The epistle to the hebrews


I. The superiority of the Son, the Mediator of the New Revelation, to Angels



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I. The superiority of the Son, the Mediator of the New Revelation, to Angels (Heb. 1:5-2:18)
This first main thought of the Epistle, which has been announced in 1:4, is unfolded in three parts. It is established first (i) in regard to the Nature and Work of the Son, as the Mediator of the New Covenant, by detailed references to the testimony of Scripture (1:5-14). It is then (ii) enforced practically by a consideration of the consequences of neglect (2:1-4). And lastly it is shewn (iii) that the glorious destiny of humanity, loftier than that of angels, in spite of the fall, has been fulfilled by the Son of Man (2:5-18).
i. The testimony of Scripture to the preeminence of the Son over angels (1:5-14)
The series of seven quotations which follows the general statement of the subject of the Epistle shews that the truths which have been affirmed are a fulfilment of the teaching of the Old Testament. The quotations illustrate in succession the superiority of the Son, the Mediator of the new Revelation and Covenant, over the angels, and therefore far more over the prophets, (1) as Son, (vv. 5, 6) and then in two main aspects, (2) as ‘heir of all things’ (vv. 7-9), and (3) as ‘creator of the world’ (vv. 10-12).

The last quotation (vv. 13, 14) presents (4) the contrast between the Son and the angels in regard to the present dispensation. The issue of the Son's Incarnation is the welcome to sit at God's right hand (kreivttwn genovmeno") in certain expectation of absolute victory, while the angels are busy with their ministries.

(1) 1:5, 6. The essential dignity of the Son.

The dignity of the Son as Son is asserted in three connexions, in its foundation (shvmeron gegevnnhkav se); in its continuance (e[somai aujtw'/ eij" patevra); and in its final manifestation (o{tan pavlin eijsagavgh/).



5 For to which of the angels said He at any time,

My Son art Thou:

I have today begotten Thee? and again,

I will be to Him a Father,

And He shall be to Me a Son?

6 And when He again bringeth (or when on the other hand He bringeth) in the Firstborn into the world He saith,

And let all the Angels of God worship Him.

The first two quotations are taken from Ps. 2:7 and 2 Sam. 7:14 (|| 1 Chron. 17:13). Both quotations verbally agree with the LXX. which agrees with the Heb.

The words of the Psalm are quoted again Heb. 5:5 and by St Paul, Acts 13:33. And they occur in some authorities (D a b c & c.) in Luke 3:22. See also the reading of the Ebionitic Gospel on Matt. 3:17.

The same Psalm is quoted Acts 4:25 ff. Comp. Apoc. 2:27; 12:5; 14:1; 19:15.

The passage from 2 Sam. 7:14 is quoted again in 2 Cor. 6:18 with important variations (e[somai uJmi'n... uJmei'" e[sesqev moi eij" uiJou;" kai; qugatevra"), and Apoc. 21:7.

Both passages bring out the relation of ‘the Son of David’ to the fulfilment of the divine purpose. The promise in 2 Sam. 7:14 is the historical starting point. It was spoken by Nathan to David in answer to the king's expressed purpose to build a Temple for the Lord. This work the prophet said should be not for him but for his seed. The whole passage, with its reference to ‘iniquity’ and chastening, can only refer to an earthly king; and still experience shewed that no earthly king could satisfy its terms. The kingdom passed away from the line of David. The Temple was destroyed. It was necessary therefore to look for another ‘seed’ (Is. 11:1; Jer. 23:5; Zech. 6:12): another founder of the everlasting Kingdom and of the true Temple (compare Luke 1:32 f.; John 2:19).

The passage from the Second Psalm represents the divine King under another aspect. He is not the builder of the Temple of the Lord but the representative of the Lord's triumph over banded enemies. The conquest of the nations was not achieved by the successors of David. It remained therefore for Another. The partial external fulfilment of the divine prophecy directed hope to the future. So it was that the idea of the theocratic kingdom was itself apprehended as essentially Messianic; and the application of these two representative passages to Christ depends upon the prophetic significance of the critical facts of Jewish history.

The third quotation is beset by difficulty. Doubt has been felt as to the source from which it is derived. Words closely resembling the quotation are found in Ps. 97:7 (96:7) proskunhvsate aujtw'/ pavnte" oiJ a[ggeloi aujtou' (LXX.). But the exact phrase is found in the Vatican text of an addition made to the Hebrew in Deut. 32:43 by the LXX. version which reads

eujfravnqhte oujranoi; a{ma aujtw'/, kai; proskunhsavtwsan aujtw'/ pavnte" uiJoi; qeou':

eujfravnqhte e[qnh meta; tou' laou' aujtou', kai; ejniscusavtwsan aujtw'/ pavnte" a[ggeloi qeou'.

This gloss is quoted also by Justin M. Dial. c. 130. It was probably derived from the Psalm (comp. Isa. 44:23), and may easily have gained currency from the liturgical use of the original hymn. If (as seems certain) the gloss was found in the current text of the LXX. in the apostolic age, it is most natural to suppose that the writer of the Epistle took the words directly from the version of Deuteronomy.

The quotation of words not found in the Hebrew text is to be explained by the general character of Deut. 32 which gives a prophetic history of the Course of Israel, issuing in the final and decisive revelation of Jehovah in judgment. When this revelation is made all powers shall recognise His dominion, exercised, as the writer of the Epistle explains, through Christ. The coming of Christ is thus identified with the coming of Jehovah. Comp. Luke 1:76; Acts 2:20, 21.

In the Targum on Deut. 32:44 which bears the name of Jonathan ben Uzziel there is the remarkable clause: ‘He by His Word (hyrmymb) shall atone for His people and for His land.’

It may be added that the thought both in Deuteronomy and in the Psalm is essentially the same. The Hymn and the Psalm both look forward to the time when the subordinate spiritual powers, idolised by the nations, shall recognise the absolute sovereignty of Jehovah.

Part of the same verse (Deut. 32:43) is quoted by St Paul in Rom. 15:10.

Heb. 1:5. tivni ga;r ei\pevn pote] For to which...said He at any time? The use of the rhetorical question is characteristic of the style of the Epistle. Compare 1:14; 2:2 ff.; 3:16 ff.; 7:11; 12:7.

The subject of the verb is taken from the context. God is the Speaker in all revelation (5:1). It has been objected that the title ‘Son’ is not limited to the Messiah in the Old Testament, but the objection rests upon a misunderstanding. The title which is characteristic of Messiah is never used of Angels or men in the Old Scriptures. Angels as a body are sometimes called ‘sons of God’ (Ps. 29:1, 89:6) but to no one (tivni) is the title ‘Son of God’ given individually in all the long line of revelation. The tivni and the potev are both significant.

In like manner the title ‘Son’ was given to Israel as the chosen nation: Hos. 11:1; Ex. 4:22; but to no single Jew, except in the passage quoted, which in the original refers to Solomon as the type of Him who should come after.

Nor is it without the deepest significance that in these fundamental passages, Ps. 2:7, 2 Sam. 7:14, the speaker is ‘the LORD’ and not ‘GOD.’ The unique title of Christ is thus connected with God as He is the God of the Covenant (Jehovah, the LORD), the God of Revelation, and not as He is the God of Nature (Elohim, GOD).

uiJov" mou] The order is full of meaning. By the emphasis which is laid upon uiJov" the relation is marked as peculiar and not shared by others. My son art thou, and no less than this; and not Thou too, as well as others, art my son. Compare Ps. 88:27 (89:27) pathvr mou ei\ suv. At the same time the suv is brought into significant connexion with ejgwv in the next clause, where the emphasis is laid on ejgwv (‘I in my sovereign majesty’) and not on shvmeron.

shvmeron] The word both in its primary and in its secondary meaning naturally marks some definite crisis, as the inauguration of the theocratic king, and that which would correspond with such an event in the historic manifestation of the divine King. So the passage was applied to the Resurrection by St Paul (Acts 13:33; comp. Rom. 1:4); and by a very early and widespread tradition it was connected with the Baptism (Luke 3:22 Cod. D; Just. M. Dial. c. 88, and Otto's note).

Many however have supposed that ‘today’ in this connexion is the expression for that which is eternal, timeless.

This view is very well expressed by Primasius: Notandum quia non dixit: Ante omnia secula genui te, vel in praeterito tempore; sed, hodie, inquit, genui te, quod adverbium est praesentis temporis. In Deo enim nec praeterita transeunt nec futura succedunt; sed omnia tempora simul ei conjuncta sunt, quia omnia praesentia habet. Et est sensus: Sicut ego semper aeternus sum neque initium neque finem habeo, ita te semper habeo coaeternum mihi.

Philo recognises the same idea: shvmeron dev ejstin oJ ajpevranto" kai; ajdiexivthto" aijwvn. mhnw'n ga;r kai; ejniautw'n kai; sunovlw" crovnwn perivodoi dovgmata ajnqrwvpwn eijsi;n ajriqmo;n ejktetimhkovtwn: to; de; ajyeude;" o[noma aijw'no" hJ shvmeron (de Prof. § 11; 1.554 M.); and the idea was widely current. Comp. , ad loc. and Heb. 3:13 note.

Such an interpretation, however, though it includes an important truth, summed up by Origen in the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, appears to be foreign to the context.

gegevnnhka] The term marks the communication of a new and abiding life, represented in the case of the earthly king by the royal dignity, and in the case of Christ by the divine sovereignty established by the Resurrection of the Incarnate Son in which His Ascension was included (Acts 13:33; Rom. 1:4; 6:4; Col. 1:8; Apoc. 1:5).

For the use of genna'n compare 1 Cor. 4:15; and especially St John's use: 1 John 3:1 Add. Note.

ejgw; e[somai...eij"] The relation once established is to be realised in a continuous fulfilment. The future points to the coming Messiah from the position of the O. T. prophet.

The title pathvr is applied to GOD here only in the Epistle.

ei\nai eij"] Comp. Heb. 8:10; 2 Cor. 6:18. And in a somewhat different sense, Matt. 19:5; Acts 13:47; 1 Cor. 6:16; 14:22; Eph. 1:12; Luke 3:5 & c.

Heb. 1:6. o{tan dev] This third quotation is not a mere continuation (kai; pavlin) but a contrast (dev). It marks the relation of angels to the Son and not of the Son to God; and again it points forward to an end not yet reached.

o{tan de; p. eij".] The pavlin has been taken (1) as a particle of connexion and also (2) as qualifying eijsagavgh/.

In the first case it has received two interpretations.

(a) again, as simply giving a new quotation as in the former clause, 2:13; 4:5; 10:30 & c. But it is fatal to this view, which is given by Old Lat. (deinde iterum cum inducit) and Syr., that such a transposition of pavlin is without parallel (yet see Wisdom 14:1). The ease with which we can introduce the word ‘again’ parenthetically hides this difficulty.

(b) on the other hand, in contrast. In this way pavlin would serve to emphasise the contrast suggested by dev. Comp. Luke 6:43; Matt. 4:7; 1 John 2:8.

Such a use is not without parallels, Philo, Leg. Alleg. iii. § 9 (1:93 M.) oJ de; pavlin ajpodidravskwn qeovn...hJ de; pavlin qeo;n ajpodokimavzousa..., and the sense is perfectly consistent with the scope of the passage. It would leave the interpretation of ‘the bringing in of the Son’ undefined.

(2) But it appears to be more natural to connect pavlin with eijsagavgh/ (Vulg. et cum iterum introducit) and so to refer the words definitely to the second coming of the Lord. This interpretation is well given by Gregory of Nyssa: hJ tou' ‘pavlin’ prosqhvkh to; mh; prwvtw" givnesqai tou'to dia; th'" kata; th;n levxin tauvthn shmasiva" ejndeivknutai. ejpi; ga;r th'" ejpanalhvyew" tw'n a{pax gegonovtwn th'/ levxei tauvth/ kecrhvmeqa. oujkou'n th;n ejpi; tw'/ tevlei tw'n aijwvnwn fobera;n aujtou' ejpifavneian shmaivnei tw'/ lovgw/ o{teoujkevti ejnth'/ tou' douvlou kaqora'tai morfh'/, ajllj ejpi; tou' qrovnou th'" basileiva" megaloprepw'" prokaqhvmeno" kai; uJpo; tw'n ajggevlwn pavntwn peri; aujto;n proskunouvmeno". (c. Eunom. iv., Migne, Patr. Gr. xlv. p. 634; comp. c. Eunom. ii., id. p. 504.)

The advantage of taking pavlin as ‘on the other hand’ is that the words then bring into one category the many preparatory introductions of the ‘firstborn’ into the world together with the final one. But one main object of the Epistle is to meet a feeling of present disappointment. The first introduction of the Son into the world, described in Heb. 1:2, had not issued in an open triumph and satisfied men's desires, so that there was good reason why the writer should point forward specially to the Return in which Messiah's work was to be consummated. On the whole therefore the connexion of pavlin with eijsagavgh/ seems to be the more likely construction. In any case the o{tan eijsagavgh/ must refer to this.

o{tan...eijsagavgh/] The Latin rendering cum introducit (inducit), which has deeply coloured the Western interpretation of the phrase, is wholly untenable. In other places the construction is rightly rendered by the fut. exact., e.g. Matt. 5:11 cum male dixerint; 19:28 cum sederit & c., and so in 1 Cor. 15:26 many authorities read cum dixerit.

The construction of o{tan with aor. subj. admits of two senses. It may describe a series of events reaching into an indefinite future, each occurrence being seen in its completeness (Matt. 5:11; 10:19; Mark 4:15; Luke 6:22; James 1:2); or it may describe the indefiniteness of a single event in the future seen also in its completeness (John 16:4; Acts 24:22; 1 Cor. 15:28). (The difference between the pres. subj. and the aor. subj. with o{tan is well seen in John 7:27, 31; 16:21.)

In other words o{tan...eijsagavgh/ must look forward to an event (or events) in the future regarded as fulfilled at a time (or times) as yet undetermined. It cannot describe an event or a series of events, already completed in the past. We may, that is, when we render the phrase exactly ‘whenever he shall have introduced,’ contemplate each partial and successive introduction of the Son into the world leading up to and crowned by the one final revelation of His glory, or this final manifestation alone (comp. Col. 3:4; 2 Thess. 1:10).

If, as seems most likely, the pavlin is joined with eijsagavgh/, then the second interpretation must be taken.

It follows that all interpretations which refer this second introduction of the Son into the world to the Incarnation are untenable, as, for example, that of Primasius: Ipsam assumptionem carnis appellat alterum introitum; dum enim qui invisibilis erat humanis aspectibus (John 1:10) assumpta carne visibilem se probavit quasi iterum introductus est.

Nor indeed was the Incarnation in this connexion the first introduction of Christ into the world. We must look for that rather in the Resurrection when for a brief space He was revealed in the fulness of His Manhood triumphant over death and free from the limitations of earth, having victoriously fulfilled the destiny of humanity. For the present He has been withdrawn from hJ oijkoumevnh, the limited scene of man's present labours; but at the Return He will enter it once more with sovereign triumph (Acts 1:11).

to;n prwtovtokon] Vulg. primogenitum. The word is used absolutely of Christ here only (comp. Ps. 89:28 (88:28), LXX.). Its usage in other passages,

Rom. 8:29 pr. ejn polloi'" ajdelfoi'",

comp. Col. 1:15 pr. pavsh" ktivsew",

Apoc. 1:5 oJ pr. tw'n nekrw'n,

Col. 1:18 pr. ejk tw'n nekrw'n,

brings out the special force of the term here, as distinguished from uiJov". It represents the Son in His relation to the whole family, the whole order, which is united with Him. His triumph, His new birth (gegevnnhka), is theirs also (comp. 1 Pet. 1:3). The thought lies deep in the foundations of social life. The privileges and responsibilities of the firstborn son were distinctly recognised in the Old Testament (Deut. 21:15 ff. [inheritance]; 2 Chron. 21:3 [kingdom]); as they form a most important element in the primitive conception of the family, the true unit of society (Maine, Ancient Law, 233 ff.). The eldest son, according to early ideas, was the representative of his generation, by whom the property and offices of the father, after his death, were administered for the good of the family.

The title ‘firstborn’ (rkoB], H1147) was applied by Rabbinic writers even to God ( ad loc.) and to Messiah on the authority of Ps. 89:27 (Shemoth R. § 19, pp. 150 f. ).

In Philo the Logos is spoken of as protovgono" or presbuvtato" uiJov", De confus. ling. § 14 (1.414 M.) tou'ton presbuvtaton uiJo;n oJ tw'n o[ntwn ajnevteile (Zech. 6:12) pathvr, o}n eJtevrwqi prwtovgonon wjnovmase..., id. § 28 (1.427 M.) kai; a]n mhdevpw mevntoi tugcavnh/ ti" ajxiovcrew" w]n uiJo;" qeou' prosagoreuvesqai, spoudazevtw kosmei'sqai kata; to;n prwtovgonon aujtou' lovgon, to;n a[ggelon presbuvtaton wJ" ajrcavggelon poluwvnumon uJpavrconta. Comp. de agricult. § 12 (1.308 M.).

The wider sense of the term is suggested by its application to Israel: Ex. 4:22; comp. Jer. 31:9.

The patristic commentators rightly dwell on the difference between monogenhv", which describes the absolutely unique relation of the Son to the Father in His divine Nature, and prwtovtoko", which describes the relation of the Risen Christ in His glorified humanity to man: e.g., Theodoret: ou{tw kai; monogenhv" ejstin wJ" qeo;" kai; prwtovtoko" wJ" a[nqrwpo" ejn polloi'" ajdelfoi'". Compare Bp Lightfoot on Col. 1:15.

eij" th;n oijkoum.] Vulg. in orbem terroe. Comp. Heb. 2:5 note; Acts 17:31.

levgei] he saith, not he will say. The words already written find their accomplishment at that supreme crisis. The different tenses used of the divine voice in this chapter are singularly instructive. The aor. in v. 5 (ei\pen) marks a word spoken at a definite moment. The perf. in 5:13 (ei[rhken) marks a word which having been spoken of old is now finding fulfilment. Here the pres. regards the future as already realised.

The contrast of levgw and ei[rhka is seen clearly in John 15:15 (comp. 12:50).

kai; proskun.] And let...The conjunction suggests others who join in this adoration, or in some corresponding service of honour.

pavnte" a[gg.] Biesenthal quotes a passage from the Jerus. Talmud (Avod. Zar. § 7) in which it is said that when Messiah comes the demons who had been worshipped among the Gentiles shall do him homage, and idolatry shall cease.

(2) Heb. 1:7-9. The superior dignity of the Son as anointed King (‘heir of all things’).

In the quotations already given the author of the Epistle has shewn that the language of the Old Testament pointed to a divine Son, a King of an everlasting Kingdom, a Conqueror, a Builder of an abiding Temple, such as was only figured by the earthly kings of the chosen people. One truly man was spoken of in terms applied to no angel. In Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, such language was fulfilled.

He now shews the abiding royal glory of the Son in contrast with the ministerial and transitory offices of angels. Angels fulfil their work through physical forces and ‘natural’ laws (v. 7): the Son exercises a moral and eternal sovereignty (v. 8); and in virtue of His own Character He receives the fulness of blessing (v. 9). So He becomes ‘heir of all things’.

The lesson is given in two quotations from the Psalms. The first quotation from Ps. 104:4 (103:4) agrees verbally with the Alexandrine text of the LXX. and with the Hebrew, save that kaiv is inserted, an insertion which is not uncommon. The second quotation from Ps. 45:7, 8 (44:7, 8) differs from the LXX. by the insertion of kaiv, by the transposition of the article (hJ rJ. t. eujq. rJ. for rJ. euj. hJ rJ.), and probably by the substitution of aujtou' for sou after basileiva", which is also against the Hebrew. For ajnomivan some LXX. texts give ajdikivan.

The use of these two Psalms is of marked significance. Ps. 104 is a Psalm of Creation: Ps. 45 is a Psalm of the Theocratic Kingdom, the Marriage Song of the King.

Neither Psalm is quoted again in the N. T. The second passage is quoted by Justin M. Dial. 56, 63, 86.

Both quotations are introduced in the same manner by a preposition marking a general reference (pro;" mevn...pro;" dev...: contrast tivni ei\pen v. 5).



7 And of the angels He saith,




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