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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Hebrews 1

 

 

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Verse 1

Hebrews 1:1. In sonorous and dignified terms the writer abruptly makes his first great affirmation: “God having spoken … spoke”. θεὸς λαλήσαςἐλάλησεν, for, however contrasted, previous revelations proceeded from the same source and are one in design and in general character with that which is final. In the N.T. λαλεῖν is not used in a disparaging sense, but, especially in this Epistle, is used of God making known His will. See Hebrews 2:2, Hebrews 3:5, Hebrews 5:5, etc. God spoke, desired to be understood, to come into communication with men and therefore uttered Himself in intelligible forms, and succeeded, all through the past, in making Himself and His will known to men. He had not kept silence, allowing men to feel after Him if haply they might find Him. He had met the outstretched hand and guided the seeker. And this “speaking” in the past was preparatory to the final speaking in Christ; “God having spoken … spoke”. The earlier revelations were the preparation for the later but were distinguished from it in four particulars—in the time, in the recipients, in the agents, in the manner.

πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως “in many parts and in many ways”. The alliteration is characteristic of the author, cf. Hebrews 5:8, Hebrews 5:14, Hebrews 7:3, Hebrews 9:10, etc. For the use of the words in Greek authors see Wetstein. πολυμερῶς points to the fragmentary character of former revelations. They were given piece-meal, bit by bit, part by part, as the people needed and were able to receive them. The revelation of God was essentially progressive; all was not disclosed at once, because all could not at once be understood. One aspect of God’s nature, one element in His purposes, reflected from the conditions of their time, the prophets could know; but in the nature of things it was impossible they should know the whole. They were like men listening to a clock striking, always getting nearer the truth but obliged to wait till the whole was heard. Man can only know in part, ἐκ μέρους, 1 Corinthians 13. [A fine illustration will be found in Browning’s Cleon, in lines beginning: “those divine men of old time have reached, thou sayest well, each at one point the outside verge,” etc.] The “speaking” of God to the fathers was conditioned by the capacity of the prophets. His speaking was also πολυτρόπως [cf. Odyss. i. 1. ανδρα μοι ἔννεπε, ΄οῦσα, f1πολύτροπον] not in one stereotyped manner but in modes varying with the message, the messenger, and those to whom the word is sent. Sometimes, therefore, God spoke by an institution, sometimes by parable, sometimes in a psalm, sometimes in an act of righteous indignation. For, as Peake says, “the author is speaking not of the forms in which God spoke to the prophets, but of the modes in which He spoke through them to the fathers. The message took the form of law or prophecy, of history or psalm; now it was given in signs, now in types.” So Hofmann. These features of previous revelations, so prominently set and expressed so grandiloquently, cannot have been meant to disparage them, rather to bring into view their affluence and pliability and many-sided application to the growing receptivity and varying needs of men. He wins his readers by suggesting the grandeur of past revelations. But it is at the same time true, as Calvin remarks, “varietatem fuisse imperfectionis notam”. So Bengel, “Ipsa prophetarum multitudo indicat, eos ex parte prophetasse”. These characteristics, while they encouragingly disclosed God’s purpose to find His way to men, did yet discredit, as inadequate for perfect achievement, each method that was tried. The contrast in the new revelation is implied in the word ἐκάθισεν, indicating that the work was once for all accomplished.

The next note of previous revelations is found in πάλαι “of old,” not merely “in time past” as A.V.; marking the time referred to in λαλήσας as contrasted with the writer’s present, and gently suggesting that other methods of speaking might now be appropriate. Already in 2 Corinthians 3:14 the Mosaic covenant is spoken of as παλαιὰ διαθήκη cf. Hebrews 8:13. Here πάλαι is contrasted with ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων, “at the last of these days,” [“Aufs Ende dieser Tage,” Weizsâcker], i.e., in the Messianic time at the close of the period known to the Jews as “this present time or age”. The expression is used in the LXX indifferently with ἐπʼ ἐσχάτων τ. ἡμερῶν or ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις to translate בְאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים (see Isaiah 2:2 Genesis 49:1; Numbers 24:14), which was used to denote either the future indefinitely or the Messianic period, “the latter days” in which all prophecy was to find its fulfilment. Bleek quotes Kimchi as saying: “Ubicunque leguntur ‘Beaharith Hayamim’ ibi sermo est de diebus Messiae”. And Wetstein quotes R. Nachman: “Extremum dierum consensu omnium doctorum sunt Dies Messiae”. It was this Jewish usage which the N.T. writers followed in speaking of their own times as “the last days;” ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου τ. χρόνου (Judges 1:18); ἐπʼ ἐσχάτων τ. ἡμερῶν (2 Peter 3:3); ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου τ. χρόνων (1 Peter 1:20); and in this Epistle, Hebrews 9:26, Christ is said to have appeared ἐπὶ συντελείᾳ τῶν αἰώνων. The first Advent as terminating the old world and introducing the Messianic reign was considered the consummation. The introduction of the word τούτων is suggested by the Jewish division of the world’s course into two periods: “This Age” (Ha-Olam Hazzeh) and The Coming Age (Ha-Olam Habbah). The end of “this age” or “these days” was signalised by the coming of the Messiah, the new revelation in Christ. More effectually than the Jews themselves expected has the Advent of the Messiah antiquated the old world and opened a new period.

The temporal contrast is further marked by the words τοῖς πατράσιν (Hebrews 1:1) and ἡμῖν (Hebrews 1:2). Former revelations had been made to “the fathers,” i.e., of the Jewish people, as in John 7:22; Romans 9:5; Romans 15:8; 2 Peter 3:4. More frequently “our” “your” “their” is added, as in Acts 3:13; Acts 3:25; Luke 6:23. But it is idle to urge, with von Soden, the absence of the pronoun as weighing against the restriction of the term in this place to the Jewish fathers. ἡμῖν “to us” of these last days, of the Christian dispensation.

The determining contrast between the two revelations is found in this, that in the one God spoke ἐν τοῖς προφήταις, while in the other He spoke ἐν υἱῷ. “The prophets” stand here, not for the prophetic writings as in John 6:45; Acts 13:40, etc.; but for all those who had spoken for God, and especially for that great series of men from Abraham and Moses onwards who had been the organs of revelation and were identified with it (cf. the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen). The prep. ἐν is not used in its instrumental sense (cf. Habakkuk 2:1), nor is it = διὰ, it brings God closer to the hearers of the prophetic word, and implies that what the prophets spoke, God spoke. So Hofmann and Weiss. [“Ipse in cordibus eorum dixit quicquid illi foras vel dictis vel factis locuti sunt hominibus,” Herveius.] The full significance of ἐν is seen in ἐν υἱῷ. ἐν υἱῷ without the article must be translated “in a son” or “in one who is a son,” indicating the nature of the person through whom this final revelation was made. The revelation now consisted not merely in what was said [ προφήταις] but in what He was [ υἱός]. This revelation was final because made by one who in all He is and does, reveals the Father. By uttering Himself He expresses God. A Son who can be characteristically designated a son, carries in Himself the Father’s nature and does not need to be instructed in purposes which are also and already His own, nor to be officially commissioned and empowered to do what He cannot help doing. “No man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him” (cf. John 1:18). The whole section on “The Son of God” in Dalman’s Die Worte Jesu should be read in this connection. “Son” is here used in its Messianic reference, as the quotations cited in Hebrews 1:5-6 prove. The attributes ascribed to the Son are at the same time Divine attributes. [So Baur and Pfleiderer. Ménégoz denies this]. The writer apparently experiences no difficulty in attaching to one and the same personality the creating of the world and the dying to cleanse sin.

The Son is described in six particulars which illustrate His supremacy and His fitness to reveal the Father: (1) His destination to universal lordship ( ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων); (2) His agency in creation ( διʼ οὗ ἐποίησεν τ. αἰῶνας); (3) His likeness to God ( ὢν ἀπαύγασμα κ. τ. λ.); (4) His relation to the world) φέρων τὰ πάντα); (5) His redemptive work ( καθαρισμὸνποιησάμενος); (6) His exaltation ( ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ κ. τ. f1λ.). Cf. Vaughan. δν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων “whom He appointed heir of all”. Davidson, Weiss and others understand this of the actual elevation of Christ, on His ascension, to the Lordship of all. [“Dass der Verfasser bei diesen Worten an den erhöhten Christus gedacht habe, halten wir für unzweifelhaft,” Riehm, p. 295]. But the position of the clause in the verse and the subsequent mention of the exaltation in Hebrews 1:3 rather indicate that ἔθηκεν has here its ordinary meaning (see Elsner and Bleek) of “appointed,” and that the reference is to Psalms 2:8 δώσω σοι ἔθνη τὴν κληρονομίαν σου κ. τ. λ., so Hofmann. Through this Son God is to accomplish His purpose. The Son is to reign over all. The writer lifts the thought of the despondent to Christ’s triumph and Lordship. In the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen Christ speaks of Himself as Heir. It is involved in the Sonship; Galatians 4:7. It is not simply possessor but possessor because of a relation to the Supreme. The Father could not be called κληρονόμος. Dalman shows that the 2nd Psalm “deduces from the filial relation of the King of Zion to God, that universal dominion, originally proper to God, is bequeathed to the Son as an inheritance,” Worte Jesu, p. 220, E. Tr. 268. Cf. also Matthew 11:27, πάντα μοι παρεδόθη ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός μου. [Chrysostom says the use of the term brings out two points τὸ τῆς υἱότητος γνήσιον, καὶ τὸ τῆς κυριότητος ἀναπόσπαστον.] The inheritance is not fully entered upon, until it can be said that “the kingdom of the world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ,” Revelation 11:15. Cf. Hebrews 2:8. But by His incarnation He came into touch with men and poured His life into human history, at once claiming and securing His great inheritance.

διʼ οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας “through whom also He made the world,” “per quem fecit et secula” (Vulg.), “durch Welchen er auch die Weltzeiten gemacht hat” (Weizsâcker). “Secula et omnia in iis decurrentia” (Bengel). Weiss thinks it quite improbable that so pure a Greek writer should use αἰῶνας in the rabbinical sense as = “world,” and he believes that the Greek interpreters are right in retaining the meaning “world-periods”. But in Hebrews 11:3 it becomes obvious that this writer could use the word as virtually = κόσμος. “The thought of duration is never wholly lost in the Scripture use of αἰών, though in this place, and in Hebrews 11:3 it is all but effaced” (Vaughan). Cf. Schoettgen and McCaul. The writer perhaps has it in his mind that the significant element in creation is not the mass or magnificence of the material spheres but the evolution of God’s purposes through the ages. The mind staggers in endeavouring to grasp the vastness of the physical universe but much more overwhelming is the thought of those times and ages and aeons through which the purpose of God is gradually unfolding, unhasting and unresting, in the boundless life He has called into being. He who is the end and aim, the heir, of all things is also their creator. The καὶ brings out the propriety of committing all things to the hand that brought them into being. The revealer is the creator, John 1:1-5. He only can guide the universe to its fit end who at first, presumably with wisdom equal to His power, brought it into being. [“Cette idée d’un être celeste chargé de réaliser la pensée créatrice de Dieu est une idée philonienne; elle a pénétré dans le Judaisme sous l’influence de la philosophie grecque” (Ménégoz). It is true that this is a Philonic idea (see numerous passages in Carpzov, Bleek, McCaul and Drummond) but we may also say with Weiss “Die philonischen Aussagen … gehören gar nicht hierher”. Certainly Philo never claimed for a definite historical person the attributes here enumerated.] For the Son’s agency in Creation see John 1:2; Colossians 1:15. Grotius’ rendering “propter Messiam conditum esse mundum” is interesting as illustrating his standpoint, but would require διʼ ὅν.


Verses 1-3

Hebrews 1:1-3. The aim of the writer is to prove that the old Covenant through which God had dealt with the Hebrews is superseded by the New; and this aim he accomplishes in the first place by exhibiting the superiority of the mediator of the new Covenant to all previous mediators. The Epistle holds in literature the place which the Transfiguration holds in the life of Christ. Former mediators give place and Christ is left alone under the voice “Hear ye Him”. With this writer, Jesus is before all else the Mediator of a better Covenant, Hebrews 8:6. But ‘Mediator’ involves the arranging and accomplishing of everything required for the efficacy of the Covenant; the perfect knowledge of the person and purposes of Him who makes the Covenant with men and the communication of this knowledge to them; together with the removal of all obstacles to man’s entrance into the fellowship with God implied by the Covenant. This twofold function is in these first three verses shown to be discharged by Christ. He as Son speaks to men for God and thus supersedes all previous revelations; while, instead of appointing a priest who can only picture a cleansing, and accomplish a ceremonial purity, He becomes Priest and actually cleanses men from sin, and so effects their actual fellowship with God.


Verse 3

Hebrews 1:3. ὃς ἀπαύγασμα.… “Who being effulgence of His glory and express image of His nature.” The relative ὃς finds its antecedent in υἱῳ, its verb in ἐκάθισεν; and the interposed participles prepare for the statement of the main verb by disclosing the fitness of Christ to be the revealer of God, and to make atonement. The two clauses, ὢνφέρων τε, are closely bound together and seem intended to convey the impression that during Christ’s redemptive activity on earth there was no kenosis, but that these Divine attributes lent efficacy to His whole work. [On the difficulty of this conception see Gore’s Bampton Lec., p. 266, and Carpenter’s Essex Hall Lec., p. 87.] ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξηςἀπαύγασμα may mean either what is flashed forth, or what is flashed back: either “ray” or “reflection”. Calvin, Beza, Thayer, Ménégoz prefer the latter meaning. Thus Grotius has, “repercussus divinae majestatis, qualis est solis in nube”. The Greek fathers, on the other hand, uniformly adopt the meaning “effulgence”. Thus Theodoret τὸ γὰρ ἀπαύγασμα καὶ ἐκ τοῦ πυρός ἐστι, καὶ σὺν τῷ πυρί ἐστι· καὶ αἴτιον μὲν ἔχει τὸ πῦρ, ἀχώριστον δέ ἐστι τοῦ πυρόςκαὶ τῷ πυρὶ δὲ ὁμοφυὲς τὸ ἀπαύγασμα: οὐκοῦν καὶ , υἱὸς τῷ πατρί. So in the Nicene Creed φῶς ἐκ φωτός. “The word ‘efflulgence’ seems to mean not rays of light streaming from a body in their connection with that body or as part of it, still less the reflection of these rays caused by their falling upon another body, but rather rays of light coming out from the original body and forming a similar light-body themselves” (Davidson). So Weiss, who says that the “Strahlenglanz ein zweites Wesen erzeugt”. Philo’s use of the word lends colour to this meaning when he says of the human soul breathed into man by God that it was are ἅτε τῆς μακαρίας καὶ τρισμακαρίας φύσεως ἀπαύγασμα. So in India, Chaitanya taught that the human soul was like a ray from the Divine Being; God like a blazing fire and the souls like sparks that spring out of it. In the Arian controversy this designation of the Son was appealed to as proving that He is eternally generated and exists not by an act of the Father’s will but essentially. See Suicer, s.v. As the sun cannot exist or a lamp burn without radiating light, so God is essentially Father and Son. τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ. God’s glory is all that belongs to him as God, and the Son is the effulgence of God’s glory, not only a single ray but as Origen says: ὅλης τῆς δόξης. Therefore the Son cannot but reveal the Father. Calvin says: “Dum igitur audis filium esse splendorem Paternae gloriae, sic apud te cogita, gloriam Patris esse invisibilem, donec in Christo refulgeat”. As completing the thought of these words and bringing out still more emphatically the fitness of the Son to reveal, it is added καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ. χαρακτήρ, as its form indicates, originally meant the cutting agent [ χαράσσειν], the tool or person who engraved. In common use, however, it usurped the place of χάραγμα and denoted the impress or mark made by the graving tool, especially the mark upon a coin which determined its value; hence, any distinguishing mark, identifying a thing or person, character. “Express image” translates it well. The mark left on wax or metal is the “express image” of the seal or stamp. It is a reproduction of each characteristic feature of the original. ὑποστάσεως rendered “person” in A.V.; “substance,” the strict etymological equivalent, in R.V. To the English ear, perhaps, “nature” or “essence” better conveys the meaning. It has not the strict meaning it afterwards acquired in Christian theology, but denotes all that from which the glory springs and with which indeed it is identical. [We must not confound the δόξα with the ἀπαύγασμα as Hofmann and others do. The ὑπόστασις is the nature, the δόξα its quality, the ἀπαύγασμα its manifestation.] There is in the Father nothing which is not reproduced in the Son, save the relation of Father to Son. Menegoz objects that though a mirror perfectly reflects the object before it and the wax bears the very image of the seal, the mirror and the wax have not the same nature as that which they represent. And Philo more than once speaks of man’s rational nature as τύπος τις καὶ χαρακτὴρ θείας δυνάμεως, and the ἀπαύγασμα of that blessed nature, see Quod deter, insid., c. xxiii.; De Opif. Mundi, c. li. All that he means by this is, that man is made in God’s image. But while no doubt the primary significance of the terms used by the writer to the Hebrews is to affirm the fitness of Christ to reveal God, the accompanying expressions, in which Divine attributes are ascribed to Him, prove that this fitness to reveal was based upon community of nature. The two clauses, ὂς to αὐτοῦ, have frequently been accepted as exhibiting the Trinitarian versus the Arian and Sabellian positions; the Sabellians accepting the ἀπαύγασμα as representing their view of the modal manifestation of Godhead, the Arians finding it possible to accept the second clause, but neither party willing to accept both clauses—separate or individual existence of the Son being found in the figure of the seal, while identity of nature seemed to be affirmed in ἀπαύγασμα. [ ὑπόστασις was derived from the Stoics who used it as the equivalent of οὐσία, that which formed the essential substratum, τὸ ὑποκείμενον, of all qualities. The Greek fathers, however, understood by it what they termed πρόσωπον ὁμοούσιον and affirmed that there were in the Godhead three ὑποστάσεις. The Latin fathers translating ὑπόστασις by substantia could not make this affirmation. Hence arose confusion until Gregory Nazianzen pointed out that the difference was one of words not of ideas, and that it was due to the poverty of the Latin language. See Suicer, s.v.; Bleek in loc.; Bigg’s Christian Platonists, p. 164–5; Dean Strong’s Articles in J.T.S. for 1901 on the History of the Theological term Substance; Calvin Inst., i., 13, 2; Loofs’ Leitfaden, p. 109 note and p. 134.]

φέρων τε τὰ πάντα … “and upholding all things by the word of His power”. The meaning of φέρως is seen in such expressions as that of Moses in Numbers 11:14 οὐ δυνήσομαι ἐγὼ μόνος φέρειν πάντα τὸν λαὸν τοῦτον, where the idea of being responsible for their government and guidance is involved. So in Plutarch’s Lucullus, 6, φέρειν τὴν πόλιν of governing the city. In Latin Cicero (pro Flac., 37) reminds his judges “sustinetis rempublicam humeris vestris”. See Bleek. In Rabbinic literature, as Schoettgen shows, God is commonly spoken of as “portans mundum,” the Hebrew word being סָבַל. In Philo, the Logos is the helmsman and pilot of all things (De Cherub.) τῷ ῥήμαι, by the expression of His power, by making His will felt in all created nature. The present, φέρων, seems necessarily to involve that during the whole of His earthly career, this function of upholding nature was being discharged. Probably the clause is inserted not merely to illustrate the dignity of the Son, but to suggest that the whole course of nature and history, when rightly interpreted, reveals the Son and therefore the Father. The responsibility of bringing the world to a praiseworthy issue depends upon Christ, and as contributing to this work His earthly ministry was undertaken. For the notable thing He accomplished as God’s Son, the use He made of his dignity and power, is expressed in the words, καθαρισμὸν τ. ἁμαρτιῶν ποιησάμενος “having accomplished purification of the sins”. This was as essential to the formation of the covenant as the ability rightly to represent God’s mind and will. This itself was the supreme revelation of God, and it was only after accomplishing this He could sit down at God’s right hand as one who had finished the work of mediating the eternal covenant. ποιησάμενος, the mid. voice, supersedes the necessity of διʼ ἑαυτοῦ. The aorist part. implies that the cleansing referred to was a single definite act performed before He sat down, and in some way preparatory to that Exaltation. The word receives explanation in subsequent passages of the Ep. vii. 27, ix. 12–14. καθαρισμός as used in LXX suggests that the cleansing referred to means the removal of guilt and its consciousness. The worshippers were fitted by cleansing to appear before God.

ἐκάθισεν ἐνδεξιᾷ … “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”. ἐκάθισεν seems to denote that the work undertaken by the Son was satisfactorily accomplished; while the sitting down ἐν δεξιᾷ κ. τ. λ. denotes entrance upon a reign. The source of the expression is in Psalms 110:1 (cited Hebrews 5:13) where the Lord says to Messiah κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου, and this not only as introducing Him to the place of security and favour, but also of dignity and power. “The King’s right hand was the place of power and dignity, belonging to the minister of his authority and his justice, and the channel of his mercy, the Mediator in short between him and his people” (Rendall). Cf. Psalms 80:17. In contrast to the ever-growing and never complete revelation to the fathers, which kept the race always waiting for something more sufficing, there came at last that revelation which contained all and achieved all. But the expression not only looks backward in approval of the work done by the Son, but forward to the result of this work in His supremacy over all human affairs. μεγαλωσύνη is ascribed to God in Judges 1:25 and in Deuteronomy 32:3 δότε μεγαλωσύνην τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν. Cf. also Clem., Ep., xvi. Here it is used to denote the sovereign majesty inherent in God (cf. Hebrews 12:2; Mark 14:62). The words ἐν ὑψήλοις are connected by Westcott and Vaughan with ἐκάθισεν. It is better, with Beza and Bleek, to connect them with μεγαλωσύνης, for while in Hebrews 10:12 and Hebrews 12:2, where it is said He sat down on the throne of God, no further designation is needed; in Hebrews 8:1, as here, where it is said that He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty, it is felt that some further designation is needed and ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς is added. No local region is intended, but supreme spiritual influence, mediation between God, the ultimate love, wisdom and sovereignty, and this world. This writer and his contemporary fellow-Christians, had reached the conviction here expressed, partly from Christ’s words and partly from their own experience of His power.


Verses 4-18

Hebrews 1:4 to Hebrews 2:18. The Son and the Angels. Hebrews 1:4, although forming part of the sentence 1–3, introduces a subject which continues to be more or less in view throughout chaps 1 and 2. The exaltation of the Mediator to the right hand of Sovereignty is in keeping with His designation as Son, a designation which marked Him out as superior to the angels. Proof is adduced from the O.T. To this proof, in accordance with the writer’s manner, a resulting admonition is attached, Hebrews 2:1-4. And the remainder of chap. 2 is occupied with an explanation of the reasonableness of the incarnation and the suffering it involved; or, in other words, it is explained why if Christ is really greater than the angels, He had to be made a little lower than they.

τοσούτῳ κρείττων γενόμενος … “having become as much superior to the angels as He has obtained a more excellent name than they”. The form of comparison here used, τοσ.… ὅσῳ is found also, Hebrews 7:20-22, Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 10:25; also in Philo. κρείττων is one of the words most necessary in an Epistle in which comparison is never out of sight. The Son became ( γενόμενος) greater than the angels in virtue of taking His seat at God’s right hand. This exaltation was the result of His earthly work. It is as Mediator of the new revelation, who has cleansed the sinful by His death, that He assumes supremacy. And this is in keeping with and in fulfilment of His obtaining the name of Son. This name κεκληρονόμηκεν, He has obtained, not “von Anfang an” as Bleek and others say, but as Riehm points out, in the O.T. The Messiah, then future, was spoken of as Son; and therefore to the O.T. reference is at once made in proof. The Messianic Sonship no doubt rests upon the Eternal Sonship, but it is not the latter but the former that is here in view.

In support of this statement the writer adduces an abundance of evidence, no fewer than seven passages being cited from the O.T. Before considering these, two preliminary objections may first be removed. (1) To us nothing may seem less in need of proof than that Christ who has indelibly impressed Himself on mankind is superior to the angels who are little more than a picturesque adornment of earthly life. But when this writer lived the angels may be said to have been in possession, whereas Christ had yet to win His inheritance. Moreover, as Schoettgen shows (p. 905) it was usual and needful to make good the proposition, “Messias major est Patriarchis, Mose, et Angelis ministerialibus”. Prof. Odgers, too, has shown (Proceedings of Soc. of Hist. Theol., 1895–6) that quite possibly the writer had in view some Jewish Gnostics who believed that Christ Himself belonged to the angelic creation and had, with the angels, a fluid personality and no proper human nature. In any case it was worth the writer’s while to carry home to the conviction of his contemporaries that a mediation accomplished by one who was tempted and suffered and wrought righteousness, a mediation of an ethical and spiritual kind, must supersede a mediation accomplished by physical marvels and angelic ministries. (2) The passages cited from the Old Testament in proof of Christ’s superiority although their immediate historical application is disregarded, are confidently adduced in accordance with the universal use of Scripture in the writer’s time. But it must not be supposed that these passages are culled at random. With all his contemporaries this writer believed that where statements were made of an Israelitish king or other official in an ideal form not presently realised in those directly addressed or spoken of, these were considered to be Messianic, that is to say, destined to find their fulfilment and realisation in the Messiah. These interpretations of Scripture were the inevitable result of faith in God. The people were sure that God would somehow and at some time fulfil the utmost of His promise.

The first two quotations (Hebrews 1:5) illustrate the giving of the more excellent name; the remaining quotations exhibit the superiority of the Son to angels, or more definitely the supreme rule and imperishable nature of the Son, in contrast to the perishable nature and servile function of the angels.


Verse 5

Hebrews 1:5. τίνι γὰρ εἶπέν ποτε τῶν ἀγγέλων … “For to which of the angels did he ever say My Son art Thou, I this day have begotten Thee?” τίνι to what individual; ποτε in the whole course of history. The angels as a class are called “Sons of Elohim” in the O.T. (Genesis 6:2; Psalms 29:1; Psalms 89:7; Job 1:6). But this was not used in its strict sense but merely as expressive of indefinite greatness, nor was it addressed to any individual. εἶπεν, the subject unexpressed, as is common in citing Scripture (2 Corinthians 6:2; Galatians 3:16; Ephesians 4:8, etc.). Winer and Blass supply θεός, others γραφή. Warfield, who gives the fullest treatment of the subjectless use of λέγει, φησί, and sucb words (Presb. and Ref. Rev., July, 1899) holds that either subject may be supplied, because “under the force of their conception of Scripture as an oracular book it was all one to the N.T. writers whether they said ‘God says’ or ‘Scripture says’.” Here, however, the connection involves that the subject is θεός. The words cited are from Psalms 2:7 and are in verbal agreement with the LXX, which again accurately represents the Hebrew. The psalm was written to celebrate the accession of a King, Solomon or some other; but the writer, seeing in his mind’s eye the ideal King, clothes the new monarch in his robes. The King was called God’s Son on the basis of the promise made to David (2 Samuel 7:14) and quoted in the following clauses: The words ἐγὼ σήμερον γεγέννηκά σε do not seem to add much to the foregoing words, except by emphasising them, according to the ordinary method of Hebrew poetry. σήμερον is evidently intended to mark a special occasion or crisis and cannot allude to the eternal generation of the Son. In its original reference it meant “I have begotten Thee to the kingly dignity”. It is not the beginning of life, but the entrance on office that is indicated by γεγέννηκα, and it is as King the person addressed is God’s Son. Thus Paul, in his address to the Pisidians (Acts 13:33), applies it to the Resurrection of Christ; cf. Romans 1:4. The words, then, find their fulfilment in Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension and sitting down at God’s right hand as Messiah. He was thus proclaimed King, begotten to the royal dignity, and in this sense certainly no angel was ever called God’s Son.

This is more fully illustrated by another passage introduced by the usual καὶ πάλιν (see Hebrews 10:30, and Longinus, De Subl., chap, iv, etc.). ἐγὼ ἔσομαι αὐτῷ εἰς πατέρα …, words spoken in God’s name by Nathan in reference to David’s seed, and conveying to him the assurance that the kings of his dynasty should ever enjoy the favour and protection and inspiration enabling them to rule as God’s representatives. This promise is prior in history to the previous quotation, and is its source; see 2 Samuel 7:14. ἔσομαι εἰς is Hellenistic after a Hebrew model. See Blass, Gram., p. 85.


Verse 6

Hebrews 1:6. ὅταν δὲ πάλιν εἰσαγάγῃ … “And when He shall again have brought the first-begotten into the world [of men], He says, “And let all God’s angels worship Him”. Having shown that “Son” is a designation reserved for the Messiah and not given to any of the angels, the writer now advances a step and adduces a Scripture which shows that the relation of angels to the Messiah is one of worship. It is not easy to determine whether πάλιν merely indicates a fresh quotation (so Bleek, Bruce, etc.) as in Hebrews 1:5; or should be construed with εἰσαγάγῃ. On the whole, the latter is preferable. Both the position of πάλιν and the tense of εἰσαγ. seem to make for this construction. The “bringing in” is still future. Apparently it is to the second Advent reference is made; cf. Hebrews 9:28. To refer εἰσαγ. to the incarnation, with Chrysostom, Calvin, Bengel, Bruce (see esp. Schoettgen); or to the resurrection with Grotius; or to an imagined introduction of the Son to created beings at some past period, with Bleek, is, as Weiss says, “sprachwidrig”. Rendall remarks: “The words bring in have here a legal significance; they denote the introduction of an heir into his inheritance, and are used by the LXX with reference to putting Israel in possession of his own land both in the time of Joshua and at the Restoration (Exodus 6:8; Exodus 15:17; Deuteronomy 30:5).” This throws light not only on εἰσαγ. but also on πρωτότοκον and οἰκουμένην, and confirms the interpretation of the clause as referring to the induction of the first-born into His inheritance, the world of men. πρωτότ. is used of Christ (1) in relation to the other children of Mary (Luke 2:7; Matthew 1:25); (2) in relation to other men (Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:18); (3) in relation to creation (Colossians 1:15). Nowhere else in N.T. is it used absolutely; but cf. Psalms 89:27. “I will make him first-born,” i.e., superior in dignity and closer in intimacy. λέγει, the present is used because the words recorded in Scripture and still unfulfilled are meant. These words, καὶ προσκυνησάτωσαν … occur verbatim in Moses’ song (Deuteronomy 32:43). In the Alexandrian text, from which this writer usually quotes, we find υἱοὶ θεοῦ (v. Swete’s LXX), but in a copy of the song subjoined to the Psalter this MS. itself has ἄγγελοι. The words are not represented in the Hebrew, and are supposed by Delitzsch to have been added in the liturgical use of Moses’ song. The part of the song to which they are attached represents the coming of God to judgment, a fact which further favours the view that it is the second Advent our author has in view.


Verse 7

Hebrews 1:7. καὶ πρὸς μὲν τοὺς ἀγγέλους λέγει.… The πρὸς μὲν of this verse is balanced by πρὸς δὲ in Hebrews 1:8; and in both πρός is to be rendered “with reference to,” or “of” as in Luke 20:19; Romans 10:21; Xen., Mem., iv. 2–15. Cf. Winer, p. 505: and our own expression “speak to such and such a point”. ποιῶν κ. τ. λ. cited from Psalms 104:4, Lünemann and others hold that the Hebrew is wrongly rendered and means “who maketh winds his messengers” not “who maketh His angels winds”. Calvin, too, finds no reference to angels in the words. He believes that in this Hymn of Creation the Psalmist, to illustrate how God is in all nature, says “who maketh the winds his messengers,” i.e., uses for his purposes the apparently wildest of natural forces, and “flaming fire his ministers,” the most rapid, resistless and devouring of agents controlled by the Divine hand. Cf. Shakespeare, “thought-executing fires”. The writer accepts the LXX translation and it serves his purpose of exhibiting that the characteristic function of angels is service, and that their form and appearance depend upon the will of God. This was the current Jewish view. Many of the sayings quoted by Schoettgen and Weber suggest that with some of the Rabbis the belief in angels was little more than a way of expressing their faith in a spiritual, personal power behind the forces of nature. “When they are sent on a mission to earth, they are wind: when they stand before God they are fire.” The angel said to Manoah, “I know not after what image I am made, for God changes us every hour; why, then, dost thou ask after my name? Sometimes He makes us fire, at others wind; sometimes men, at other times angels.” Sometimes they appear to have no individual existence at all, but are merely the light-radiance or halo of God’s glory. “No choir of angels sings God’s praises twice, for each day God creates new hosts which sing His praises and then vanish into the stream of fire from under the throne of His glory whence they came.” Cf. also the Book of Jubilees, ii. 2. “On the first day He created the heavens which are above and the earth and the waters and all the spirits which serve before Him—the angels of the presence, and the angels of sanctification, and the angels of the spirit of the winds, and the angels of the spirit of the clouds, and of darkness, and of snow and of hail, and of hoar frost, and the angels of the voices of the thunder and of the lightning, and the angels of the spirits of cold and of heat, and of winter and of spring, and of autumn and of summer, and of all the spirits of His creatures which are in the heavens and on the earth, the abysses and the darkness, eventide and the light, dawn and day which He hath prepared in the knowledge of His heart.” One thing all these citations serve to bring out is that the angels were merely servants; like the physical forces of nature they were dependent and perishable. In contrast to these qualities are those ascribed to the Son.


Verse 8

Hebrews 1:8. πρὸς δὲ τὸν υἱός …, the quotation being from Psalms 45 in which the King in God’s kingdom is described ideally. The points in the quotation which make it relevant to the writer’s purpose are the ascription of dominion and perpetuity to the Son. The emphatic words, therefore, are θρόνος, εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, ῥάβδος, and παρὰ τοὺς μετόχους σου. It does not matter, therefore, whether we translate “Thy throne is God” or “Thy throne, O God,” for the point here to be affirmed is not that the Messiah is Divine, but that He has a throne and everlasting dominion. Westcott adopts the rendering “God is thy throne,” and compares Psalms 71:3; Isaiah 26:4; Psalms 90:1; Psalms 91:1-2; Deuteronomy 33:27. He thinks it scarcely possible that “God” can be addressed to the King. Vaughan, on the other hand, says: “Evidently a vocative. God is thy throne might possibly have been said (Psalms 46:1): thy throne is God seems an unnatural phrase. And even in its first (human) application the vocative would cause no difficulty (Psalms 82:6; John 10:34-35).” Weiss strongly advocates this construction, and speaks of the other as quite given up. εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τ. f1αἰῶνος, “to the age of the age,” “for ever and ever,” “to all eternity.” Cf. Ephesians 3:21, εἰς πάσας τ. γενεὰς τοῦ αἰῶνος τ. αἰώνων, and the frequent εἰς τ. αἰῶνας τ. αἰώνων. See others in Vaughan or Concordance. “The aim of all these varieties of expression is the same; to heap up masses of time as an approximation to the conception of eternity” (Vaughan). καὶ ῥάβδος τῆς εὐθύτητος ῥάβδος τ. βασιλείας σου. The less strongly attested reading [see notes] gives the better sense: The sceptre of thy kingdom is a sceptre of uprightness. The well-attested reading gives the sense: “The sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of thy kingdom”. The everlasting dominion affirmed in the former clause is now declared to be a righteous rule. An assurance of this is given in the the further statement.


Verse 9

Hebrews 1:9. ἠγάπησας δικαιοσύνην … “Thou lovedst righteousness and didst hate lawlessness, therefore God, thy God, anointed thee with oil of gladness above thy fellows.” The quotation is verbatim from LXX of Psalms 45:8 [the Alexand. text reads ἀδικίαν in place of ἀνομίαν, so that the author used a text not precisely in agreement with that of Cod: Alex. v. Weiss]. The anointing as King is here said to have been the result [ διὰ τοῦτο] of his manifestation of qualities fitting him to rule as God’s representative, namely, love of right and hatred of iniquity. [ ἀνομία is used in 1 John 3:4, as the synonym and definition of ἁμαρτία. ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἀνομία. It is contrasted with δικαιοσύνῃ in 2 Corinthians 6:14, τίς γὰρ μετοχὴ δικαιοσύνῃ καὶ ἀνομίᾳ;] It is the Messiah’s love of righteousness as manifested in His earthly life which entitles Him to sovereignty. θεός is taken as a vocative here, as in Hebrews 1:8, by Lünemann, Weiss and others; and θεός σου as the direct nom. to ἔχρισε. Westcott thinks that the ἔλαιον ἀγαλλ. refers “not to the solemn anointing to royal dignity but to the festive anointing on occasions of rejoicing”. So Alford. Davidson, on the other hand, says: “As Kings were anointed when called to the throne, the phrase means made King”. So, too, Weiss and von Soden. But the psalm is not a coronation ode, but an epithalamium; the epithalamium, indeed, of the ideal King, but still a festive marriage song (Hebrews 1:10-14), to which the festal ἔλαιον ἀγαλ. is appropriate. The oil of exultation is the oil expressive of intense joy (cf. psa 23:15 of the psalm). The only objection to this view is that God is said to be the anointer, but this has its parallel in Psalms 23:5; and throughout Psalms 45. God is considered the originator of the happiness depicted (cf. Psalms 23:2). Whether the marriage rejoicings are here to be applied to the Messiah in terms of Psalms 23:16 and 17 of the psalm is doubtful. The verse is cited probably for the sake of the note of superiority contained in παρὰ τοὺς μετόχους σου. In the psalm the μέτοχοι are hardly other Kings; rather the companions and counsellors of the young King. In the Messianic application they are supposed by Bleek, Pierce, Alford, Davidson, Peake, etc., to be the angels. It seems preferable to keep the term indefinite as indicating generally the supremacy of Christ (cf. Psalms 45:2).—[ παρά “From the sense of (1) beside, parallel to, comes that of (2) in comparison with; and so (3) in advantageous comparison with, more than, beyond”. Vaughan].


Verse 10

Hebrews 1:10. In Hebrews 1:10-12 the writer introduces another quotation from Psalms 102 (in LXX Psalm 101:25–7). The quotation is verbatim from the LXX except that σὺ is lifted from the fifth to the first place in the sentence, for emphasis, and that a second ὡς ἱμάτιον is inserted after αὐτούς in Hebrews 1:12. With the introductory καὶ Weiss understands πρὸς τὸν υἱὸν λέγει, as in Hebrews 1:8. He is also of opinion that the writer considers that the words were spoken by Jehovah and that κύριε, therefore, must be the Messiah. This is possible, but it is not necessary for the justification of the Messianic reference. This follows from the character of the psalm, which predicts the manifestation of Jehovah as the Saviour of His people, even though this may only be in the far future (see Psalms 103:13 : “Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion.… So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, etc.”) Prof. B. W. Bacon of Yale has investigated this matter afresh and finds that, so far from the application of these verses to the Messiah being an audacious innovation, or even achieved, as Calvin says, “pia deflectione,” “the psalm itself was a favourite resort of those who sought in even pre-Christian times for proof-texts of Messianic eschatology”; also that “we have specific evidence of the application of Psalms 102:23-24 to the Messiah by those who employed the Hebrew or some equivalent text” and finally that by the rendering of ענה in Psalms 102:24 (English Psalms 102:23) by respondit or ἀπεκρίθη “we have the explanation of how, in Christian circles at least, the accepted Messianic passage could be made to prove the doctrine that the Messiah is none other than the pre-existent wisdom of Proverbs 8:22-31, “through whom,” according to our author, Hebrews 1:2, “God made the worlds.” Indeed, we shall not be going too far if with Bruce we say: “It is possible that the writer (of Heb.) regarded this text (Psalms 102:25-27) as Messianic because in his mind creation was the work of the pre-existent Christ. But it is equally possible that he ascribed creative agency to Christ out of regard to this and other similar texts believed to be Messianic on other grounds.” See Preuschen’s Zeitschrift für N.T. Wissenschaft, 1902, p. 280.

In Hebrews 1:13-14, we have the final contrast between the place of the Son and that of the angels in human redemptive history. This contrast is connected by the form of its statement with Hebrews 1:5 (“to which of the angels, etc.”). There it was the greater name that was in question, here it is the higher station and function. πρὸς τίνα δὲ κ. τ. λ. “But to which of the angels has He at any time said …?” implying that to the Son He has said it, as is proved by the citation from Psalms 110. On this psalm (see note on Hebrews 1:9). δὲ connects this ver. with Hebrews 1:8, and stands in the third place as frequently in classics when a preposition begins the sentence (Herod., viii., 68, 2; Thuc., i., 6; Soph., Philoct., 764. See examples in Klotz’ Devarius, p. 379). κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου, see Hebrews 1:3; ἐκ δεξ. is not classical, but frequent in Hellenistic Greek, see references, ἕως ἂν θῶ.… “Until I set thine enemies as a footstool for thy feet.” ὑποπόδιον is a later Greek word used in LXX and N.T. The figure arose from the custom of conquerors referred to in Joshua 10:24. Here it points to the complete supremacy of Christ. This attained sovereignty is the gauge of the World’s consummation. The horizon of human history is the perfected rule of Jesus Christ. It is the end for which all things are now making. Whereas the angels are but the agents whose instrumentality is used by. God for the furtherance of this end. οὐχὶ πάντες εἰσὶ λειτουργικὰ πνεὐματα.… “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” They have no function of rule, but are directed by a higher will to promote the interests of those who are to form Christ’s kingdom. This is true of all of them [ πάντες] whatever hierarchies there be among them. λειτουργικὰ, cf. Hebrews 5:5. λειτουργός with its cognates has come to play a large part in ecclesiastical language. It is originally “a public servant”; from λεῖτος, an unused adjective connected with λαός, meaning “what belongs to the people” and ἔργον. It occurs frequently in LXX, sometimes denoting the official who attends on a king (Joshua 1:1), sometimes angels (Psalms 103:21), commonly the priests and Levites (Nehemiah 10:39), οἱ ἱερεῖς οἱ λειτουργοί, and Isaiah 61:6. In N.T. it is used of those who render service to God or to Christ or to men (cf. Lepine’s Ministers of Jesus Christ, p. 126). εἰς διακονίαν ἀποστελλόμενα, present part., denoting continuous action. “Sent forth”; therefore as servants by a higher power (cf. Acts 1:25, διακονίας ταύτης κ. ἀποστολῆς). διακονία originally means the ministry of a body servant or table servant (cf. Luke 4:39; Mark 1:13, οἱ ἄγγελοι διηκόνουν αὐτῷ) and is used throughout N.T. for ministry in spiritual things. μέλλοντας might almost be rendered “destined” as in Matthew 3:7; Matthew 11:14; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 17:12, etc. κληρονομεῖν, see on Hebrews 1:4. σωτηρίαν in the classics means either preservation or deliverance. In N.T. the word naturally came to be used as the semi-technical term for the deliverance from sin and entrance into permanent wellbeing effected by Christ. See Luke 1:71; Luke 1:77; John 4:22; Acts 4:12; Acts 16:17; Romans 1:16, etc. In Hebrews 2:3 the salvation referred to is termed τηλικαύτη. Cf. Hooker’s outburst, Eccles. Pol., i., iv., 1, and Sir Oliver Lodge (Hibbert Journal, Jan., 1903, p. 223): “If we are open to influence from each other by non-corporeal methods, may we not be open to influence from beings in another region or of another order? And if so, may we not be aided, inspired, guided by a cloud of witnesses—not witnesses only, but helpers, agents like ourselves of the immanent God?” On guardian angels, see Charles’ Book of Jubilees, Moulton in J. T. S., August 1902, and Rogers’ edition of Aristoph., Eccles., 999, and the Orphic Fragment quoted by Clement (Strom., v.) σῷ δὲ θρόνῳ πυρόεντι παρεστᾶσιν πολυμόχθοι ἄγγελοι οἷσι μέμηλε βροτοῖς ὡς πάντα τελεῖται. Cf. Shakespeare’s “Angels and ministers of grace defend us”.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Hebrews 1:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/hebrews-1.html. 1897-1910.


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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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