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Hebrews 1: 3 Views, 1 Triumphs

Updated: Jun 21, 2023





Introduction:


It's a well known fact that the epistle to the Hebrews (Pros Hebraious) has suffered from anonymity, although many early Bible expositors have attributed its composition to St. Paul. We know that this epistle must have been written before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD by the Roman general Titus Vespasian, for there is no mention of this calamitous event within the text. [1] Although Hebrews 13:23 mentions the release of Timothy from prison, and if we assume that this letter was written during, or shortly after the intensified persecution of the Emperor Nero, a likely date would be 67 - 69 AD. Some of the ancients thought that it was written in Hebrew, or rather in the Aramaic, which, at that time, was the vernacular language of Palestine. This was the opinion of Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Theodoret, Euthalius, Theophylact, and probably also of Jerome. This is predicated on the nature of the letter. Being that it was written to Hebrews possibly from a Hebrew, it was the more cautious conclusion that it would have been written in their own vernacular. Admittedly, there seems to be a lack of manuscript support for this theory. For the evidence for Greek origins is impressive. It is said to be by far the best Koine to be found among New Testament writings. It noticeably appears after Romans in the earliest extant text of Paul (P46), which is said to be dated about 200 a.d. and contains Heb 1:1–9:16; 9:18–10:20; 10:22–30; 10:32–13:25. Fractions of the composition appear also in other papyri from the third/seventh century (P12, P13, P17, P79, P89).[2]


If you read the book of Hebrews you will not find it to be a purely theological book. Far too much theological weight is put into this book of antiquity that the original readers would be quite unaware of if they were around today. Though the Hebrews gospel seemed to provide a valuable resource for asserting and defending the full divinity of Christ against the Arian heresy, it is not however, a book that explains the rituals and the types of the Old Testament with post-apostolic eyes. I contend the main purpose is to present Jesus Christ as the total answer to every human need, far more significant than the Angels, while maintaining Hebraic roots.[3] The letter to the Hebrews, then, is an exhortation to faithfulness and new tradition. Granted that Hebrews teaches the superiority of Christ over angels, Moses, Joshua, Aaron, and Melchizedek, the exhortations that are freely interspersed among the doctrinal categories set the tone. The unanimous author stresses corporate responsibility for the believing Jews: fellow believers are exhorted to take care that not one believer is allowed to turn away from the living God (3:12–13; 4:1, 11)…


Psalms 45:6-7 And the Trinitarian conflict with the NT:


First, there’s reason to think that at least a good portion of the original audience was Jewish. Hebrews 1:1 makes this clear:[4] The forefathers (ancient Israelites) were probably oblivious to the notion of applying "ὁ θεός" par excellence to a Hebrew King. Likewise, if the unanimous author had attached this title to Jesus, it would have been a theological blunder and most certainly would have caught the audience off guard. The book of Hebrews has often been characterized as highly rhetorical. Devices such as “synkrisis” (which is a detailed comparison between two or more things designed to convince audiences to affirm the speaker’s point of view) were employed throughout the epistle. “ὁ θεός” according to the OT can relate to the source of power and authority for the King's throne who is θεός the Father in texts such as Psalms 45:6. It is naturally the same for Jesus's throne in Hebrews 1:8. The source of power is "ὁ θεός" (THE SUPREME ALMIGHTY GOD THE FATHER). Consider a similar syntatical construction in Psalm 73:26 “My portion is God forever”. חֶלְקִי אֱלֹהִים לְעוֹלָם (or the Greek, μου ὁ θεὸς τῆς καρδίας μου καὶ ἡ μερίς μου ὁ θεὸς εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα). If God can metaphorically be the anointed king’s strength, God can metaphorically be the throne of the anointed king. Also see Psalm 18:1 “Yahweh is my strength”. [5]


Since this verse is a quotation from Ps 45:7-8 the original referent cannot be θεός par excellence even though he has said to have been called exactly that. This assertion commits the fallacy of special pleading. The Psalm is highlighting the celebration of the marriage of an Israelite king appointed by YHWH. He was anointed above all other Israelites and exercised YHWH's authority over Israel.


A Dual prophecy:


The Bible has many dual or double fulfillments. One is potentially immediate and the latter could be the far or revealed fulfillment (similar to Isa. 7:14, 9:6,2 Samuel 7:11-14, Psalm 110:1, etc..). David, the likely referent in the cited OT text in 1:8 was likewise in a sense God's Christ. Israel had once rejected YHWH as King, accordingly, a human king was brought forth to exercise God's authority, thus his source of authority. Jesus exemplifies this concept as an absolute fulfilment. The king of the Psalm was given the right to sit on the throne of God ruling over the Kingdom of God (also see 1 Chronicles 28:5; 29:20-23).[6]


Murray J. Harris, whom many Trinitarians defer too makes the following remarks in “Jesus as God”:


"In whatever sense the *king* was "divine," it was not actual or intrinsic divinity that he possessed. Nor was the *king* regarded as an incarnation of Deity. Rather, he was "Yahweh's anointed," in the sense that he served as Yahweh's deputy on earth, exercising a delegated yet sovereign authority…He forestalls misunderstanding by indicating that the *king* is not elohim [אֱלֹהִים] without qualification, YHWH is the king's God."[7]


In short, if having God over him served to indicate that the ancient king of Israel was not God w/o qualification, then to be consistent, it seems that the same restriction/qualification, if you will, should apply to the Son, especially since he has been "anointed" into this position.



Hebrews 1 contextual analysis: Likewise, we get a hint as to what position Christ occupies with the plethora of evidence in the gospel itself. Hebrews 1:3, 13, 8:1, 12:2, and 10:12 all convey the same message as Hebrews 1:8. That Jesus sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.


“Having made purification for our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High having become superior to the angels." (1:3-4). Your throne the God to the age of the age." (1:5,8).


"To which of the angels did He ever say, "Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet" (1:13). Even Rev. 3:21 cosigns.


The grammatical mashup:


Most traditional translations prefer the vocative position because it supports Trinitarianism. However, there is a conflict with how the author of Hebrews presents their theology. For example, the Vocative Case or Nominative for Vocative: This is the case of direct address. It can address a person or persons. Taking the vocative for nominative (which is limited in the NT), reads like Orthodox interpretation “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God”. This is much to the satisfaction of the Jesus is God advocates. However, the Greek is not that explicit. As we will see in the coming segments.[8]


The very next chapter of the Psalm passage that it's quoting Psalm 46:1 (LXX 45:1) is helpful for us to understand a similar idea of the nominative as a reference to God as a power source. “God is our refuge and strength”(ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν καταφυγὴ καὶ δύναμις). καταφυγὴ and δύναμις are being utilized appositionally ὁ θεὸς. Simple put, the king’s relationship with the god of Israel is on full display. YHWH, is often presented as exceptionally close. A key passage relevant for this thesis is 2 Samuel 7, where YHWH promises David that his dynasty will rule Israel forever. Here David (the most likely antecedent) seems to be the tool YHWH uses to rule on earth, his deputy or viceroy.


I contend that 46:1 (and 7) is in the same contextual sphere. With respect to the "sons of Korah” and the Davidic king being glorified. God being a symbol of strength to the king is a central theme in the Psalm. Symbolically speaking, the כִּסְאֲךָ ("thy Throne”) is a representation of the authority of God, for the simple fact that the King and the Son sits with God.


For all intent and purposes, there isn't much of a distinction with the king being addressed as ο θεός with qualification and the kingly place of power being his source. That is, in a much lesser sense than the Tetragram, which would be employed in the highest capacity.


The Nominative case:


There is a complete absence of the vocative case indicator in the opening address due to θεὸς being in the nominative case rather than the vocative θεέ, and the Son" here being merely referenced and is in the accusative case and is, therefore, the direct object and not the subject of the sentence. "God", even though the subject of the sentence, is not theoretically being addressed directly here, so does not need to be in the vocative case. Also, the definite article "the", precedes "God", in all three instances in the NT Greek, and in general Greek, the definite article does not have a vocative case. So, as God is not being addressed directly (Vocative) and is preceded by the definite article, the Greek utilizes the nominative case, as is allotted for a syntactical possibility.[9]



χαρακτήρ and ὑποστάσεως


The etymology of χαρακτήρ in the Greek speaking regions normally denotes the semantic of something engraved or stamped upon another. The author I Hebrews describes one of the glories of the son as being “the exact imprint of his (God’s) person” (1:3). The word utilized there for “exact imprint” is the χαρακτὴρ. Again, It is a word drawn from the world of engraving, the stamping of hot metal with a pattern which the metal will then bear. Imagine an emperor employing an engraver who carved his royal portrait on a stamp. The engraver then used a stamp to make a coin, so that the coin gave the exact imprint that was on the stamp. Heb 1:3 says that the exact imprint of the Father’s nature has been reproduced in the son’s human nature. All such language is metaphorical and in ontological terms, I don't see a correlation. But the message is clear.


The complete phrase in Heb. 1:3 is: χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ


The BDAG, has a lexical entry for χαρακτὴρ:


"2. someth. produced as a representation, reproduction, representation . . . Christ is the χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ an exact representation of (God’s) real being Hb 1:3."


Abbott-Smith asserts, "a stamp or impress: metaphorically, as on a coin or seal;" [G. Abbot-Smith, D.D, D.C.L., LL.D., A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament(Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1936), pg. 479.]


The LXX Leviticus 13:28 utilizes it as a reference to a scar from a burn;


ἐὰν δὲ κατὰ χώραν μείνῃ τὸ αὐγάζον καὶ μὴ διαχυθῇ ἐν τῷ δέρματι αὐτὴ δὲ ᾖ ἀμαυρά ἡ οὐλὴ τοῦ κατακαύματός ἐστιν καὶ καθαριεῖ αὐτὸν ὁ ἱερεύς ὁ γὰρ χαρακτὴρ τοῦ κατακαύματός ἐστιν (Lev 13:28)


If in Heb. 1:3 ὑποστάσεως could refer to God's essential nature, being, or essence, then Jesus is the representation, copy, or "reproduction" (to quote the BDAG) of that essential nature, being or essence. Jesus does not possess God's being, he is a picture of God's being. The text therefore demonstrates that God (The Father) and Jesus are numerically and ontologically distinct.





The more probable rendering:


The nominative or subject is likely: Since the original Hebrew and LXX passage in Psalm 45 suggest that ὁ Θεός is not being directly addressed; rather the king is being praised by cataloging the attributes of his life in the palace and the bulk of evidence of the use of O QEOS as a nominative, rather than as a vocative leans more towards the "God is your throne" translation. Also, there is no previous reference to Jesus as ὁ Θεός in the immediate context. [10]


The rule without exceptions is summoned again:


Thankfully, the quotation from Psalms 45:6-7 at Hebrews 1:8-9 is significantly informative. Since the article with God in verse 9 is grammatically anaphoric, it identifies θεὸς in verse 8 as the God of the king. Thus the ultimate power source. The Greek anaphora functions in the exact same way that a pronoun identifies its antecedent? Hebrews 1:8 -But about the Son, he says: “God is your throne” (taken as the subject), the God who anointed you as king, (Cp.. 9) forever and ever, and the scepter of your Kingdom is the scepter of uprightness.


9 “You loved righteousness, and you hated lawlessness. That is why God, your God, [the God just mentioned] anointed you with the oil of exultation more than your companions”


A switch of subjects:


When you look at vs 13, we can agree that this "He” is the Father God Himself. This "He” in this verse is the antecedent to the κύριε "Lord” in vs 10. Also the conj. "δὲ" at the beginning of that verse is postpositive, which means it gives contrast to a sentence or clause from the one that precedes it.

Parallels: Compare the following and note how Hebrews 1:8 is expressing the same idea:


Then David said to all the assembly, “Now bless the LORD your God.” And all the assembly blessed the LORD, the God of their fathers, and bowed low and worshiped the LORD and the King.... Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD as King instead of David his father... (1 Chronicles 29:20-23).


Of all my sons (for the Lord has given me many sons), He has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the Kingdom of the LORD over Israel. (1 Chronicles 28:5)

Blessed be the LORD your God, who delighted in you to set you ON HIS THRONE, to be King for the LORD your God because your God loved Israel, to establish the forever, therefore made he you King over them, to do judgment and justice. (2 Chronicles 9:8).


ὁ Θεὸς in Heb 1:8 can either be construed as a subject nominative, nominative of address or a predicate nominative. Interestingly, William Tyndale evidently understood ὁ Θεὸς as a subject nominative.


"But unto the son he saith: God thy seat shall be for ever and ever" (Tyndale's NT).

C.F.D. Moule writes: "Luke XVIII.11 ὁ Θεὸς (Heb. 1:8, which looks similar, may conceivably be a true Nominative, construed so as to mean Thy throne is God; but see commentators IN LOC.) . . ." B.F. Westcott also favored the translation "God is your throne."[11]


In his commentary on Hebrews, he writes: "The phrase 'God is Thy throne' is not indeed found elsewhere, but it is in no way more strange than Ps LXXI.3 81:3 [Lord] be Thou to me a rock of habitation . . . Thou art my rock and my fortress" (p. 26). It is also obvious that the term "throne" applied to God in Heb 1:8 is not to be taken literally; God is understood as the one who upholds, guarantees or supports the Messiah's kingly rule. Furthermore, in this case, God is not said to be a throne for His people: he is, according to Westcott and Tyndale, the Son's Throne.


E. C. Wickham evidently concurs with B. F. Westcott’s assessment of Hebrews 1:8. He argues that the nominative of address (vocative) is not the most appropriate construal of the Greek text for two primary reasons: (1) It is not likely that a “human prince” would be called Elohim or theos by the OT writer of Psalm 45; (2) "O God" (the vocative) would serve as the climax in Heb. 1:8. But Wickham appears to think that the head noun Θεὸς here does not function climatically. [12] He reasons that we should translate Heb. 1:8, "God is thy throne" or "thy throne is (i.e., represents) God”. I will admit that three possibilities exist for this verse.


Vs 3. The verb carries the idea of ‘sustain or uphold’. The context may suggest the additional idea of the Son ‘carrying’ all things to their appointed goal. The notion of purpose seems to be intended. The idea is not the support of a burden like Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders. "The language implies a ‘bearing’ that includes movement and progress towards an objective." [14]


I would ask the detractors for a moment to put away the knives, “God” (Θεὸς) in the nominative case here can be understood as either predicate: “Your throne is God forever and ever or nominative “God is your throne”. Prescott interestingly suggested Englishing it as “Your throne [is a throne of God] forever and ever.” Although admittedly, Most, including Blass-Debrunner-Funk take it as vocative. The translation reflects a defensible rendering. The Psalmist, of course, could have been addressing God and the writer of Hebrews could have possibly have God addressing the Son.


More Syntactical and semantic considerations


Note that some scholars are reluctant to express a preference as to whether ὁ θεός is nominative or vocative in v. 8, declaring that both interpretations are admissible and could suffice. Although most modern English manuscripts stick with the traditional “vocative” the best greek sources support a nominative e.g P-46, Codex Sinaiticus, & Codex Alexandrinus. Plus αὐτοῦ in v. 8b gives the verse a clear antecedent, 'θρόνος and αἰών are left out of the question'.


Conclusion


I admittedly propose that taken either the Nominative (for vocative), predicate nominative or the absolute vocative does not pose any difficulty to any form of Unitarianism. If we go with the more traditional rendering, then the one called "ὁ θεός" in verse 8 has a God over him according to verse 9, something that is anti-reflexive in nature. However, I suspect that ὁ θεός in the nominative (subject or predicate) with estin (is) is to be understood: “God is thy throne” or “Thy throne is God.” For contextual reasons, I tend to lean towards the predicate or nominative view strictly off the strength of the theme of Hebrews. That the Son is made superior than the Angels and epiphanizes God's radiance.


We shall appeal to a popular analogy for our thesis. “The Sun”, is 4.6 billions years old, it is a giant sphere and is made of hot plasma. The rays of light it emits are not 4.6 billion years old, they are not a giant sphere, and they are not made of hot plasma. The Sun is not one substance with its rays. It theoretically emits strength, power and life to the rays. Likewise the Son was stamped into existence by a greater power source, God Almighty The Father.


I conclude that Psalm 46:1-7 is in the same contextual sphere. With respect to the "sons of Korah” and the Davidic king being glorified. God being a symbol of strength to the king is a central theme in the Psalm. Metaphorically speaking, the "Throne” is a representation of God, for the simple fact that the King and the Son sits with God.


To me, I don't see much of a distinction with the king being addressed as ο θεός with qualification and the kingly place of power being his source. That is, in a much lesser sense than the say the Tetragram. Thus the strength of the Son..But I can certainly understand why some scholars also see a vocative use of God. The vocative (address with the nominative form or nominative of address). Further, the very same language is applied to an earthly king at Ps. 45, showing that θεός is likely being utilized in a restricted or representational sense. However, since the article in vs 9 is anaphoric, pointing back to the God in vs 8 (which is cataphoric), this is ruled out.[15]



 

Footnotes:


[1]See Craddock, F. B. “The Letter to the Hebrews: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” vol. 12 of the New Interpreter’s Bible. Nash- ville: Abingdon, 1998.


[2]For a full presentation, see Ellingworth, 81–85. The original translation in this commentary is based on the twenty-seventh revised edition of Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, ed. Barbara and Kurt Aland et al. (Stuttgart: Bibelgesellschaft, 2001). Also we have in existence a detailed list of the vocabulary in each category, provided by Spicq, 1:154


[3] See Susan E. Docherty “The Use of the Old Testament in Hebrews: A Case Study in Early Jewish Bible Interpretation” for an exhaustive analysis, (WUNT, 2.260; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009)


[4] God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in diverse manners, (Heb 1:1 ASV)


[5] See also Psalm 18:2, Psalm 16:5


[6] Specifically, in the Syrian tradition, the exegetes of that tradition hold to a typology prophecy. Maurice Casey in his “Solution to the Son of Man Problem” calls it a ‘typological interpretation of prophecy’ [pg. 85]. Likewise, a number of French Scholars, i.e P.M. Casey appropriate this literary interpretation as ‘prophéties à double visée’. Others who hold to a dual sense of prophecy and who have agreed with Dwight Pentecost as to the legitimacy of this principle are: Berkeley Mickelsen, Bernard Ramm, C. L. Fein- berg, Charles Ryrie, and John Walvoord.


[7] Murray J. Harris 'Jesus as God', Ps. 45-78 on pp. 200-1


[8] On the vocative... Separate form was fading in usage. Blass-Debrunner-Funk Grammar: "Even where the nominative is still formally distinguished from the vocative, there is still a tendency for the nominative to to usurp the place of the vocative (a tendency observable already in Homer)." (sect 147) And Robertson's Big Grammar: (a) THE NOMINATIVE AS VOCATIVE. There is an increasing use of nominative forms as vocatives. This usage had long existed for nouns that were oxytone or had labial or guttural stems. Elsewhere in general the stem had served as vocative. No notice is here taken of the common use of the article with the nominative form as vocative, like ἡ παῖς (Lu. 8:54), a construction coming under syntactical treatment. A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Logos Bible Software, 2006), 264.


[9] ὁ Θεὸς in Heb 1:8 can either be construed as a subject nominative, nominative of address or a predicate nominative. Interestingly, William Tyndale evidently understood ὁ Θεὸς as a subject nominative. "But unto the son he saith: God thy seat shall be for ever and ever" (Tyndale's NT). C.F.D. Moule writes: "Luke XVIII.11 ὁ Θεὸς (Heb. 1:8, which looks similar, may conceivably be a true Nominative, construed so as to mean Thy throne is God; but see commentators IN LOC.) . . ." (An Idiom Book of NT Greek, p. 32). B.F. Westcott also favored the translation "God is your throne."In his commentary on Hebrews, he writes: "The phrase 'God is Thy throne' is not indeed found elsewhere, but it is in no way more strange than Ps LXXI.3 [Lord] be Thou to me a rock of habitation . . . Thou art my rock and my fortress" (p. 26). It is also obvious that the term "throne" applied to God in Heb 1:8 is not to be taken literally; God is understood as the one who upholds, guarantees or supports the Messiah's kingly rule.




[11] C.F.D. Moule “An Idiom Book of NT Greek”, p. 32


[12] See Wickham, The Epistle to the Hebrews with Introduction and Notes (London: Methuen, 1910), page 8


[13] O'Brien in Pillar



[15] See other blogs for an analysis of the anaphoric Greek article. It is applied also to Titus 2:13, 1 John 5:20, Hebrews 1:8, Romans 9:5 and 2 Thessalonians 1:12. In each of these passages, the anaphoric article undisputedly identifies the Father as God.



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