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5. The Third Pillar of Trinitarianism: Hebrews 1

Chapter 5

The Third Pillar of Trinitarianism: Hebrews 1

Hebrews chapter 1 is what I used to call the third pillar of trinitarianism. Woven into the fabric of the chapter is a catena of quotations from the Old Testament which take up more than half the chapter and are called up for the purpose of demonstrating that Jesus is the promised Messianic king of Israel. No Old Testament text ever speaks of the Messiah as divine, nor is this the intention of Hebrews. Here is Hebrews chapter 1 in full:

Hebrews 1: 1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? 6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.” 8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” 10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” 13 And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (ESV)

 

Hebrews 1:2

To prove the deity of Jesus, trinitarians need to find a verse that speaks of him as the creator of the world. If Jesus is the creator or a co-creator or even an agent of creation, then he is evidently preexistent and divine. The scarcity of such verses in the Bible drives trinitarians towards a search for one. And since such a verse cannot be found, why not just make one up? This statement is not meant as a joke but a point to be taken in all seriousness.

In the last chapter we have seen that “through whom also he created the world” in Hebrews 1:2 can also mean “because of whom also he created the world,” a reading that offers no support for Christ’s preexistence. We now revisit this verse from a different angle and note the four places in ESV’s rendering of this verse that deviate from the Greek text.

We now quote Hebrews 1:2 twice, the first time from ESV and the second time also from ESV but with its four deviations from the Greek text shown in boldface and marked with superscript numbers 1,2,3,4 for reference:

Hebrews 1:2 in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Hebrews 1:2 in these last days he has spoken to us by his1 Son, whom he appointed the2 heir of all things, through whom also he created3 the world4. (ESV)

The last few words of this verse, “through whom also he created the world,” are precisely the reading desired by trinitarianism because it implies that Jesus played a role in the Genesis creation. Yet alarm bells are set off when New Jerusalem Bible says something different: “through whom he made the ages”. Which translation is correct? Here is the verse as it stands in NJB and in the Greek text:

Hebrews 1:2 NJB … in our time, the final days, he (God) has spoken to us in the person of his1 Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the ages.

Hebrews 1:2 NA28ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ, ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων, δι᾽ οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας [aiōnas]

Anyone who can read Greek would immediately know that NJB, not ESV, has the correct translation. In the Greek, the crucial word is the very last one in the verse, namely, aiōnas, a plural of aiōn. [1] In fact the English word “eon” (an age) comes from Greek aiōn via the Latin aeōn.

Whereas ESV has made four alterations to Hebrews 1:2, NJB has made only one. We now list out the four ESV alterations marked above by the four superscript numbers; this will be followed by a more detailed discussion of the fourth alteration.

Alteration #1: In “his Son” of Hebrews 1:2, the word “his” is not found in the Greek, so why does ESV add it? The inclusion of “his” does not make the statement doctrinally incorrect, but why introduce a word into the text which is not there, thereby limiting the meaning of “son”? The fact is that the Scriptures teach that God is “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb.2:10), not just one son.

Alteration #2: Similarly, the word “the” in “the heir” is not in the Greek, so why does ESV add it? What does “the heir” imply but that Jesus is the only heir? What is the reason for imposing on “heir” a limit that is not found in the Bible? Paul says that believers are also heirs: “if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom.8:17).

Alteration #3: The word “made” (preserved in NJB) has been changed by ESV to “created”. The reason for the change is obvious: man can make things but only God can create things. Changing “made” to “created” is a fundamental alteration that implies Jesus is God. The difference in meaning between “make” and “create” is not as pronounced in English as in Greek; but even in English, the statement “I made this bread” (perhaps by baking) would be understood differently from “I created this bread” (which could take one of several possible meanings, including creating bread by a miracle).[2]

Alteration #4: This is a huge alteration which is reflected in the contradictory renderings of NJB (“through whom he made the ages”) and ESV (“through whom also he created the world”). NJB correctly translates tous aiōnas as “the ages” (which is the literal translation [3]) whereas ESV changes it to “the world” to imply that the world was created through Jesus. Interestingly, the exact construction tous aiōnas occurs 29 times in the Greek New Testament, yet ESV never translates it as “the world” except here in Hebrews 1:2!

Lexically, tous aiōnas in Hebrews 1:2 does not mean “the world” but “the ages”. It comes from the plural of aiōn which means “age” (hence the plural “ages”). For English-speaking people, this point is easy to grasp because the English word “eon” is derived from this word aiōn. That aiōn carries the sense of time and ages (as does “eon” in English) is further seen in the fact that eis ton aiōna (or eis tous aiōnas) is the standard Greek expression for “forever” (it occurs 54 times, e.g. 2 John 1:2).

This fact is acknowledged by Thayer and other Greek-English lexicons, yet Thayer tries hard to find a trinitarian circumvention of this fact, through a supposed metonymy.

The word “metonymy” may seem arcane but its concept is easy to grasp. American Heritage Dictionary says that a metonymy is a figure of speech in which a word is substituted for another with which it is closely associated. AHD gives two examples of metonymy: “Washington” stands for the United States government, and “sword” stands for military power.

Thayer’s lexicon (p.19) brings up a non-existent metonymy in order to say that aiōn means “the worlds, the universe” by metonymy. This lexicon seems to be the only one in which this contrived metonymy is found. Its definition of aiōn is correct up to a certain point (by focusing on “age” rather than “world”), that is, until it brings up the metonymy in the last sentence:

1. age, a human lifetime, life itself

2. an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity

1a. universally, forever, Jn.6:51,58; 14:16; Heb.5:6; 6:20, etc.

2. by metonymy of the container for the contained, hoi aiōnes denotes the worlds, the universe, i.e. the aggregate of things contained in time: Heb.1:2; 11:3

Contrary to what Thayer says in the last statement, aiōn is never by metonymy the “container” of the created material universe of Genesis. There is simply no biblical evidence for this alleged metonymy. Not surprisingly, Thayer cites no literary precedent for this unusual meaning. This so-called metonymy was evidently fabricated for trinitarian use. Is this “rightly handling the word of truth” (2Tim.2:15) or is it “distorting the word of God” (2Cor.4:2)?

By contrast, the unabridged 1973 edition of the standard Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ) Greek-English lexicon makes no mention of “world” or “universe” in its definition of aiōn (contra ESV), much less say that aiōn is a container of the world or universe (contra Thayer). The first edition of LSJ was published in 1843, 46 years before the publication of Thayer’s lexicon in 1889. So why did Thayer give an unprecedented definition of aiōn not found in LSJ—which in his time was an established and authoritative lexicon as it still is to this day—without providing any literary evidence for it?

The following is the definition of aiōn (with the Greek transliterated) in the 1996 9th edition of LSJ. It gives no such meaning as “world” or “worlds” (contra ESV), much less any mention of an alleged metonymy.

aiōn, ōnos, ho:-a period of existence:

1. one’s lifetime, life,

2. an age, generation,

3. a long space of time, an age, ap’ aiōnos of old, for ages, N.T.; ton di’ aiōnos chronon, for ever,

4. a definite space of time, an era, epoch, age, period, ho aiōn houtos this present world, opp. to ho mellōn, N.T.:- hence its usage in pl., eis tous aiōnas for ever.

A third Greek-English lexicon, BDAG, on aiōn, classifies Hebrews 1:2 under heading 3 with the definition, “the world as a spatial concept”. But BDAG is not sure of this classification, and admits that “many of these passages (i.e. those just cited by BDAG, including Heb.1:2) may belong under 2”. Heading 2 gives the definition, “a segment of time as a particular unit of history, age,” which agrees with the literal and fundamental meaning of aiōn. In any case, the world created in Genesis is not just “a spatial concept” but also a spiritual concept that points to the new creation. The new creation is vital for understanding Hebrews 1:2 and other verses in Hebrews (e.g. Heb.11:3).

In the Bible, aiōn never refers to the material creation of Genesis. Hence Hebrews 1:2 does not speak of any involvement on Jesus’ part in the Genesis creation of the world. To the contrary, Yahweh’s purpose for His creation is that Christ should be heir of all creation, with his brothers becoming joint heirs with him. That is why the same verse, Heb.1:2, speaks of the Son as the one whom God “appointed heir of all things,” and then immediately goes on to say that it is through Christ that God established the ages (NJB, “through whom he made the ages”; or ITNT, “around him he also formulated the epochs”).

In summary, aiōn does not refer to the material world or universe but to the ages or epochs of human history from Genesis to the end of this age. As we have seen, the English eon comes from Greek aiōn via Latin aeōn.

The two principal ages in salvation history

In what way then is Christ central to the ages? What Hebrews is concerned with is “salvation history”. In the New Testament and in Judaism, salvation history is divided into two principal ages: “this age” and “the age to come”. The two converge on Jesus the Messiah and are mentioned together in Mt.12:32 (“whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come”) and Eph. 1:21 (God placed Christ “above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come”). Yahweh has made Christ the center of the epochs, for Yahweh is the eternal King of “the Ages” (1Tim.1:17, which has the same plural aiōn), fulfilling His plan of salvation for mankind through Christ.

The present age began with Abraham and continues to the present. The age to come began with Jesus the Messiah and will continue up to the fulfillment of all that God has promised. This means an overlap of the two ages, and they will continue to overlap until Jesus comes again (Acts 1:11; Mark 13:26). The overlap of the ages is what makes it possible for us to experience “the powers of the age to come” right now (Heb.6:5). Although “this present age” can be said to have commenced with Abraham, it is equally valid to say that it commenced with Adam’s disobedience. Whichever is the case, this present age will continue “to the end of the age” (Mt.28:20, tēs sunteleias tou aiōnos), concluding with the general resurrection—an awesome display of Yahweh’s life-giving power—and with the final judgment.

In this present age, God performs many wonders such as: the revealing of His Name Yahweh; the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt; the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Sinai; and above all, the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ, followed by his perfection (achieved through suffering), his death, and his resurrection for the salvation of the world.

In the book of Hebrews, the two ages or epochs (this age and the one to come) correspond to the two covenants: the “first covenant” and the “new covenant” (Heb.8:7-8). Hebrews says of the first covenant that “what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (8:13). The new covenant is a “better covenant” (7:22) and spiritual in nature, involving the heart and mind: “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (8:10; 10:16). Jesus accordingly “has been given a ministry as far superior as is the covenant of which he is the mediator, which is founded on better promises” (Heb.8:6, NJB). Hence the new covenant is said to be the “eternal covenant” (13:20).

“Covenant” (diathēkē) is a key word in Hebrews, and occurs far more frequently in Hebrews (14 times) than in any other NT book (the next highest is Galatians, 3 times). The earliest recorded covenant between God and man is the one God made with Noah, by which He promised never again to afflict the world with a flood (Gen.9:9-17).

Of the early covenants, a significant one was the one that Yahweh made with Abraham when he was still called Abram (Gen.15:18); the covenant defined the boundaries of the land that will be given to Israel. Circumcision was the sign of this covenant (Gen.17:10) as it is to this day among the Jews. This covenant later became the basis of God’s covenant with Israel through Moses: “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Ex.2:24; 6:5ff).

The verse we are discussing, Hebrews 1:2, says that Christ was “appointed heir of all things” by God. Here “all things” means much more than the sun and moon and stars, for Christ will reign as Lord over all living things, including and especially men and angels. The term “all things” directs our attention not to the past (the Genesis creation) but to the future (cf. the forward-looking word “heir”).

But before an inheritance can be bestowed in the spiritual realm, the reality of sin, which has put men and angels under bondage, must be dealt with. The sins of the present “evil generation” (Mt.12:45; Lk.11:29) must be atoned for—and reconciliation with Yahweh must be achieved—before one could speak of the Son’s inheritance. By definition, a son inherits from his father what belongs to the father; hence whatever Christ inherits from the Father must, on account of God’s holiness, be pure and holy. Hence the necessity of atoning for man’s sins and his being reconciled with the Father.

 

God made these ages through Christ and with Christ in view. Like the mighty works, wonders and signs that God did “through” Jesus (Acts 2:22), the ages are God’s work through Jesus. [4] The ages are not random or incidental periods of time, for in them God works out His eternal plan of salvation through Christ, just as the signs and wonders which God did through him had the purpose of pointing us to salvation in Christ.

Though man has some degree of freedom to maneuver within segments of time, he cannot control time, and is under time’s control. But it is the opposite with God the Almighty, the Eternal, for He “creates” time (cf. “he made the ages,” Heb.1:2, NJB) and marks out its ages according to His eternal purposes.[5]

The word aiōn has to do with time (cf. eon). To translate it as “world” or “universe” is misleading because “world” has meanings unrelated to time, as seen in any Greek or English dictionary. Yet some translations render aiōn in Heb.1:2 as “world” rather than “age” to say that God created the material world through Jesus, thereby “proving” Jesus’ preexistence.

Hebrews 1:3

Hebrews 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (NIV)

We compare the first part of this verse with two verses from 2 Corinthians 4:

Heb.1:3a        The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being

2Cor.4:6b      the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2Cor.4:4b      the light of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

The latter two verses come from the same Bible passage and are separated by only one verse (v.5). When viewed as a unit, the two verses have clear parallels to Hebrews 1:3a. Because Jesus Christ is “the image of God,” he is “the radiance of God’s glory” that is seen “in the face of Jesus Christ”. See the words in color.

But if Jesus is God as he is in trinitarianism, Hebrews 1:3 would make no sense because the glory he reveals would be primarily his own divine glory. But the glory that shines through the biblical Jesus is God’s glory.

The Greek word charaktēr, translated in Hebrews 1:3 as “representation” (NIV) or “imprint” (ESV), refers to outward, visible form. BDAG defines the word as “an impression that is made, outward aspect, outward appearance, form”. The word form in this definition aligns with the fact that Christ is the “image of God” (2Cor.4:4). Because “representation” and “image” are used of Jesus the perfect man, something significant is revealed: Because of his perfection, Jesus is uniquely the visible image of the invisible God and the exact (perfect) representation of God. The fact that Jesus makes visible the invisible God is the most powerful fulfillment of God’s purpose in creating man, namely, to reveal Himself to man and all creation. God’s self-revelation is the vital first step in communicating with the sentient beings in His creation.

Referring to Christ, Hebrews 1:3 speaks of “sustaining all things by his powerful word,” where “sustaining” translates pherō, a verb with various meanings: lead, bring forward, bear, endure, uphold, carry (e.g. it is used of Jesus carrying the cross, Lk.23:26).

In Hebrews, Jesus and Moses are compared but also contrasted (e.g. Heb.3:3, “Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses”). Hence in the Bible, pherō is used of both Moses and Jesus: Moses “carried” (led, bore with) the people of Israel,[6] and similarly Jesus “carries” the world by “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb.1:3). In Heb.1:3, pherō is a present participle, indicating that Jesus is doing the sustaining now and will continue to do so into the eschatological future. His sustaining of all things does not look back to the distant past or to preexistence or to the material creation, but to the power and authority that come with his exaltation to the highest place at God’s right hand (Heb.1:3). This is not just a seat of honor for Jesus to “rest on his laurels,” sitting back and relishing the greatness of his achievements. With his exaltation comes the authority to rule as Yahweh’s plenipotentiary over His universe, to command “all things” (1:3). Because Jesus has been exalted by God and given a name above every name (Phil.2:9), he is now the “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36), having been given authority over everyone and everything in heaven and on earth with the exception of God Himself (1Cor.15:27), at whose right hand Jesus sits. In this verse, Hebrews 1:3, Yahweh is referred to by the metonym “the Majesty in heaven” (as also in Hebrews 8:1).

Hebrews 1:4-5

Hebrews 1:4 … having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

The words “having become as much superior to angels” would make no sense if applied to the trinitarian God the Son, for if Jesus is God as he is in trinitarianism, then he would be inherently superior to angels. He cannot “become” superior, that is, elevated to superiority over angels, for that would imply prior inferiority. That the writer to the Hebrews could so easily speak of Christ’s “becoming” superior to angels clearly shows that he doesn’t think of Christ as God.

Hebrews 1:5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? (ESV)

The Father-Son relationship was not granted to angels but to the Messianic king (“you are my Son, today I have become your Father,” Ps.2:7); to Solomon (“I have chosen him to be my son,” 1Chr.28:6); and to those in Christ (“in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God,” Gal.3:26). Here are some relevant verses:

Psalm 2:7 I will proclaim the decree of Yahweh: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”

1 Chronicles 22:10 [Solomon] shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever. (also 17:3 and 28:6)

Psalm 89:26 [David] shall cry to me, “You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.”

 

Hebrews 1:6

Hebrews 1:6 When he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” (ESV)

Hebrews 1:6 is probably a concatenation of two OT verses, Ps.97:7 (Ps.96:7 in LXX) and Dt.32:43, in the form as they appear in the LXX (the Greek OT) rather than the Hebrew Scriptures.[7] The exact nature of the concatenation cannot be established with certainty since Heb.1:6 is a free concatenation of a few words from one of the verses, and a few words from the other.

Yet we cannot fail to notice the similarity in wording between Heb.1:6 and the two OT verses as they stand in the LXX. We now put Hebrews 1:6 together with its probable LXX parallels, Ps.96:7 (Ps.97:7 in most Bibles) and Dt.32:43:

Hebrews 1:6 When he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship* him.” (ESV)

Psalm 96:7 LXX “Do obeisance* to him, all his angels!” (New English Translation of the Septuagint [8])

Deuteronomy 32:43a “Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down* to him, all gods” (ESV; LXX has “sons of God”)

The asterisk * indicates that the Greek word so marked, whether in the NT or LXX, is proskyneō (which has several meanings, fundamentally “bow down to” or “pay homage to” but sometimes “worship”). The two OT texts from which Hebrews 1:6 is derived—Ps.96:7 (LXX) and Dt.32:43—both refer to Yahweh.[9] Hence proskyneō—which in Hebrews 1:6 is rendered “worship” (ESV) or “pay him homage” (NJB, REB) or “reverence” (ITNT)—is in the Old Testament applied to Yahweh, the one and only God.

Why does Hebrews 1:6 say, “Let all God’s angels worship him”? If this verse is indeed derived from Ps.97:7 (LXX 96:7) and Dt.32:43—despite some uncertainty about this (Clarke’s Commentary, Heb.1:6)—it would be a merging of a few words from one verse and a few from the other. The concatenation may be free yet the overall message is unmistakable: the Messiah is the firstborn, hence God’s angels must “worship him” (ESV) or “pay him homage” (NJB, REB) or “revere him” (ITNT) or “adore him” (Douay-Rheims).

Christ has been granted the honor and privileges as the firstborn who is superior to angels. The point about his superiority over angels is brought out in the immediate context of Hebrews 1:6 in no less than three statements: Christ is superior to angels (v.4); Christ is the Son of God in a way that angels are not (v.5); Christ sits at God’s right hand as angels do not (v.3). Because Hebrews 1:6 comes right after these three verses (3,4,5), it is a continuation of their train of thought, namely, that Christ is superior to the angels. Hence all angels must “worship him” or “pay him homage”.

The exaltation of Christ is seen in the gospels and in Paul’s letters, and expressed by men and angels. In Matthew 2:11, magi fell before the infant Jesus and “worshipped him” (ESV) or “did him homage” (NJB, REB) or “adored him” (Douay-Rheims). Years later, God exalted him such that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil.2:10). The words “in heaven” are eminently applicable to God’s angels and therefore to Hebrews 1:6 (“Let all God’s angels worship [or reverence] him”), with the difference being that Philippians is describing a post-resurrection scenario.

 

In chapter 8 of this book, we will examine the NT data on proskyneō and discover that when the word is used of Jesus, it means “to pay homage to” rather than divine worship.

The fact that proskyneō means “pay homage to” rather than “worship” when it is used of Jesus (as we will see in chapter 8) also comes out in the context of Hebrews 1:6 which declares two things: (i) Christ is the firstborn; (ii) Christ is superior to God’s angels. Concerning (i), nowhere in Scripture is the firstborn ever worshipped as God, as can be verified by combing through the more than one hundred verses in the Old and New Testaments that refer to a firstborn. On the contrary, Jesus the firstborn Son declares that his Father is “the only true God” (Jn.17:3). Using “reverence” rather than “worship” in Hebrews 1:6 would align with this truth and also with the affirmation that Christ is superior to angels. Angels are to pay homage to Christ, the one who is superior to them, and at whose name all must bow their knees (Phil.2:10).

Hebrews 1:8

Hebrews 1:8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.” (ESV)

Psalm 45:6 Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness. (ESV)

Hebrews 1:8 is a quotation of Psalm 45:6. It is important to note that Psalm 45 is an enthronement psalm: “I address my verses to the king” (v.1). He has become the king of Israel through an anointing (v.7, “God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness”) which reminds us that kings of Israel are anointed. Psalm 45 is announcing the anointing of a human king at his ascension to the throne of Israel. The king is human rather than divine because verse 2 says that he comes from “the sons of men”.

On the one hand the king is human, yet on the other he is addressed “O God”. This would make sense only if “God” is understood in the same way as in Jesus’ statement, “I said you are gods” (Jn.10:34), a quotation of Psalm 82:6 (“you are gods”).

Among scholars who have studied Psalm 45:6, it is universally acknowledged that although the king is called “God” or “god” in this verse, he is still human. This is seen in the following trinitarian authorities:

The writer addressed his human king as “God” (Elohim). He did not mean that the king was God but that he stood in the place of God and represented Him. (Dr. Constable’s Expository Notes, on Psalm 45:6)

Because the Davidic king is God’s vice-regent on earth, the psalmist addresses him as if he were God incarnate. A similar use of hyperbole appears in Isa.9:6, where the ideal Davidic king of the eschaton is given the title “Mighty God”. (NET Bible, on Psalm 45:6)

In what sense can the king be called “god”? By virtue of his divine appointment, the king in the ancient Near East stood before his subjects as a representative of the divine realm. (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Old Testament, vol.5, Psalm 45:6)

Although the Israelite king was not regarded as divine (as the kings of Egypt were), it is possible that he could be addressed as “God” either in a form of Oriental hyperbolic language or as a representative of God (cf. Ex.21:6; 22:8,9,28; Ps.82:6). (Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce ed., on Psalm 45:6)

The simple and natural sense is that Solomon reigns not tyrannically, as most of the kings do, but by just and equal laws, and that, therefore, his throne shall be established forever. Although he is called God, because God has imprinted some mark of his glory in the person of kings … It is true, indeed, that angels as well as judges are called collectively “Elohim,” “gods” (John Calvin’s Commentary, on Psalm 45:6)

If, however, the king is addressed as Elohim, we should note that he is still reminded that it is “God, your God,” who “has set you above your companions.” The Hebrew term Elohim has a wider range of meaning than our terms “God” and “gods.” In Ex.21:6 and 22:8-9,28 (possibly 1Sam.2:25), it appears to be applied to human judges (see also Ex.4:16; 7:1). (Understanding the Bible Commentary, Psalm 45:6)

Since God is the ultimate king of Israel (“Yahweh, the King of Israel,” Isa.44:6; cf. Zeph.3:15), the throne of Israel is God’s throne. Every king of Israel who occupied that throne did so as Yahweh’s regent and representative.

 

In any case, what is the point of the trinitarian assertion that Jesus is God on account of Hebrews 1:8 (“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever”) since this would make “God” lower than the angels for a while (2:7)? Psalm 45:7 (quoted in Hebrews 1:9) says that God is the God of the anointed king even though the latter is addressed “O God”. Hence there is still a distinction of persons between God and the anointed king. If we identify “O God” with a divine Jesus, this would make God the God of God.

The focus in Hebrews 1:8 is not on “O God” but “Your throne is forever and ever”. The Son’s throne is eternal because it is Yahweh’s. The heavens and the earth, though created by Yahweh (Heb.1:10, quoting Psalm 102:25 which refers to Yahweh), will perish (Heb.1:11,12). But it is said of Yahweh, “you remain the same, and your years will have no end” (v.12).

Because of the eternal nature of God and His throne, the Jews in Jesus’ day knew that the “Christ will remain forever” (Jn.12:34), a confidence that is strengthened by God’s promise to David, “His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me” (Ps.89:36; cf. Isa.9:7; Ezek. 37:24-25; Dan.7:14).

But trinitarians will argue that the writer to the Hebrews knowingly and intentionally took Psalm 45:6 with the explicit words, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,” and applied it to the Son. Several observations can be made in response to this, and these complement each other.

Firstly, the main Bible available to the Greek-speaking Jews in the time of the New Testament was the Septuagint (LXX). Unlike what we can do today, namely, choose a Bible that reads “Your divine throne” (RSV), or another that reads “Your throne is from God” (NJB), or another that reads “Your throne, O God” (NIV), the writer to the Hebrews had no choice but to quote the LXX as it stood, because he would never take the liberty to delete the words “O God” from the version of Scripture (the LXX) that was available to him, even if all he wanted to say was that the throne is eternal. In using a few words of Psalm 45:6, he would quote the whole sentence.

Secondly, the Jews as a whole do not believe that the Messiah is God, and would not think of Psalm 45:6 as evidence for his deity. Picking out this one verse from the Old Testament as proof that the Messiah is God would be absurd to most religious Jews.

Thirdly, many biblical scholars are aware of an important way of reading Psalm 45:6 that heightens its message for those who are waiting for the coming of the Messiah who will reign over all nations in God’s name. In Exodus 4:16, Yahweh told Moses that he will “be as God” to Aaron. Three chapters later, in Exodus 7:1, Yahweh said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh”. If God made Moses “as God” to Aaron and “like God” to Pharaoh, how much more will He make Christ “like God” to the world, the visible image of the invisible God (cf. Col.1:15)?

Fourthly, among scholars who have studied Psalm 45:6a (“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever”)—whether they are trinitarian (John Calvin) or non-trinitarian (Michael Servetus), whether they are Christian (Craig Broyles) or Jewish (Robert Alter), whether they are Protestant (Peter Craigie) or Catholic (Father Mitchell Dahood)—it is universally acknowledged that although the king in Psalm 45:6 is called “God” or “god,” he is not divine but is the human representative of God. I have checked over a dozen authorities, both ancient and modern, and none has expressed any contrary opinion to this.

We can be sure that the writer to the Hebrews, who is thoroughly steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the ways of his forefathers, would be fully aware that in Psalm 45:6, the king who is addressed “O God” is not divine but human (in fact he would have to be human because he comes from the ranks of “the sons of men,” v.2). So if the writer to the Hebrews could apply the same verse, Psalm 45:6, to Jesus purposefully and with a heightened awareness of its Scriptural continuity, would he not also think of Jesus in similar terms, that Jesus is called “O God” not because he is divine but because he is the human representative of God? Why would the writer to the Hebrews understand Hebrews 1:8 in a way that contradicts his understanding of Psalm 45:6? And what about his audience, the recipients of his letter to the Hebrews, who are after all called the Hebrews? Would they not also be aware that in Psalm 45:6, the king who is addressed “O God” is not divine but human?

All in all, Hebrews 1:8 offers no evidence for the deity of Christ. Ironically, Hebrews 1:8 would be of greater help to trinitarians if it were not linked so closely to Psalm 45:6!

It is the exactness of the quotation of Psalm 45:6 in Hebrews 1:8 that causes Christopher M. Tuckett (Lecturer in NT Studies at Oxford) to be cautious about ascribing deity to Jesus from Hebrews 1:8:

One should, however, perhaps be a little cautious. The quotation of Psalm 45 is an exact repetition of the words of the psalm which are there addressed to the king. There is presumably no idea of ascribing divinity to the Israelite king in such language when used in the Old Testament, and hence one should be wary of assuming that such an idea is present in Hebrews 1. In any case the dominant thought seems to be not so much that the Son can be called ‘God’; rather it is that the throne of the Son is ‘for ever and ever’ and that, as he has loved righteousness and hated wickedness, God has anointed him above his fellows. His position is above that of the angels because, due to his ethical stance, he has been appointed by God to a position on a ‘throne’ which will be for ever. (Christology and the New Testament, pp.96-97).

 

Hebrews 1:10

Hebrews 1:10 You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands. (ESV)

Psalm 102:25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. (ESV)

Hebrews 1:10 is a quotation of Psalm 102:25. Other verses in the OT that use similar imagery to describe Yahweh’s creation of the heavens and the earth are Isa.42:5; 48:13; 51:13; Jer.32:17; Zech.12:1.

The “you” in Psalm 102:25 refers to Yahweh on account of v.22 (“worship Yahweh”); hence it is Yahweh God who is spoken of in Psalm 102:25 as the creator of the heavens and the earth. This identification is seen also in the OT verses just listed and in the book of Hebrews as a whole. For example, Hebrews 2:10 (cf. 3:4; 11:3) says of God: “For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering”. This verse makes a distinction of persons: There is God by whom all things exist, and there is Jesus who was perfected by God. This corresponds with the overall teaching that Yahweh is the only creator.

Irrespective of how we read Hebrews 1:10, it would be erroneous to take it as an exception to, or a contradiction of, the entrenched biblical fact that Yahweh God is the only creator. This indicates that Hebrews 1:10—and more broadly verses 10 to 12—refers to Yahweh rather than Jesus.

Only one verse separates Hebrews 1:10 from 1:8 (“your throne, O God, is forever and ever”). The combination of these two verses shows that Yahweh the Creator has granted the Son and his throne to remain forever. As Yahweh will remain forever (“you are the same, and your years have no end,” 1:12), so the throne of Christ will remain forever. In Hebrews 1:10-12, God’s immortality is seen in the three phrases shown in italics:

Hebrews 1:10-12 You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end. (ESV)

This passage, a quotation of Psalm 102:25-27, speaks of Yahweh’s immortality: His years will have no end, and He remains even if the heavens and the earth perish. But the trinitarian “God the Son” is capable of dying and does not have the immortality mentioned in this passage. Hebrews 1:10-12 cannot be literally true of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn.1:29).

 

Regarding the use of Psalm 102:25 in Hebrews 1:10, and more generally the use of OT passages in Hebrews, either the writer to the Hebrews is indiscriminately applying to Jesus verses from the OT that refer to Yahweh (despite the Jewish belief that the Messiah, the Son of God, is human and not divine) or there is an important reason for making the connection. What reason can there be but that Jesus is the one who represents Yahweh perfectly and who literally embodies Yahweh such that God lives in him bodily (“in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” Col.2:9)?

The letter to the Hebrews was written by a Jew to fellow Jewish believers. Would anyone doubt that these Jews were committed monotheists? Even Philo, a Hellenized Jew steeped in Greek philosophy, was a committed monotheist. It defies reason to extract proto-trinitarianism from Hebrews 1.

There is no doubt that the writer to the Hebrews, who was steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures, was aware that the OT verses he was quoting referred to Yahweh. Why then would he quote them in relation to the Son?

Did the writer to the Hebrews think that the Son was Yahweh Himself? If he did, then Yahweh would be the “firstborn” who was brought “into the world” by Yahweh (Heb.1:6)! This answer does not work. The problem with our inquiry lies in the way we framed our question, that is, with the assumption that the OT verses quoted in Hebrews are applied to the Son rather than to the coming or the appearing or the manifestation of the Son in the world. The OT verses quoted in Hebrews are applied to the coming of the Son, that is, to his having been “brought into the world” (Heb.1:6). And the coming of the Son into the world also involves the coming of God into the world. Only with this understanding would the catena or chain of OT verses on Yahweh make sense in the book of Hebrews. Then we will see that Hebrews 1 echoes the message proclaimed in John’s Prologue that God came into the world and dwelled in Jesus.

From the train of thought presented in Hebrews 1, it is clear that if Jesus is God, then the whole catena of OT quotations would be redundant because they would be making statements that are self-evident. If Jesus is God, it goes without saying that his throne will be “forever and ever” (v.8) and that he is superior to angels. In fact, trinitarianism faces the conundrum that Jesus, who is supposedly God, was made lower than angels (2:9) but then “became” superior to angels (1:4), implying prior inferiority. For similar reasons, it is problematic to say that a divine Jesus has “inherited” a more excellent name than the angels (v.4). Hebrews 1, far from supporting the trinitarian idea of “God the Son,” effectively serves to undermine it.

But if Jesus the Son of God is truly human like the rest of humanity, then all that is written about him in Hebrews 1 would be of the highest significance. It is utterly astonishing that Yahweh would exalt man to such heights of glory. Mortal man is made immortal, and the gift of eternal life is given to all who are in Christ. “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1Cor.15:53). God’s people, the saints, will even reign with Christ in glory and power:

The kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them. (Dan.7:27; cf. Rev.1.6; 5:10)

The great blessings conferred on Jesus the Messiah-King will be shared with his people. Jesus is the head of the body, and the blessings poured on the head are also for the benefit of the body. Such is God’s boundless love and generosity bestowed on man in Christ. In fact Hebrews writes more about Jesus’ humanity than does any other New Testament letter.

With Jesus’ exaltation to the heavenly heights “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named” (Eph.1:21), and with Jesus’ place at “the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb.1:3), one might think that Jesus is now beyond the reach of humankind in their pitiful and needy situations. Yet God and Jesus Christ have put us in their view, extending to us the eternal blessings in Christ, including that of eternal life!

Hebrews 2: A spiritual reflection

Although the third pillar of trinitarianism is Hebrews chapter 1, we will say a few things about chapter 2 by way of spiritual reflection. This chapter, like chapter 1, brings in a catena of Old Testament verses that place strong emphasis on Jesus’ humanity:

Hebrews 2:6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?”

Again we see the important place of man in God’s eternal plan and outlook. Hebrews 2:6 is a quotation of several Old Testament verses:

Psalm 8:4 …what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 144:3 O Yahweh, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him?

Job 7:17 What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him?

Hebrews continues:

Hebrews 2:7-8 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet. (ESV)

This is a quotation of Psalm 8:5-6 in which we see something striking when quoted from NASB and NIV (note the italics):

NASB Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.

NIV You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet.

These two renderings are startlingly different in their first sentences: “You have made him a little lower than God” (NASB) versus “You have made them a little lower than the angels” (NIV). The discrepancy arises from the fact that in Psalm 8:5, the Hebrew Bible has Elohim (God) whereas the Greek LXX has angelos (angel or messenger).

The next two verses in Hebrews repeat the point that Jesus was for a while made lower than the angels:

Hebrews 2:8-9 At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death … (ESV)

In all the verses cited, we see not only the focus on man, but also the fact that the writer to the Hebrews takes for granted that Jesus is human (“What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?”) with no explanation given or required, and with no hint of any alleged deity or preexistence.

The next verse, Heb.2:10, makes a distinction between the One by whom all things exist (God) and the one who was made perfect through suffering (Jesus). These are two distinct persons, with the former making the latter perfect:

Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting that he (God), for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation (Jesus) perfect through suffering.

The next four verses, Hebrews 2:11-14, have some striking words:

2:11 For, indeed, he who makes holy and those made holy are all from one (God). This explains why he is not ashamed to identify with them as brothers. (ITNT)

2.12 “I shall proclaim your name to my brothers. Within the congregation I shall sing hymns to you.” (ITNT)

2.13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” (ESV)

2.14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things (ESV)

The first of these verses, 2:11, says that the one who makes holy (Jesus) and those who have been made holy (the believers) are all from one God. Jesus, the one who is perfect, is not ashamed to accept as his brothers those who are not perfect at the present time. The word “brothers” appears also in the second of these verses, 2:12, which is a quotation of Psalm 22:22 (21:23 in LXX) which says: “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you”.

Since Jesus is true man, he is our brother. But trinitarians say that Jesus is also God, thereby making it possible for God to be our brother. Because this link is theologically problematic (and a uniquely trinitarian dilemma), trinitarians tend to underemphasize the entrenched fact that Jesus is our brother.

In the fourth verse, 2:14, the words “share” and “partook” are translated, respectively, from koinōneō and metechō, these two words being “practically synonymous” (Moulton & Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek NT, koinōneō). Because Jesus shares our humanity, he shares the “flesh and blood” of “the children” (the believers), indeed the flesh and blood of all humanity.

The third of these verses, 2:13, carries echoes of Psalm 16:1: “Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge”. The LXX (15:1) has, “Guard me, O Lord, because in you I hoped” (ANETS). Similar sentiments of taking refuge in God are seen in Psalm 18:2 (“my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge); Psalm 36:7 (“the children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings”); and Psalm 91:2 (“I will say to Yahweh: my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust”). Why would Hebrews refer to these statements in the Psalms but to show that Jesus shared the same kind of trust in God as do “the children” (his disciples, cf. Isaiah 8:18)?

There is also Isaiah 12:2 (“God is my salvation: I will trust and will not be afraid”) which carries overtones of the words used for mocking Jesus at his crucifixion: “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him” (Mt.27:43). These were the hostile words of the religious leaders who nonetheless acknowledged Jesus’ trust in God. What is striking is their reason for acknowledging his trust in God: “For he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (v.43).

In our trinitarian days, we understood the claim to be the Son of God as a claim to deity. Some have used this unfounded connection to hurl an accusation at Jesus (Jn.10:33-36; 19:7). But surprisingly or perhaps not, the leaders of Israel did not recognize that connection (as we will see in a later chapter), but understood Jesus’ claim to be “Son of God” as expressing his trust in God as his Father (Mt.27:43; cf. Heb. 2:13). Their understanding is correct, for Jesus the Son of God addressed God as “Abba” (Mk.14:36) like a child trusting in his father. Jesus taught his disciples to address God as Father, and to trust Him completely as he did.



[1] On the plural of aiōn (“the ages”), Thayer’s lexicon makes the rather picturesque comment, “the plural denotes the individual ages whose sum is eternity”.

[2] The Chinese language also makes a distinction between make (做 or 造 or 制造) and create (创造).

[3] The Greek-English interlinear NT by Alfred Marshall gives the literal translation as “the ages” rather than “the world,” as also the interlinear by Brown/Comfort.

[4] A connection between Hebrews 1:2 and Acts 2:22 is seen by comparing δι᾽ οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας (“through whom he made the ages”) in Hebrews 1:2 with δυνάμεσι καὶ τέρασι καὶ σημείοις οἷς ἐποίησεν δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ὁ θεὸς (“mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him”) in Acts 2:22, noting the correspondence of the words in boldface.

[5] In Heb.1:2 (“through whom he made the ages,” NJB), the Greek for “made” is poieō (ποιέω). Here it does not mean “created the world” (ESV) but “made (marked out, appointed) the ages”. The sense of appointment in the word poieō is seen in: Heb.3:2 (“who appointed him”); Acts 2:36 (“God has appointed him both Lord and Christ”); Rev.5:10 (“you have appointed them a kingdom and priests to our God”); Mk.3:14 (“he appointed the twelve”); and so on.

[6] In the LXX, pherō is used of Moses as the one who “carried” the people of Israel, e.g. Num.11:14 (“I am unable to carry all this people alone,” cf. vv.11,17) and Deut.1:9 (“I am not able to bear you [the Israelites] by myself”).

[7] In translating Dt.32:43, some Bibles (ESV, NJB, NRSV) follow the LXX, and some (NASB, HCSB, NIV) follow the Hebrew Bible.

[8] The New English Translation of the Septuagint is a scholarly translation of the major critical edition of the LXX, the Göttingen Septuaginta editio maior.

[9] That is because Psalm 97 (Psalm 96 in LXX) refers to Yahweh six times (vv.1,5, 8,9,10,12). As for Dt.32:43, a reference to Yahweh is found a few verses earlier (v.39).

 

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