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Chapter 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 Heb.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 his 1 Son, whom he ap­pointed the 2 heir of all things, through whom also he created 3 the world 4. (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 his 1 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 it is NJB, not ESV, which 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 with respect to the Greek, 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 the term “his Son” of Hebrews 1:2, the word “his” is not found in the Greek, so why does ESV add it in? 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 in? 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” (which is correctly 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 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 exact 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 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 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).

An attempt to circumvent Hebrews 1:2

[Note: Some readers may wish to skip this section]

Thayer and other Greek-English lexicons acknowledge that aiōn carries the sense of time and ages, yet Thayer tries hard to find a trinita­rian cir­cum­vent­ion of this fact in Hebrews 1:2, 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 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 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. 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 Thayer’s time was an estab­lished and authorit­ative lexi­con as it 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 suggestion 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 unsure 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. On 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 goes on to say that it is through Christ that God established the ages (NJB “through whom he made the ages”; 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 in 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 Israel out of Egypt; the giv­ing of the Ten Commandments to Moses; and above all, the mir­aculous birth of Jesus, followed by his perfection (achieved through suffer­ing), his death, and his resurrect­ion for the salva­tion of the world.

In 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 called 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 that 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); it de­fined the boundaries of the land which 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, Heb.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 can be 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 implying 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 with 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 boldface.

But if Jesus is God as he is in trinitarianism, Hebrews 1:3 would make no sense be­cause the glory he re­veals would be his own divine glory. By contrast, 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).[6] 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”). Not surprisingly, this word pherō is used in the Bible of both Moses and Jesus: Moses “carried” (led, bore with) the people of Israel,[7] 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 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 they are 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 and casually 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; 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.[8] 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 these 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 [9])

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.[10] 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 Heb.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, on 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. His sup­eriority over angels is brought out in the immed­iate context of Heb.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 Heb.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 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, the 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.

Note: 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 will be demonstrated 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 100 verses in the Old and New Testa­ments that refer to a firstborn. To 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 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 crucial to note that Psalm 45 is an enthronement psalm: “I add­ress my verses to the king” (v.1). This person 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 the 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 clearly hu­man rather than divine because v.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, on 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 New Testament times was the Septuagint (LXX). Unlike what we can do today, namely, choose a Bible that reads Psalm 45:6 as “Your divine throne” (RSV), or another Bible that has “Your throne is from God” (NJB), or yet another that has “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 to prove 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 Moses 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 opinion contrary 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 Isaiah 42:5; 48:13; 51:13; Jeremiah 32:17; Zechariah 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 several 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: On the one hand there is God by whom all things exist; on the other 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 (John 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 his coming or his appearing or his manifestat­ion 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 the 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. (Daniel 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 His Son 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: “a little lower than God” (NASB) versus “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, Hebrews 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:

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. (Heb.2:10)

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 allowing for the possibility of God being our brother! Because this is theologi­cally problem­atic and a uniquely trinitarian dilemma, trinit­ar­ians tend to underemphasize the biblical 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. In John’s Gospel, 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 shall 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] As seen also in Marshall’s Greek-English interlinear which gives the literal ren­dering “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 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] This will be discussed more fully in chapter 10 of the present book.

[7] 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”).

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

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

[10] That is because Psalm 97 (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, in v.39.

 

 

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