very much driven by the sense of urgency that comes from an imminent eschatology. In some measure, this is retained here in Hebrews:

“For, if the account (hav)ing been spoken through Messengers came to be firm, and every stepping alongside [i.e. over the line] and hearing alongside [i.e. being careless/disobedient] received its wage given forth in justice, how will we flee out (of danger) [i.e. escape], being [i.e. if we are] without concern (for) so vast a salvation, which, being received at the beginning, to be spoken through the Lord, it was made firm unto us under [i.e. by] the (one)s (hav)ing [i.e. who] heard (him)…”

In other words, the Judgment is coming, and we will not be able to flee from it, or escape it, if we are careless and do not remain faithful to Christ and the truth of the Gospel. This warning follows the same contrast, between the Messengers (as part of the old Covenant) and Jesus the Son (the new Covenant), that was introduced in chapter 1. Only now the focus is more properly on believers in Christ, rather than Jesus himself. Even so, the identity of believers as the people of God and children (“sons”, ui(oi/) of God, is based on our relationship with Jesus the Son (ui(o/$) of God. This the point made in vv. 10-18:

“For it was proper to him, through whom and through [i.e. for] whose (sake) all (thing)s (were made), leading many sons into honor, to make the chief leader of our salvation complete through sufferings.” (v. 10)

The eschatological dimension of believers as the sons/children of God—i.e., a religious identity that will only be realized fully at the end time—is dealt with most memorably by Paul in Romans 8:18-25ff (cf. the earlier article in this series).

Hebrews 3:1, 12-14ff

“There(fore), holy brothers, (one)s holding (a share) of the heavenly calling…” (v. 1)

This is a good example of how the Christological exposition in Hebrews is set within an exhortational framework, urging believers to live and act in the light of the truth regarding Jesus Christ. The opening phrase of this section establishes the essential identity of believers; this is a rhetorical device—by stating the identity of believers up front, the author puts in place the ideal, or standard, by which Christians should live. The expression that is particularly worth noting here is klh/sew$ e)pourani/ou me/toxoi, which refers to believers as “ones holding (a share) with (others)” (me/toxoi), i.e. with other believers, but also with Jesus himself. The share they hold is “of (the) heavenly calling”; this may be understood three ways:

    • The source and origin of the calling is from above the heavens (e)poura/nio$), i.e. where God Himself dwells; the Gospel revelation, and the manifestation of the Son (Jesus), is from God, as the Prologue (1:1-4) makes clear (cf. above).
    • It refers to what believers experience in the present, through the Spirit, in union with Christ.
    • It speaks of what waits for believers in the future—i.e. we are called to the heavenly abode, where we will dwell together with God the Father and Jesus the Son. This last aspect, of course, is eschatological. Cf. below on 11:10ff; 13:14, etc.

Following the Christological exposition (vv. 2-6), and the Scriptural citation (vv. 7-11 [Psalm 95:7-11]), this message is applied to the context of believers’ identity as stated in v. 1. The emphasis of the exhortation (and warning) is decidedly eschatological:

“You must look (to it), brothers, (so that) there will not ever be, in any of you, an evil heart without trust [a)pisti/a], in the standing away from (the) living God; but (rather), you must call each other alongside, according to each day, until the (time in) which it is (no longer) called ‘today’, (so) that no one of you should be(come) hard in (the) deceit of the sin. For we have come to be (one)s holding (a share) with [me/toxoi] (the) Anointed, if (indeed) we hold down firm(ly) the beginning of (our) standing under (in him), up to (its) completion [te/lo$]” (vv. 12-14)

Again the noun me/toxoi is used of believers, only now it clearly relates to our union with Christ, weaving the Christological message of vv. 2-6 into the earlier statement. Also woven in is the Scriptural example from Psalm 95—using the example of Israel’s disobedience (in the wilderness) as a warning to believers to remain faithful. The references to “the standing away [a)posth=nai] from God” and “(the) deceit of the sin” almost certainly have eschatological significance—i.e. allusions to the increasing wickedness at the end of the Age (the period of distress, etc)—as also does the temporal aspect of the (relatively) short time that remains until the end (i.e., while it is yet called “today”). The term “completion” (te/lo$) clearly has a strong eschatological connotation, as it does in many other passages we have studied.

Hebrews 4:1-13

The Scripture passage cited in chapter 3 (Psalm 95:7-11) is expounded further in chapter 4, developing the important theme of the pleasant rest that awaits the people of God. The Greek word is kata/pausi$, literally meaning something like “settling down”, “easing down”, with the idea of stopping or pausing (i.e. from one’s labor). The historical context of Israel entering the Promised Land is applied to believers; the implication being that “Israel” (the people of the old Covenant) was unable to enter this peaceful “settling down” in the Land, due to their disobedience. Nor was this fulfilled by the children of that wicked generation, who entered the Land under Joshua’s leadership (v. 8); thus, the author states clearly in verse 9:

“S0 then, there is left (behind) from (this) [i.e. there remains] a Shabbat [i.e. Sabbath]-like (settling down) for the people of God.”

The “settling down” for the true people of God (i.e. believers in Christ) has more in common with God’s “easing down” from the work of Creation, as symbolized by the Sabbath regulations in the Torah, etc. It is thus represents something far beyond the historical settlement of Israel in the Promised Land:

“For the (one) coming into His settling-down [kata/pausi$] (has) also settled-down [kate/pausen] from his works, just as God (did) from His own (work)s.” (v. 10)

This “settling down” is something that will only take place in the future, at the end. The promise is thus eschatological, as is indicated by the reference to the final Judgment in verse 13.

Hebrews 6:1-8

Hebrews seems to share much the same worldview as the book of Revelation, and may well have been written at about the same time. In both works there is a strong warning to believers against losing faith and ‘falling away’, all the more during the time of severe testing that precedes the end. Especially in Hebrews one senses the very real possibility that some might be led astray and could actually fall from faith in Christ. The first portion of chapter 6 in Hebrews contains one of the strongest such warnings along this line. The nearness of the end perhaps helps to explain the specific eschatological emphasis in vv. 4-5:

“For it is without power [i.e. impossible] (that) the (one)s (hav)ing once been enlightened, and (hav)ing tasted the heavenly gift, and (hav)ing come to be (one)s holding (a share) of the holy Spirit, and (hav)ing tasted the beautiful utterance of God and (the) powers of the coming Age—and (then hav)ing fallen alongside—(for them) to be made new once again…”

The harvest imagery in vv. 7-8 also seems to allude to the great end-time Judgment, as we have seen in numerous other passages, going back to the early Gospel tradition (Mark 4:29; Matt 3:12 par; 13:30, 40-43, etc).

Hebrews 7 (v. 19)

The “Melchizedek” exposition in chapter 7 is perhaps the most famous example of the kind of Christological (re)interpretation of eschatological and Messianic traditions, etc, that we see throughout Hebrews. The parallels with certain texts from Qumran (e.g. 11QMelchizedek) show that, by the first century A.D., the ancient traditions regarding Melchizedek were being applied to Messianic heavenly-redeemer and Anointed-priest figure-types, and that this explains how the author of Hebrews could similarly identify Jesus the Messiah with Melchizedek. However, the discussion in chapter 7 is fundamentally Christological, not eschatological, Melchizedek being utilized to establish how Jesus Christ (who was not a descendant of Aaron) could function as a High Priest—and with a Priesthood far greater than that of the Aaronid and Levitical priests of the old Covenant. For more on this, cf. Part 9 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, together with the supplemental article on Hebrews.

Even so, the eschatological aspect of the new Covenant remains not far below the surface in the discussion, coming through at several points, most notably in verse 19:

“…but (on the other hand), (the) bringing in upon (us) of a stronger hope, through which we come near to God.”

The noun e)lpi/$ (“hope”) in the New Testament frequently has a definite eschatological connotation (i.e. the future hope, of the resurrection, etc), as we saw, for example, in the earlier studies on Romans 8:18-25 and 1 Peter 1:3ff. The idea of “coming near” to God also alludes to our standing before him at the Judgment, and of passing through into eternal life. The specific imagery used to express this, in context, is that of the High Priest entering into God’s presence within the sanctuary of the Tabernacle/Temple.

Hebrews 8:8-13

An often overlooked aspect of the early Christian understanding of the “new Covenant” is that it marks the beginning of a new Age—and is thus eschatological. This interpretation of the Covenant-theme goes beyond the basic idea that believers are living in the “last days” (Acts 2:17); rather, it means that believers are already experiencing the Age-to-come now, in the present, through the manifestation and work of the Spirit. Only believers in Christ have this experience of the New Age, prior to its full realization following the return of Jesus and the great Judgment. Thus, there is a definite eschatological aspect to the various “New Covenant” references in the New Testament, such as here in Heb 8:8-13, drawing upon the famous passage in Jeremiah 31:31-34 [LXX 38:31-34]. The words in v. 31 of the oracle, initially referring to a time in Israel’s (immediate) future, when applied to believers in their time (late 1st century A.D.), has an eschatological—and imminent eschatological—context:

“See, the days come [i.e. are coming], says the Lord, and I will bring together completely [suntele/sw] upon the house of Yisrael and upon the house of Yehudah a new diaqh/kh…” (v. 8)

The word diaqh/kh is typically translated “covenant”, but literally refers to something (an agreement, etc) that is “set through”, or “set in order”, as in English idiom we might speak of “putting (our affairs) in order” with a will or contract. The Greek work is used to render the Hebrew tyr!B=, which properly signifies a binding agreement. The verb suntele/sw (“bring together to completion [or completely]”) is related to the term te/lo$ (“completion, end”) which is often used in an eschatological sense (cf. above). In early Christian thought, the end of the old Covenant (v. 13) corresponds generally with the end of the current Age, a correspondence Paul brings out, for example, in passages such as 2 Cor 3:7-18.

Hebrews 9:23-28

Together with this “new Covenant” theology, and the idea of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, Hebrews utilizes the sacred space of the Tabernacle/Temple—particularly its sanctuary—as an image of the New Age that believers experience in Christ. This eschatological aspect is brought out at the end of the Christological exposition in 9:23-28, with its theme of a heavenly sanctuary—the true and real sanctuary which currently exists in heaven (with God and Christ):

“For the Anointed (One) did not come into holy (place)s (that were) made with hands [xeiropoi/hto$], (thing)s patterned after the true, but (instead he came) into heaven it(self), now to shine forth in the sight God, over us [i.e. on our behalf]…” (v. 24)

This corresponds to the motif of the heavenly city, i.e. a heavenly “Jerusalem”, a motif that is found elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. on 11:10f; 13:14 below). The entirety of Jesus’ work (as Priest)—including his earthly ministry, death and resurrection, and future return—is all understood as being set in the end-time, the “last days”, and is thus eschatological:

“…but now, once, at the completion (all) together [sunte/leia] of the Ages, unto the setting aside of sin through the (ritual) slaughter [i.e. sacrifice] of him(self), he has been made to shine forth.” (v. 26b)

This is typical of early Christian thought, and his hardly unique to Hebrews; it is the Christological emphasis, and development of the underlying tradition, that is special to this letter. The eschatological aspect is stated even more clearly in verse 28, in which the future (impending) appearance of Jesus is related to his first coming—both being end-time events, from the standpoint of early Christian eschatology:

“So, also the Anointed (One), (hav)ing once been carried toward (God) [i.e. as an offering], unto the taking up on (himself) the sin(s) of many, will be seen out of a second (shining forth), (quite) apart from sin, to the (one)s looking out to receive (him) from (heaven), unto (their) salvation.”

The early Christian understanding of salvation was primarily eschatological, as I have noted on numerous occasions; in this sense it refers to being saved from the great end-time Judgment, as indicated here in verse 27. Jesus first appearance involved the removal of sin, while his second appearance fully (and finally) brings salvation to those freed from sin (i.e., his second appearance is “apart from [xwri/$] sin”).

Hebrews 10:11-13, 19-25ff

The theme of the Priesthood of Jesus, as part of the “new Covenant”, spans the entirety of 4:14-10:18, being expounded and developed a number of ways. Here in 10:11ff, this exposition comes to a close, re-emphasizing the Christological dimension of the new Covenant. Throughout the letter, various Messianic themes and motifs were introduced and given a deeper Christological interpretation. This is certainly true of traditional Messianic passages such as Psalm 110:1, cited frequently by early Christians (e.g., Mark 12:26 par; Acts 2:34-35), as also by the author of Hebrews (1:13). It was the prime reference for the idea of Jesus’ exaltation to heaven at God’s right hand (cf. the discussion in my earlier article). Psalm 110 was also a key passage for the royal theology that would establish (and support) the priestly prerogative for the Davidic line (including the Davidic Messiah). It is thus altogether fitting that the author of Hebrews would again allude to it here.

The eschatological anticipation is emphasized in verse 13, where it speaks of waiting “until his enemies are set (down as) a foot(stool) under (his) feet”. This same aspect is brought out again in the recapitulation of the “new Covenant” theme (citing Jer 31:33) in verse 16, speaking of the covenant that will be made (i.e. fully realized) “after those days”.

The lengthy exposition of chapters 4-10 is capped by a final exhortation, in the form of an eschatological warning, in vv. 19-25. The various themes of the exposition are brought together concisely, woven through the exhortation, but the basic emphasis is clear enough, with its eschatological implications:

“we should hold down (firmly) the common account of the hope [e)lpi/$] (we share), without bending (from it)—for the (One) giving the message [i.e. promise] about (this is) trust(worthy)—and we should set (this) down in mind (for each) other, unto the sharpening of love and beautiful works…” (vv. 23-24)

The urgency of this exhortation to faithfulness (and action) is made especially clear in the closing words:

“…and (to do this) so much more as you see the day coming near”

This “day” is the “day of the Lord”, the day of Jesus’ return, which will usher in the great day of Judgment.

Hebrews 11:10, 16; 12:22-23; 13:14

“For he looked out for the city holding the (foundation)s set down, whose producer [i.e. builder] and public-worker [i.e. construction worker] (is) God.” (11:10)

This statement is part of the Abraham section (vv. 8-12) of the famous Faith-chapter (chap. 11). Abraham’s trust (pi/sti$) in God was demonstrated by his willingness to leave his homeland, in expectation of finding a new inheritance from God (cf. Gen 12:1ff). The author’s line of interpretation is very much like that used in 4:1-13 (cf. above), where the “settling down” of God’s people refers, not to the settlement of Israel in the promised Land, but to the eternal rest that awaits for believers in heaven, in the Age to Come. Similarly, Abraham is seen as going in search of an eternal, heavenly city—designed and built by God Himself—and not to any earthly land. The same is stated more clearly in the following section (vv. 15-16):

“And if they were remembering that (place) from which they stepped out, they (certainly) held a moment to turn back [i.e. when they could have turned back], but (instead) now they reach out for a stronger—that (is), a heavenly—city. Therefore God does not feel shame about them, (and is willing) to be called their God, for (so) he (has) made ready for them a city.”

The nature of this heavenly “city” is further described in 12:22-23:

“But you have come toward ‚iyyôn {Zion}, mountain and city of (the) living God, Yerushalaim above the heaven(s) [e)poura/nio$], and (the) multitude of Messengers all (together) in (its) market-square [i.e. a)gora/], and (the) e)kklhsi/a of (the one)s first-produced [i.e. first born] having been written (down) from (the registry) in (the) heavens, and (also) God (the) Judge of all, and the spirits of (the) just having been [i.e. who have been] made complete”

The locale and space of the city, patterned after that of Jerusalem on earth, blends over into those persons (or beings) who dwell in the city. Thus, as in the great vision of the “new Jerusalem” in Rev 21-22, we are dealing not so much with an actual city as we are its people. This is an important point of emphasis. The list of four kinds of dwellers seems a bit confusing at first glace—it is not immediately clear how the “e)kklhsi/a of the firstborn” relates to “the spirits of the just”. Both seem to refer to believers, and perhaps it is best to view the list as a parallelism:

    • “the multitude of Messengers”, i.e. divine beings, the Messengers (Angels) of God
      • “the e)kklhsi/a of the firstborn”, i.e. believers, modified by a perfect passive participle:
        • having been written down in the heavens”, i.e. their names have been written down (from the registry) as citizens belonging to the ‘heavenly city’
    • “God the Judge of all”, God who rules over all the multitudes
      • “the spirits of the just”, i.e. believers, modified by another perfect passive participle:
        • “having been made complete”, i.e. perfected and sanctified by God

The noun e)kklhsi/a, of course, though a bit difficult to render literally in English, refers to a gathering or congregation of believers—lit. those “called out” to gather/assemble together. For more on the significance of ‚iyyôn (/oYx!, Zion, Siw/n), here designated as both mountain and city, cf. the recent note on Revelation 14:1.

The final reference to this heavenly “city” is in 13:14, in the form of an eschatological promise:

“For we do not hold here [i.e. on earth] (any) city remaining (for us), but (instead) we seek for the (one) being about [me/llousan] (to come).”

The eschatological significance of the verb me/llw, indicating that something is about to occur, is discussed in the earlier study on imminent eschatology. As for the idea of a heavenly Jerusalem, in clear contrast to the earthly city, consult the recent notes on the vision in Revelation 21-22, beginning with the note on 21:2-4. Believers follow the example of Abraham, et al, in searching and longing for this “city”; it is, to be sure, not an actual city at all, but a theological symbol for which I would give a three-fold interpretation—as a symbol of: (1) eternal life, (2) our union with God (and Christ) in heaven, and (3) our (collective) identity as the people of God.

Hebrews 12:5-11, 25-29

The final two eschatological passages to consider come from the dual exhortation in chapter 12, which may be divided into two main sections, each with its own primary emphasis:

    1. 12:1-17, with a concluding warning in vv. 14-17
      Theme: The need to endure a short period of suffering and testing
    2. 12:18-29, again with a concluding warning in vv. 25-29
      Theme: The need to remain faithful in light of the great “shaking” (i.e. the Judgment) that is about to come upon the earth

The period of testing, summarized most clearly in vv. 5-11, refers essentially to the end-time period of distress, which, according to the eschatology of early Christians, believers were either: (a) already living in, or (b) were about to enter. This is expressed in terms of the discipline that a parent shows to a child, out of love, in order to perfect their personal character and growth. Such an interpretation helps to explain why believers would have to endure this (end-time) suffering, but also to provide encouragement in the face of it. From an eschatological standpoint, the thrust of the message is two-fold: (i) it is not yet as bad as it could be (and will be), v. 4, and (ii) such suffering is only temporary and will last but a short time (vv. 10-11).

The Judgment-theme of the second section (vv. 18-29) begins with an allusion to the manifestation of God (theophany) on mount Sinai (Exod 19:16; Deut 4:11-12, etc). In a similar way, the end-time Judgment will be a time when God manifests himself to humankind on earth, with an equally awesome and terrifying appearance, accompanied by supernatural phenomena and disturbances in the natural world. This aspect is emphasized in the warning of vv. 25-29, drawing upon past examples when humankind (even God’s own people, Israel) were disobedient and refused to heed the word of God:

“For if they, (being) upon (the) earth, did not [i.e. were not able to] flee out (away from God), (hav)ing asked alongside [i.e. in the sense of refusing] the (One) dealing (with them), how much more (shall it be so for) us, the (one)s turning away [i.e. if we turn away] from the (One who is) from heaven, whose voice shook the earth then, but now has given a message about (it), saying, ‘Yet once (more) shall I shake, not only the earth, but also the heaven(s)’?” (vv. 25-26)

The author’s handling of this traditional motif is complex, and a bit difficult, as is observable from the syntax (which I have attempted to preserve, as far as possible, in the translation above). This difficulty continues in the eschatological exposition, of the word “yet once (more)” (a%pac), in verse 27; the statement effectively combines the promise of eternal life with a most clear sense of the end of the current Age (i.e. the end of the world):

“And th(is) ‘yet once (more)’ makes clear the placing beyond [i.e. removing] of the (thing)s being shaken, (so) that only the (thing)s not being shaken should remain.”

In the New Age, following the end of the current Age, only the eternal—those things of God that are unable to be shaken—will remain. Believers are said to receive this “unshakable kingdom” (v. 28), which expresses precisely the same thing as the heavenly “city” of 11:10, 16, etc (cf. above), using different (but related) imagery. However, believers will only receive this kingdom if they/we remain faithful to the end, an eschatological message that is reinforced by the closing reference in v. 29, which combines the theophany and judgment themes in this section: “…for our God (is) a fire taking away [i.e. burning up] (all things complete)ly!”

January 2: Hebrews 1:1-5

Jesus as the Son of God: The Pre-existent and Eternal Son

In these notes, we have been examining the development of the early Christian awareness of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. In the earliest Gospel preaching, it was the resurrection of Jesus (and his exaltation to heaven) that marked his “birth” as God’s Son. This Christological awareness then came to extend back into Jesus’ earthly life and ministry—all the way to his baptism (marking the beginning of his ministry), and even to his very birth as a human being. Eventually, many believers came to realize that Jesus must have had an existence with God the Father even prior to his birth. Essentially this is the doctrine of the divine pre-existence of Jesus, tied to specific beliefs regarding his deity (or divine nature). There are different ways, or degrees, by which Jesus’ pre-existence may be understood, the nuances of which, I believe, tend to reflect the development of early Christology in the second half of the first century A.D. (c. 60-100).

Belief in the divine pre-existence of Jesus is hardly to be found in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (in particular, it is absent from the early Gospel preaching preserved in the book of Acts). Paul gives evidence of a such a belief, to some extent, in his letters (late-50s and early 60s). It is expressed primarily in terms of Jesus’ role in creation, drawing upon Old Testament and Jewish Wisdom traditions (Prov 8:27; Sirach 24:1ff; Wisdom 7:12, 21; 8:4; 1 Enoch 42; cf. Attridge, p. 40), in 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Romans 11:36 (cp. John 1:3, 10). Several of Paul’s references to Jesus as the Son (of God) seem to presume a heavenly existence prior to his human birth and life (Gal 4:4; Rom 8:3, and note the opening words of Rom 1:3). This is of significance for the study being undertaken in these Christmas-season notes, exploring how early believers understood Jesus’ “birth” as the Son of God.

Of special interest is the “Christ-hymn” in Philippians 2:6-11, which joins together the idea of divine/heavenly pre-existence with the older tradition of Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation to God’s right hand. The same may be said of the hymnic section in Colossians 1:15-18, which, if genuinely Pauline, was probably written at about the same time. In neither passage is the Sonship of Jesus related to the idea of his pre-existence; however, elsewhere in the New Testament—in the letter to the Hebrews and the Gospel of John—those Christological elements are combined.

The dating of Hebrews is problematic, though it was likely written sometime between 70 and 100 A.D. Many commentators would view it as contemporary with the Gospel of John (c. 90?), though I tend to think that it may have been written somewhat earlier. In terms of its place within the development of early Christology, Hebrews seems to stand midway between Paul and the Gospel of John. Its Christology is clearly expressed in the opening (exordium) of the letter, 1:1-4.

Hebrews 1:1-4

The first four verses of Hebrews represent a single long sentence, regarded by many commentators as perhaps the finest such opening in the New Testament (from a literary and rhetorical standpoint). Here are the verses in translation:

“(With) God (hav)ing spoken (in) former (time)s to the Fathers, (in) many parts and many ways, in the Foretellers, upon these last days He spoke to us in a Son, whom He set (as the one) receiving the lot of all (thing)s, (and) through whom indeed He made (all) the Ages, (and) who, being a beam (shining) forth of the splendor (of God), and an engraving of th(at which) stands under Him, and (himself) bearing all (thing)s by the utterance of his power, (hav)ing made cleansing of sins, he sat on the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Greatness, in (the) high (place)s, (hav)ing come to be so much mightier than the Messengers, (even) as he has received as (his) lot a name (that) bears through (beyond what is) alongside of them.”

Not only is this masterful and majestic sentence a summary of the key themes that will be developed in the letter, it also effectively summarizes the Christian Gospel of Jesus Christ at the time the letter was written. The initial contrast is between the Old and New Covenants—between God speaking to His people (Israel) through the Prophets, and to His people (believers) through His Son (vv. 1-2a). Out of this initial statement, a complex Christological declaration is developed (vv. 2b-4). It generally follows a paradigm comparable to that in Phil 2:6-11, moving from the Son’s divine pre-existence to his exaltation (as Son) following his death and resurrection; this paradigm may be summarized:

    • Divine pre-existence as the Son
      • Incarnation (human life)
        • Sacrificial Death
      • Resurrection (restoration to life)
    • Exaltation as the Son to God’s right hand

The pre-existence (pre-incarnation) side is presented in vv. 2b-3a with a series of clauses that modify the word “Son” (ui(o/$). Each of these relates to that noun with a relative pronoun (o%$):

    • “…in a Son” (e)n ui(w=|)
      • whom He set as heir of all things”
        o^n e&qhken klhrono/mon pa/ntwn
      • through whom He even made (all) the Ages”
        di’ ou! kai\ e)poi/hsen tou\$ ai)w=na$
      • who, being…carrying…”
        o^$ w*n…fe/rwn…

The first two clauses deal with the Son’s authority over creation, both in terms of its end (“heir of all things”) and its beginning (“made the Ages”). The latter draws upon the ancient Wisdom traditions (cf. above), whereby God made the universe using Divine Wisdom (personified) as the intermediary. The Son, as the living Word (Lo/go$) and Wisdom of God, performs this same creative role. This idea is expressed famously in the Johannine prologue (1:3, 10), but Paul alludes to the same basic belief at several points in his letters (1 Cor 8:6; Rom 11:36; also Col 1:16f). The citation of Psalm 102:25-27 in vv. 10-12 repeats this (pre-existent) aspect of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (cf. below).

The third relative clause is compound, made up of two participial phrases, each expressing the unique deity of Jesus (as the Son):

    • (the Son) “who” (o%$)
      • being…” (w&n)
        • “…a beam (shining) forth of the splendor (of God)”
          a)pau/gasma th=$ 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=)

The first participle is the verb of being (ei)mi, “being” [w&n]), indicating what the Son truly is. Again this breaks down into a further pair of genitival phrases:

    • a)pau/gasma th=$ do/ch$—The noun a)pau/gasma (occurring only here in the New Testament) literally refers to a beam or ray (of light) coming out from a source. Here is another indication that the author is drawing upon Wisdom traditions, since in Wis 7:26 the Divine Wisdom (Sofi/a) is said to be an a)pau/gasma “of the splendor of the All-mighty” (cf. also Philo, On the Creation §146). As is typically the case, the word do/ca (“esteem”), when used of God, refers to that which makes Him worthy of our esteem and honor, expressed in a visual manner as an overriding greatness or splendor. It can also refer to the divine/heavenly state, in which God Himself dwells. To say that the Son is an a)pau/gasma means that he (himself) is a manifestation of the very glory of God, and that the ray of light he possesses, or embodies, comes from the same Divine source.
    • xarakth\r th=$ u(posta/sew$ au)tou=—The noun xarakth/r, here parallel with a)pau/gasma, literally means “engraving” or “imprint”, something cut or stamped into a surface. Sometimes the related motif of a seal (sfra/gi$) is employed, to express the idea of a Divine image (ei)kw/n) being imprinted. Again, this reflects Wisdom traditions, and Philo uses this imagery a number of times (On the Creation §25; The Worse Attacks the Better §§83, 86; On Flight and Finding §12; The Work of Planting §18), i.e. for the imprinting of the Divine image upon the mind. Like a)pau/gasma, the noun xarakth/r occurs only here in the New Testament; however, Paul uses the common noun ei)kw/n (“image”), in a similar Christological sense, in 2 Cor 4:4 and Col 1:15, the latter being closer to the thought and wording of Hebrews. The noun u(po/stasi$ (occurring 5 times in the New Testament, including 3 in Hebrews [3:14; 11:1]) literally means that which “stands under”, and is a technical philosophical and scientific term for the “substance” or “essence” of something, or that which underlies a particular phenomenon. Thus, the Son is an imprint of God’s essential nature and identity, which is very much built into the idea of the Son as reflection of the Father. Cf. Attridge, pp. 42-5.

The second 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. This 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 remainder of vv. 3-4 more properly follows the older conception of Jesus as the Son–that is, in terms of his death, resurrection, and exaltation to the right hand of God the Father in heaven. Verse 3b summarizes this concisely:

“(hav)ing made cleansing of sins, he sat on the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Greatness in high (place)s”

Interestingly, the actual death and resurrection of Jesus, so central to the early Gospel preaching, is not even stated, but simply taken for granted. The author moves from the atoning/saving aspect of Jesus’ work straight to his exaltation. In some ways, this reflects the unique theological emphasis in the letter, focusing on the work of Jesus as a fulfillment of the priestly office. The closing lines in verse 4 build upon the idea of the Son’s superiority (over the Angels), again expressed in terms of his exaltation after his death. The language and thought, in this respect, is quite similar to that of the Christ-hymn in Philippians (2:9-11).

It is at this point that the author introduces the citation of Psalm 2:7 (along with 2 Sam 7:14):

“For to who among the Messengers did He ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have caused you to be (born)’, and again: ‘I will be unto a Father for him, and he will be unto a Son for me’?” (v. 5)

Inclusion of 2 Sam 7:14 confirms the Messianic context of the birth/sonship motif in Psalm 2:7. As we have seen, this originally applied to the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, and, in particular, his death and resurrection. In this he was to be recognized as God’s Son, but still in the figurative sense that the Messianic interpretation would have entailed. Now, however, a deeper Christological meaning has been given to it, since Jesus is now seen as God’s Son from before the beginning of Creation. This also gives to all the birth and sonship images a new depth, as the author continues in verse 6:

“And, again, when He brought His first-formed (child) into the inhabited (world), He says: ‘And all the Messengers of God must kiss toward [i.e. worship] him’.”

The citation presumably comes from Deut 32:43 LXX, but it is the wording used to frame the citation that is especially significant. It refers to the Son’s incarnation, or coming into the world of human beings (cp. John 1:9ff, 14). But here the context makes quite clear two important points about Jesus as God’s Son: (1) he is God’s “firstborn” child prior to the incarnation, and (2) the citation of Psalm 2:7 (and 2 Sam 7:14) also applies to his sonship prior to the incarnation. This represents a genuine development in early Christian belief regarding the “birth” and sonship of Jesus, one quite similar with what we find in the Gospel of John. This will be examined in the next daily note (on John 1:12-13 and 14); here, it remains to consider again how the author of Hebrews frames this dual aspect of Jesus’ sonship—the ‘older’ aspect of his resurrection/exaltation, and the ‘newer’ aspect of his pre-existent deity. Chapter 1 closes with a pair of Scripture quotations (from the Psalms) applied to Jesus as the Son. It is part of the running comparison between the Son and the other heavenly beings (Angels):

“And toward the Messengers He says (v. 7)… But toward the Son (He says, v. 8)…”

The first passage, from Psalm 45:6-7, alludes to the exaltation of Jesus, of his being raised (as Son) to the throne of God; the second passage (Psalm 102:25-27), by contrast, implies the Son’s pre-existence, with its Creation-setting: “You, Lord, down at (the) beginning, set (the foundation for) the earth, and the heavens (are) the works of your hands”. In the original Psalm, of course, the “Lord” (ku/rio$) is YHWH, but here it is meant to apply more properly to Jesus, based on the common dual-use of ku/rio$ among early Christians. The final citation of Psalm 110:1 (v. 13), a Messianic passage at least as important as Psalm 2:7 (compare Acts 2:34-35 with 13:32-33), demonstrates again how the early Christian understanding of Jesus as the Son of God has been transformed in the light of the growing Christological awareness. In Acts 2, this Scripture is interpreted in terms of Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation, while here in Hebrews it has an altogether new and deeper meaning—one which combines the exaltation motif with divine pre-existence.

References above marked “Attridge” are to Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1989).