Notes on Prayer: John 17:24-26

John 17:24-26

With verses 24-26 we come to the end of our study of the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17. These verses conclude the exposition section that makes up the body of the Prayer (in relation to the Discourse-format), as well as the Prayer itself. It contains most of the key words and ideas found throughout the chapter, serving as a summary of the theology expressed therein. It also forms an inclusio with the first portion of the Prayer, with the dual address to God the Father; note the parallel:

    • “Father” / “Holy Father” (vv. 1, 11)
    • “Father” / “Just/Righteous Father” (vv. 24-25)

In particular, the address in verse 11b (“Holy Father… [pa/ter a%gie]”) marks the beginning of the exposition, which is bracketed here in vv. 24ff. There is a formal parallel between v. 11b and verse 24 (note the italicized portion):

“Holy Father, may you keep watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, that they would be one just as we (are).” (v. 11b)

Father, (that) which you have given to me, I wish that, where(ever) I am, they also would be with me…” (v. 24a)

A principal theme in the Prayer is the idea that God the Father has given (vb. di/dwmi, in the perfect). This verbal expression has two points of reference, and there is a play between them:

    • The Father has given his (own Divine) name, glory, etc, to the Son
    • The Father has given the disciples (i.e. believers, the Elect) to the Son

Verse 24 again contains both aspects:

“Father, (that) which you have given [de/dwka$] to me, I wish that, where(ever) I am, they also would be with me, (so) that they would look (upon) my honor which you have given [de/dwka$] to me, (in) that you loved me before the casting-down of the world.”

The parallel is precise, differing only in the gender of the relative pronoun:

    • “which [neut.] you have given to me” (o^ de/dwka/$ moi)
    • “which [fem.] you have given to me” (h^n de/dwka/$ moi)

The use of the neuter pronoun seems to have caused some difficulty for early copyists, as it was widely changed to the masculine plural ou%$, so as to agree with the subject “they” (i.e. disciples/believers). The neuter actually refers back to the beginning of the Prayer, in verse 2:

“…just as you gave him [i.e. the Son] authority over all flesh, (so) that, (for) all which you have given to him, he would give to them (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”

Compare the italicized phrase with that in v. 24:

    • “all which you have given to him” (pa=n o^ de/dwka/$ au)tw=|)
    • “which you have given to me” (o^ de/dwka/$ au)tw=|)

Clearly, the neuter pronoun refers to neuter substantive pa=n (“all”)—that is, the disciples (believers) considered as a collective whole, or unity; given the emphasis in vv. 20-23 (cf. the previous study), this is unquestionably the focus here as well. The following phrases in vv. 2 and 24 also match, and are more or less synonymous:

    • “(that) he [i.e. the Son] would give to them (the) Life of the Age”
    • “that where I am, they also would be with me”

In other words, to be with Jesus (the Son) is the same as possessing eternal life. More to the point, this is expressed in verse 24 by a subjunctive form (w@sin) of the verb of being (ei)mi); this is obscured somewhat in English translation, but is clear and vivid if we examine the conditional clause in the Greek:

i%na o%pou ei)mi e)gw\ ka)kei=noi w@sin met’ e)mou=
“that where I am, they also would be with me”

Note the structure, presented as concentric pairs:

    • o%pou (“where [I am]”)
      • ei)mi (“I am”)
        • e)gw/ (“I”)
        • ka)kei=noi (“they also”)
      • w@sin (“they would be”)
    • met’ e)mou= (“with me”)

The indicative statement by Jesus (e)gw\ ei)mi, “I am”) has special significance in the Gospel of John, being used (by Jesus) repeatedly to express his identity (as the Son) and relationship to God (the Father). Here, in the closing portions of the Prayer, Jesus’ desire is that all believers would share in the same divine identity/relationship which he has with the Father; this is the very point made throughout vv. 20-23 (and again in vv. 25-26, cf. below), and gives equal significance to the subjunctive w@sin (“they would be”, used also in vv. 19, 21-23): that believers “would be” what Jesus “is”. In this regard, a point should be made on the coordinating particle o%pou, which itself functions as a relative pronoun; though difficult to render exactly in English, it is something like “a certain (place) in which”, and may be translated fairly as “where” or “wherever”. It is an ordinary enough word, but it comes to have a special theological (and Christological) meaning in the Gospel of John, taking on this significance in the second half of the book. This “where” or “place in which” refers consistently to Jesus’ return back to the Father, and, as such, effectively confirms his identity as the (pre-existent) Son of God. The first occurrence of this usage is in the great Sukkoth discourse of chapters 7-8, where it appears in two related declarations by Jesus (each of which is repeated):

    • where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\], you are not able to come (there)” (7:34, 36)
    • where I go under [o%pou e)gw\ u(pa/gw], you are not able to come (there)” (8:21-22)

These statements are given to the public at large (and to Jesus’ opponents), but in the Last Discourse, he essentially re-states them for his disciples:

    • where I go under [o%pou e)gw\ u(pa/gw], you are not able to come (there)” (13:33, 36)

Jesus’ departure (vb. u(pa/gw, “lead/go under”, i.e. go away, withdraw, go back) encompasses both his death and final return to the Father. In 13:33, 36, the former is in view, while it is the latter in 14:3-4:

    • “…that where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\], you also may be.
      And where I go under [o%pou e)gw\ u(pa/gw], you see [i.e. know] the way (there).”

Before the Last Discourse, the disciples (represented by Peter, 13:36ff) are unable to come to the place where Jesus is (with the Father), but the promise is that they will be able to, and much of the Last Discourse is centered on this revelatory point. The declaration in 14:4, that the disciples “see/know the way (there)”, leads to the revelation that Jesus himself is the way (o(do/$) to the Father (v. 6). In this light, let us compare three key statements where the particle o%pou is used:

    • 12:26: “If any (one) would serve me, he must follow me, and (then) where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\] my servant also will be.”
    • 14:3: “If I travel (away) and make ready a place for you, I will…take you along toward me (myself), (so) that where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\] you also may be.”
    • 17:24: “Father…I wish [i.e. it is my will] that, where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\] they also would be with me”

The statements are similar, both in form and meaning, but they reflect a development of thought within the (narrative) context of the Gospel:

    • 12:26—Believers (the Elect) coming to be disciples of Jesus
    • 14:3—The Departure of Jesus (the Son), which allows his disciples (believers) to come along (with him) to the Father
    • 17:24—The essential identity (and unity) of Believers (all Believers), that they/we will ultimately be with Jesus, together with the Father

We move from (1) being/becoming disciples, to (2) the eschatological promise of our presence (with Jesus) in heaven, and finally (3) of our fundamental union with Christ. The purpose of our being with Jesus is expressed in the second half of verse 24:

“…that they would look (upon) [qewrw=sin] my honor [do/ca] which you have given to me”

The verb qewre/w, which can have the sense of “look with wonder (at), behold” (sometimes in a religious setting), is relatively frequent in the Gospel of John, occurring 24 times, and often in the context of believers trusting in Jesus and coming to knowledge of the truth (6:40, 62; 12:45), which involves a recognition of who Jesus truly is. It is especially important in the Last Discourse (14:17, 19; 16:10, 16-17, 19), where it expresses two themes of contrast:

    • The disciples soon will not see Jesus any more (on earth), but will soon see him again; this theme has two primary aspects:
      (1) they will see him again after his death (resurrection appearances)
      (2) they will see him again after his departure to the Father (presence of the Spirit/Paraclete)
    • The disciples can see/recognize Jesus, but the world cannot

Both of these themes continue on, in various ways, within the chapter 17 Prayer-Discourse, especially the contrast between believers and the world. The ability to “see” or “look upon” Jesus, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, means to recognize (and trust in) his identity as Son of God, as the one sent by the Father. This identity includes the idea of divine pre-existence, indicated earlier in verse 5, and again here. Evidence for belief in Jesus’ pre-existence is actually quite rare in the New Testament, in spite of its importance for orthodox Christology. The belief, however, is clear and unmistakable in the Gospel of John, being affirmed (in majestic terms) in the Prologue (1:1ff), and again at various points throughout the Gospel. Jesus’ departure means a return to the Father, back the place where he was in the beginning, before the world was created. Note this point made, at both the start and end of the Prayer, in terms of (1) the do/ca (“honor, splendor”) Jesus shares with the Father, and (2) in relation to the world (ko/smo$):

    • “the honor/splendor which I held alongside of you before the (com)ing to be of the world” (v. 5)
    • “my honor/splendor which you have given to me, (in) that you loved me before the casting-down [katabolh=$, i.e. founding] of the world” (v. 24)

The (dualistic) contrast between Jesus and the world is fundamentally based on his pre-existence, his eternal identity as God’s Son—he comes from above, sent by the Father to the world below. It is for this reason that the world is unable to see (recognize) or hear (accept) him; only the Elect/Chosen ones (believers) are able to see and hear. They recognize his identity as Son (and thus see the Father), but remain unable to perceive this divine honor/splendor in its fullness; it will only become manifest when they/we are finally with Jesus (in heaven) with God the Father.

Verses 25-26, even more than v. 24, bring together all of themes and motifs of the Prayer—and, indeed, the Discourses of Jesus as a whole—and deserve an extended discussion in their own right. I will be posting this, as a supplement, later this week.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:1-5 (continued)

John 17:1-5, continued

Last week, I began a discussion on the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17, looking at verse 1 in some detail. Today I wish to continue on with an examination of the remainder of verses 1-5.

Of particular importance is the use of the verb doca/zw, both in verse 1 and again in vv. 4-5 (and v. 10); the related noun do/ca also occurs several times in the chapter (at the beginning and end, vv. 5, 22, 24). Both words are an important part of the vocabulary of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus, especially the verb which is used 23 times (out of 61 total in the New Testament)—7:39; 8:54 (2); 11:4; 12:16, 23, 28 (3); 13:31 (2), 32 (3); 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1 (2), 4, 5, 10; 21:19. There are also 19 occurrences of the noun do/ca1:14 (2); 2:11; 5:41, 44 (2); 7:18 (2); 8:50, 54; 9:24; 11:4, 40; 12:41, 43 (2); 17:5, 22, 24. Unfortunately, it is not easy to give a (consistent) literal translation in English for either verb or noun, as they can differ in meaning and nuance depending on the context, and, in particular, whether the subject/object involves human beings or God (or Christ). While do/ca is typically translated “glory”, in many instances a much better rendering is “esteem”, which more closely captures the fundamental meaning of the word. When used in a religious context, the predominant idea tends to be that human beings are to give to God the esteem and honor which He is due. However, when applied as a divine attribute or characteristic it is better understood in terms of the “splendor” which God possesses, and which surrounds him. In order to capture both aspects, in the special way that the words are used in the Gospel of John, I prefer to translate the verb doca/zw as “give honor (to)”.

There are several key Johannine passages (in the Discourses of Jesus) where the verb is used, sometimes together with the noun, and these need to be considered in order to gain a proper understanding of their usage in chapter 17.

1. Jn 8:50ff. The words are part of the conceptual vocabulary that frames the great Discourse of chapters 7-8 set during the Sukkoth (Booths/Tabernacles) festival in Jerusalem. Thematically, there is a clear symmetric (and chiastic) structure to the discourse-sequence, with the concluding discourse (8:31-59) serving as a parallel to the opening episode (7:14-24). In particular, we may note how the exchange in 8:48-51ff refers back to Jesus’ declaration in 7:18:

“The (one) speaking from himself seeks his own honor/esteem [do/ca]; but the (one) seeking the honor/esteem [do/ca] of the (One) having sent him, this (one) is true and there is not (any) injustice in him.”

The long and increasingly hostile exchange in 8:31-59, sharpens and comes to a climax as Jesus makes the following statement in verse 49, in response to the attack from his opponents that he “has [lit. holds] a daimon“:

“I do not hold a(ny) daimon, but (rather) I honor [timw=] my Father and you treat me without honor [a)tima/zete/ me]!”

This use of the verbs tima/w & a)tima/zw demonstrate how close in meaning the noun timh/ (“value, worth”, often in the sense of “honor”) is to do/ca (“esteem/honor”), especially in this context. Jesus follows in verse 50 with the language of 7:18, using the noun do/ca:

“And I do not seek my own esteem/honor [do/ca]—(but) there is there is the (One) seeking (it)…”

Here we find the same reciprocity (between Father and Son) as we have in 17:1ff—Jesus (the Son) seeks the honor of God the Father, and the Father seeks the Son’s honor. This raises an interesting point regarding the syntax of verses 1-5 and the use of the particle i%na (discussed below).

2. Jn 11:4, 40. In the Lazarus scene, the entire episode—the death of Lazarus and his subsequent resurrection—is for the declared purpose of giving honor/esteem (do/ca) to Jesus; and this, not simply due to the fact that he works a great miracle, but for what it indicates (as a sign) regarding Jesus’ true identity. The purpose is stated by Jesus, to his disciples (and to the readers as well) in the opening portion of the narrative (verse 4):

“This lack of strength [i.e. weakness/illness] is not toward death, but (instead it is) under the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God, so (that) the Son of God might be given honor [docasqh=|] through it.”

In other words, the illness (and death) of Lazarus is under the control of the do/ca of God and serves that divine purpose. The association of do/ca/doca/zw with resurrection here emphasizes again the difference between Jesus’ prayer in 17:1ff and the similar prayer-language used during the Synoptic garden scene (discussed in last week’s study). The “hour” in 17:1 is not that of Jesus’ Passion (his suffering and death) alone, but instead points more directly toward his subsequent resurrection and return to the Father, just as Lazarus’ moment of suffering does not point toward physical death alone, but to the resurrection power possessed by Jesus as God’s Son. The moment of Lazarus’ own resurrection confirms the point (11:40): “Yeshua says to her [i.e. Martha], ‘Did I not say to you that, if you would trust, you will see the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God?'”.

3. Jn 12:23, 28, 41, 43. The portion of the Gospel of John spanning chapters 2-12 forms a clear division in the narrative (sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”), covering the period of Jesus’ public ministry, and comprised of a combination of miracles by Jesus (and other “signs”) and related discourses in which the signs (together with their true meaning) are explained. The words do/ca/doca/zw feature prominently in the concluding scenes of the “Book of Signs” in chapter 12. We already looked at verses 23 and 28 in last week’s study, as they fit so closely with the language used by Jesus in 17:1ff. To these may be added the important, but often neglected, words of the Gospel writer in verses 41-43. As in the Synoptics, Isaiah 6:10 is cited to explain why many of Jesus’ contemporaries were unwilling (or unable) to accept him as the Messiah. The Gospel writer further states that Isaiah “saw his honor/splendor [do/ca]”, by which the original context (the do/ca of YHWH) is interpreted in terms of Jesus’ divine status as God’s Son. There is a clear echo of 8:56-58 in these words (cf. above on the use of do/ca in 8:50, 54). The failure of people to recognize Jesus’ divine do/ca, is further explained, through a bit of ironic wordplay, by the author in verse 43:

“For they loved the honor/esteem [do/ca] of men more than the honor/esteem [do/ca] of God.”

We must keep this Johannine usage of do/ca & doca/zw in mind as we return to examine 17:1-5. The reciprocal language used by Jesus, indicating the intimate relationship between Father and Son, creates certain ambiguities and tensions in the fabric of the text. This is part of the immense beauty and power of the Johannine discourses of Jesus, but it also creates points of difficulty for the commentator. One example is the use of the conjunctive particle i%na to join together the phrases and clauses of vv. 1-2 into a structure and chain of relation. There are actually three connective particles; let us consider them and how the phrases fit together:

    • “The hour has come—may you give honor to your Son
      • (so) that [i%na] the Son may give honor to you
        • even as [kaqw\$] you gave him e)cousi/a over all flesh
          • (so) that [i%na] (for) all which you have given to him, he might give to them (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

There are two i%na-clauses, both of which are best understood as indicating a purpose or result (i.e. “so that…”). However, the precise relationship between them is not entirely certain. It is possible to view them in more parallel terms, as representing two related results of the Father giving honor to the Son; one might even view this as a chiastic structure:

    • “The hour has come—may you give honor to your Son
      • (so) that [i%na] the Son may give honor to you
        • even as [kaqw\$] you gave him e)cousia over all flesh
      • (so) that [i%na] for all that you have given to him
    • he might give to them—(the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

The sense of reciprocity is perhaps better illustrated in the second (chiastic) structure, and is to be developed by Jesus throughout the Prayer-Discourse. A powerful inter-relationship is established: Father—Son—Believers. As indicated above, the particle i%na in verse 1 is best understood as indicating purpose or result—the Son giving honor to the Father is the result (and end purpose or goal) of the Father giving honor to the Son. However, it is interesting to note that, in the parallel verses 4-5, we find the opposite—that the Father honors the Son as the result of the Son’s work which give honor to the Father. This would allow for the reading of the i%na clause in verse 1 in a causal sense (“in that…”, i.e., “because”). I would maintain that it is, indeed, better to keep to the more natural grammatical sense of i%na indicating purpose/result in verse 1, and to see verses 4-5 as reflecting a reciprocal parallelism with vv. 1-2. This fits with the overall chiastic structure of vv. 1-5, as I noted already last week:

    • The Father gives honor to the Son
      • (so that) the Son may give honor to the Father (v. 1)
        • through the (work) given him by the Father (to complete) (v. 2)
        • the Son has completed the work by him by the Father (v. 4)
      • (and so) the Son has given honor to the Father
    • (thus) the Father will give honor to the Son (v. 5)

It is in vv. 4-5 that we have a clearer indication of the coming death of Jesus, with the use of the verb teleio/w (“[make] complete”). Earlier in the Gospel (4:34; 5:36) the verb seems to refer more generally to Jesus’ ministry work (teaching, healing miracles, etc); but here, in the Johannine context, there can be no doubt that the verb, when used by Jesus in the Discourses, must be understood in a comprehensive sense—Jesus’ work on earth (as the Son), culminating in his sacrificial death. This is confirmed by Jesus’ dying words on the cross (19:28), actually a single word in the Greek: tete/lestai (“it is completed”). The verb takes on a somewhat deeper significance later in the Prayer-Discourse (v. 23), when Jesus uses it to refer to the unity that his work achieves for believers, uniting them/us together with Father and Son through the presence of the Spirit. This will be discussed later in these notes on John 17.

Looking at verses 1-5 as a whole, again, it  must be stated that the death of Jesus is not what is primarily in view, despite the general Passion setting and the use of the verb teleio/w in verse 4 (see above). His sacrificial death certainly represents the climax and completion of his work on earth; however, it is this work, taken as a whole, and as a reflection of the relationship between Father and Son, which is the main emphasis in chapter 17 (and, one may say, in the Last Discourse itself). If there were any doubt on this point, we would simply turn to the declaration in verse 3, which stands at the heart of verses 1-5. Many commentators regard this statement, not as the words of Jesus, but as an explanatory aside (comment) by the Gospel writer. This seems likely given the particular formulation, which sounds very much like an early Christian creedal formula, and, indeed, is similar in many ways to the concluding declaration in 20:31. While the objective statement in verse 3 may be, theologically speaking, a bit too precise to fit the historical context of the narrative, it is vital for what it reveals about the identity of Jesus. I discuss this verse in considerable detail in a separate series on the use of the words “Spirit” (pneu=ma) and “Life” (zwh/) in the Gospel of John (soon to be posted on this site), and will not reproduce that here. The expression “life of the Age” (here h( ai)w/nio$ zwh/), typically translated as “eternal life”, is a key Johannine term, appearing many times in the Discourses of Jesus, but also elsewhere in the Gospel and Letters. Here it is given a precise definition:

“And this is the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]—that they would know you the only true God, and the (one) whom you se(n)t forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

If verse 3 is indeed an explanatory statement by the author, it was triggered by the use of the expression zwh/ ai)w/nio$ at the end of verse 2. The parallel with verse 4 makes clear that the “work” which the Son (Jesus) completes may be understood as the giving of (eternal) Life to all those (believers) whom God the Father has given to him. This point will be discussed in more detail in next week’s study (on verses 6-10).

Finally, it is worth noting the temporal-keyed statement that concludes verse 5; it should be understood as parallel to the initial declaration of v. 1: “the hour has come”. Again, we must make clear that here, in contrast to the Passion-context of the similar Synoptic saying (cf. last week’s study), this “hour” goes beyond the moment of Jesus’ impending suffering and death, to the completion of the Son’s work on earth, which includes his resurrection and return to the Father. This is confirmed by the statement in v. 5b which further describes the honor/splendor (do/ca) the Son is to receive from the Father: “…the honor [do/ca] which I held alongside you before the (coming) to be of the world”. Note again the parallelism:

    • The hour has come
      • May you give honor the Son (v. 1)
      • Now may you give honor to me, Father… (v. 5a)
    • (in the time) before the world (came) to be (v. 5b)

This coming “hour” marks a return to the beginning (1:1ff)—the Son’s return to the Father in Heaven. As Christians, we are so accustomed to thinking, in orthodox terms, of Jesus’ divine pre-existence, that it is easy to forget (or ignore) how rare this idea actually is in the New Testament. It is not to be found at all in the Synoptic Gospels, nor in the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts; it is also quite rare in the Pauline letters (though Paul himself accepted some basic version of the idea), and in the other New Testament letters as well (with the exception of Hebrews). The first generation of Christians appears to have come to a realization of this belief only gradually. While the idea that Jesus, after the resurrection, was exalted to a divine position and status at the right hand of God in Heaven, was widespread, there does not seem to be clear evidence for a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent Deity prior to about 60 A.D. The ‘Christ hymn’ in Philippians 2:6-11 has a descent/ascent conceptual formulation which is generally similar to what we find throughout the Gospel of John. The traditions underlying the Johannine Prologue (1:1-18), and reflected all through the Gospel, probably date from around the same time as the ‘Christ hymn’. One may surmise that it was during the period c. 50-60 A.D. that a distinct belief in Jesus’ pre-existence began to take shape. If it were more widespread by or before this time we would expect to see greater evidence for it throughout the New Testament. In any event, there is no doubt of this belief in the Gospel of John; the pre-existent deity of Jesus is expressed in unmistakable terms, including by Jesus himself in the Discourses. However, the idea is, perhaps, not stated so precisely by Jesus as we find it here in the Prayer-Discourse. The wording in v. 5b seems to hearken back to the opening words of the Gospel (1:1ff). What is unique about the setting in the Prayer-Discourse is the added dimension, developed by Jesus during the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), involving the promise that believers will share in this same glory (do/ca) that the Son has alongside the Father. This will be discussed further in the coming weeks’ studies.

Birth of the Son of God: Hebrews 1:1-4

Today’s note, on the Christmas theme of the “Birth of the Son of God” will look at the ‘birth’ of the Son in terms of divine revelation. I begin with the introduction (exordium) of the Letter to the Hebrews.

Hebrews 1:1-4

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. The author of Hebrews will present the two views side-by-side at a number of points in the letter (cf. below).

In verses 3-4, the Son is described in greater detail; four elements are stressed in v. 3:

  • Reflection/manifestation of God’s glory and nature (3a)
  • Role in creating/sustaining the universe—”by the utterance of his power” (3b)
  • Salvific work—priestly cleansing of sin (by way of sacrifice, i.e. his death) (3c)
  • Exaltation to the right hand of God (3d)

The outer elements (first and last) indicate the Son’s divine/heavenly status, the inner elements (second and third) parallel creation and incarnation (Christ’s work in both). This is the sort of chiastic conceptual framework—

    • pre-existence
      —incarnation
    • exaltation

which the author of Hebrews makes use of elsewhere (2:8-13, cf. also the famous Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11). In verse 4, Christ’s divine/heavenly status is emphasized—that it is greater than that of other heavenly beings (“angels”). This superiority is understood in terms of the name that he has inherited (cf. Phil 2:9ff), which, though not specified here, is best identified with ku/rio$ (“Lord”), the conventional rendering of the divine name YHWH.

There can be little doubt that Sonship (i.e. Son of God) here is defined in the context of divine pre-existence—a blending of the Davidic “Messiah” with the concept of a heavenly Redeemer-figure which is also known from Jewish tradition at roughly the same time as the (later) New Testament, such in the Similitudes of Enoch and 4 Ezra (2/4 Esdras). In Hebrews, this is indicated by the citations of Psalm 2:7 and 2 Sam 7:14—both passages given Messianic interpretation—in verse 5. Recall that in Acts 13:32-33ff, Psalm 2:7 is cited in the context of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation—i.e., the Son is “born” following the resurrection. Verse 6, however, shows that the author of Hebrews has a view of Christ that is comparable to the prologue of the Gospel of John (esp. Jn 1:1ff, 9, 14, etc; cf. also Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4; Phil 2:6ff):

  • Christ is already God’s “firstborn” (prwto/tokon)
  • God leads him into the inhabited-world (oi)koume/nh, possibly the heavenly realm of angels in addition to the world of human beings)—ei)$ th\n oi)koume/nhn as parallel to the Johannine ei)$ to\n ko/smon (“into the world”)

As indicated above, the author presents two different Christological portraits, and continues this in vv. 8-12 (citing Scripture):

  • vv. 8-9—in more traditional language of exaltation (citing Psalm 45:6-7)
  • vv. 10-12—of Jesus’ divine status and existence encompassing the beginning and end of creation (citing Psalm 102:25-27, cf. also verse 2b above)

As I have already pointed out, there are a number of similarities with the basic Christology of the author and that presented in the Gospel of John; for more on Jesus as “the Son” in relation to God the Father, see the previous Christmas season note. Elsewhere in the New Testament writings, Jesus as God’s Son is an important theological identification, especially in: (1) Paul’s letters, (2) the first letter of John (par. with the Gospel of John), and (3) here in Hebrews.

  1. Paul’s letters—in the context of
    a) God’s work through Christ, esp. his sacrificial and atoning death: Romans 1:3-4; 5:10; 8:3, 32; Gal 1:16; 2:20; 4:4; 1 Thess 1:10; Col 1:13.
    b) specific association with the Gospel message: Rom 1:9; Gal 1:6
    c) the unity and bond of believers (with Christ, the Spirit): Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 1:9; 2 Cor 1:19; Gal 4:6; Col 1:13, and also Eph 4:13
    Note also 1 Cor 15:28
  2. The letters of John—similarly, along with the Gospel of John:
    a) the union of believers with God and Christ: 1 Jn 1:3; 2:23-24; 3:23; 4:9b, 15; 5:12-13
    b) Christ’s redemptive work: 1 Jn 1:7; 3:8; 4:9-10, 14; 5:11
    c) the identity of Christ: 1 Jn 2:22-23; 4:15a; 5:5, 9-10, 20
  3. Hebrews—in addition to 1:2, 8 we have (context indicated):
    Heb 3:6—role as heir/master of the household, emphasizing his faithfulness
    Heb 4:14; 5:5, 8; 7:3, 28—role as (exalted) High Priest, indicating his sacrificial work; 5:5 cites Ps 2:7 [as in 1:5]; 7:3 has spec. title “Son of God”
    Heb 5:8—his suffering (incarnation and death) and obedience (to the Father)
    Heb 6:6—his death on the cross (spec. title “Son of God” is used)
    Heb 10:29—his holy/sacrificial work, i.e. his death (“blood of the covenant”)
  4. Other passages:
    2 Peter 1:7 (referring to the Transfiguration scene [Mark 9:7 par])
    Revelation 2:18—the message (to Thyatira): “the Son of God relates these (thing)s…”

This last reference to the Son of God speaking brings us back to the first verses of Hebrews—”God spoke…in (the) Son”. How did God speak? We do not find much mention in Hebrews of the things Jesus actually said; the emphasis is rather on: (1) who he is, and (2) what he has done—in classic theological terms, this means the person and work of Christ. God speaks first through the person of Christ, i.e. his (pre-existent) divine status and/or nature as Son, and then through his work—in creation, his sacrificial (and atoning) death, his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of the Father in heaven. Here New Testament Christology reaches perhaps its fullest and most rounded expression—of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.