Hebrews

1:1-4

Introduction, 1:1-4

God speaks to us through his Son

Argument

In this opening passage of Hebrews, our author "shows that Jesus is greater than the prophets and that he has a special relationship to God. He took part in creation and in due course he accomplished the purification of men from their sins. He is greater by far than any angel", Morris.

 
Issues

i] Context: Hebrews presents as a homily / sermon / speech, an example of first century rhetoric. As such it begins with what is known as an exordium, an introduction designed to bring the listener onside, and while doing so, touch on the content of the sermon. The exordium would normally run for a few minutes and in Hebrews it seems to encompass 1:1-2:4. Using high prose, our author first speaks of God's revelation of his Son, 1:1-4, and then goes on in 1:5-13 with a series of Bible quotations supporting the contention that the Son is superior to angels and their limited role in divine revelation. The introduction concludes with an appeal / admonition, 2:1-4. This part of the sermon applies the truths revealed in the opening chapter. The angels, through the prophets, revealed divine truth, but Jesus, the Son, the Lord, has revealed a superior revelation of salvation, confirmed "by signs ..... and by gifts of the Holy Spirit." Pity help us if we fail to "pay the most careful attention" to this revelation from Christ, and "drift away" from the salvation that is already ours.

 

ii] Background:

A General introduction: Our author writes to a church facing dangers within and dangers without. This was a church which faced times of general persecution, troubles from without, but also a church that faced growing disputes within the Christian fellowship, troubles from within. We have no idea who wrote the sermon, or where he wrote from, but we can be sure that the traditional ascription to Paul the apostle has little merit; "Who wrote the Epistle God only knows for certain", Origen. The best we can ascertain is that he/she is a Greek speaking Jewish believer. As to when the sermon was written, commentators are divided, but given that there is no mention of the destruction of the Temple in AD70, a fact that would strongly support the author's argument that the temple cult is redundant, seems to indicate a date before AD70. The possible allusions to Paul's letters indicate a date after AD60. Hebrews is possibly addressed to a church in Rome; "those of Italy salute you", 13:24 - the first quote from Hebrews is by Clement of Rome in AD95

The designation "The Letter to the Hebrews" is misleading because it is anything but a letter; It is a rhetorical speech / sermon, or as our author puts it, "a word of exhortation", 13:22 - it was written to be read aloud to an audience with a delivery time of around 50 minutes. The congregation / audience is most likely made up of conservative Jewish believers. They are suffering, and so our author seeks to encourage them with the knowledge that Christ, our Great High Priest, also suffered, and was ultimately glorified through his suffering, and that because of their relationship with Christ, they will also be glorified; they will taste Christ's victory.

The author also has something to say about the reluctance of these first century believers to abandon their Jewishness; he seeks to take them out of their Jewish comfort zone, out of the camp of Israel, and into the wider Gentile / secular world. The new age has dawned and it is time now to look to the spiritual verities of Old Israel and apply these to the Graeco-Roman world at large - it's time to look to Rome (Gentile Christianity) rather than Jerusalem; Paul rather than James (Peter??); Grace rather than Law......... The intricacies of the Temple cult sought to orientate broken humanity with God, but it wasn't reality; it was nothing more than an image of a future reality. Christ superseded the cult, he is our Great High Priest, the supreme and final revelation of God to mankind, and he bridges the gulf between broken humanity and God, and this as a gift of grace through faith.

 

iii] Structure: This passage, God speaks to us through his Son, presents as follows:

God is a communicating God, v1-2a;

The Son's qualifications, v2b-3;

Jesus is the heir of all things;

He is the creative power of God;

He is the visible and comprehensible manifestation of the divine;

He sustains the universe;

He rules all things in time and space;

The Son is the Father's superior messenger and mediator, v4.

 

iv] Interpretation:

Our author opens his argument by making the point that God has actively revealed his mind to humanity from the earliest of days, v1. This revelation is through the prophets, men like Moses, mediated by angels, v4. Our author mentions angels because he takes the view that God didn't reveal himself personally to the Old Testament saints, but rather used angelic intermediaries. It is likely that the covenant encapsulates this revelation, particularly as codified in the Law of Moses. "But in these last day" all things are new because God "has spoken to us by his Son." God personally renews his covenant with humanity through his own Son. Of the Son our author says, He is: the owner of everything, v2b; the creator of everything, v2c; the evident presence of divine glory, v3a; the exact representation of divine being, v3b; God the Father's agent in sustaining the creation, v3c; the means of human purification from sin, v3d; God the Father's right-hand man in glory, v3e; a being superior to angels, v4. In fact, this prologue to Hebrews virtually "sums up a good part of the kerygma (the apostolic gospel message)", Bruce.

 

v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

 
Text - 1:1

God speaks through his Son, v1-4: Barclay says of the Greek in this passage that the author "felt that, since he was going to speak of the supreme revelation of God to men, he must clothe his thoughts in the noblest language that it was possible to find." The passage consists of one sentence in the Greek. The subject is "the Son", v2, with the main verb "he sat down", v3. Three attributive relative clauses serve to limit / describe "the Son". The third relative clause is formed by three adverbial participial constructions. The sentence concludes with a consecutive clause. So, the sentence is as follows:

God initially reveled himself through the prophets (via angels)

now, at the end of the age he speaks through his Son

w}n, "who", possesses all things,

ou| "who", as God's agent, created all things,

o}V, "who":

w]n,"being", the very impression / image of God,

ferwn, "sustaining" everything by the power of his word,

poihsamenoV, "having effected" cleansing from sin

ekaqisen, "he sat down" at God's right hand / he was enthroned,

consequently, in comparison with the divine revelation through angels

keklhronomhken, "he has inherited" a more excellent name / he is superior.

i] God is a communicating God, v1-2a. Our author establishes both continuity and discontinuity between the old and the new, cf. Hughes. God is a communicating God; he is a God who speaks. Throughout the history of the people of Israel, God has communicated with his people through human messengers, people like Moses and the prophets. Now, at the end of the age, God the Father has spoken through his Son and given to us a complete and final revelation of his intentions for the human race.

palai adv. "in the past" - [in many ways and various way] long ago. Adverb of time. Of something completed in the past, here of the many and varied (but partial) sorts of revelation of former times, particularly the Old Testament, prior to the complete revelation in Christ.

lalhsaV (lalew) aor. part. "[God] spoke" - [god] having spoken. Aorist expressing completed action. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verb "he spoke", v2, "he spoke to us, having spoken long ago to .." Other possibilities exist, eg. concessive, "although God spoke to ....", even temporal, "after God spoke to ..."

toiV patrasin (hr roV) dat. "to our forefathers" - to the fathers, ancestors. Dative of indirect object. Variant "our" is probably not original as it disturbs the alliteration (so Attridge), but is certainly implied. Is the article specifying, or is a general "ancestors", or even just "a previous generation", intended?

en + dat. "through [the prophets]" - in, on, by [the prophets]. Here instrumental, expressing agency; "by the prophets", NRSV, but a local "in the prophets" = "in the writings of the prophets" may be intended (the presence of the article certainly serves to specify). A broad sense is probably intended for the prophets, ie. "the patriarchs", Attridge.

polumerwV kai polutropwV adv. "at many times and in various ways" - The position of these adverbs of manner is emphatic in the Gk. and the use of alliteration indicates that a single idea is in mind, namely the multiplicity of God's revelation as contrasted with the singularity of God's revelation in the Son, so Ellingworth, although Attridge draws some distinction between the two ("polumerwV suggests that God's speech of old was disjointed, coming in multiple segments or portions, polutropwV suggests the formal diversity of God's word"); "Many were the forms and fashions in which God spoke to our fathers", Moffatt; "The revelation which was given through them was fragmentary and varied", Barclay.

 
v2a

ep (epi) + gen. "but in" - in the time of, during, at. Temporal use of the preposition.

escatou adj. "last" - end. Here the adjective serves as a substantive, "the end of days."

twn hJmerwn gen. "these last days" - of [these] days. The genitive is adjectival, partitive. "Days" plural probably means simply "time", so "in the end time", Ellingworth. The eschatological sense "the end of the age" probably shapes the intended sense. "At the close of these days of ours", Cassirer

elalhsen (lalew) aor. "he has spoken" - he spoke. Aorist again indicating completed action such that even God's revelation through the Son is complete (or more specifically his speaking to humanity is complete), although in a "culminative sense", Kistemaker.

hJmin dat. "to us" - Dative of indirect object. Obviously all believers in Christ; "members of the Christian church", Westcott.

en + dat. "by" - in, by. Instrumental, expressing agency, seems best, so "through", but both locative ("in") and instrumental ("by") may be intended.

uiJw/ (oV) dat. "his son" - son. "Son" is anarthrous, as in 1:5, 3:6, 5:8, 7:28, although an article may be intended because it can be omitted in a prepositional phrase, especially when referring to unique persons, cf. BDF #254/5. Obviously not "a son", as if there were many sons, rather "it highlights the singularity of God's Son", Koester. Westcott argues that the lack of the article "fixes attention upon the nature and not upon the personality of the Mediator of the new revelation." So, "in a son" = "One who is Son". This Son, the Christ, "seated at God's right hand, is superior to all other agents through whom God's word has come", Attridge. "One who is a Son", Moffatt.

 
v2b

ii] The Son's qualifications, v2b-3: Our author now lists the amazing personal qualities of the Son of God, reminding us of his superiority over all other messengers and mediators between God and mankind.

• Jesus is the heir of all things, that is, he inherits all the blessings promised to Israel by the prophets of old, blessings which are now ours through faith in him.

• He is the creative power of God, the preexistent one through whom the whole universe was created.

• He is the visible and comprehensible manifestation of the divine, the reflection of God's glory and the image of God's person. If we want to know what God is like all we have to do is look at Jesus.

• He sustains the universe, providentially maintaining the cosmos through his word of power.

• He rules all things in time and space, all powers and authorities are under his royal authority, and this rightly so, for he gave his life for the purification of broken humanity.

 

This statement, concerning Jesus, may form a chiastic structure, cf. Ellingworth:

God has appointed Christ as heir (enthronement)

Through him he created the world (action in the universe)

He reflects God's glory (relation to God)

He bears God's stamp (relation to God)

He upholds the universe (action in the universe)

He sat down at God's right hand (enthronement), confirmed when he made purification for sins.

eqhken (tiqhmi) aor. "he appointed" - [whom] he made, appointed (to a position). God the Father appoints the Son as the heir of the estate, although the Son does not gain the estate through the Father's death, but rather through his own death. Grammatically, the subject, "God", is replaced in v3 by the "Son", but the passage itself is concerned with the Son's exaltation, preexistence, relationship with the Father, providential care, [his death] and exaltation.

klhronomon (oV) "heir" - Christ has received what was promised, the "all things" being the "universe" rather than humanity. Accusative complement of the direct object "whom" standing in a double accusative construction.

pantwn gen. pro. "of all things" - The genitive is adjectival, of subordination; "over all things."

dia + gen. "through [whom]" - [he spoke to us] through, by means of. Instrumental, expressing agency.

epoihsen (poiew) aor. "he made" - [whom and = also] he created, made. With the force of a pluperfect following "appointed", cf. Ellingworth.

touV aiwnaV (wn wnoV) "the universe" - the ages. Possibly in time terms, so "ages", but better spacial, "the spheres that comprise the universe", Attridge.

 
v3

It is argued by some commentators that this verse is sourced from a hymn. This may be the case, although the writer is quite capable of constructing beautifully balanced clauses. It is interesting how this declaration of the gospel focuses, not on Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension, but rather his enthronement. This Son of God, who is the appointed heir of all things, who was the agent of creation, and who, having revealed God's being, sustained God's world, and purified God's people, has taken his rightful place of authority at the right hand of the Ancient of Days.

o}V "the Son" - who. Introducing a third relative clause limiting uiJw/, "Son", v2; "by his Son who ...... who sat down ..... being the radiance (reflecting God's bright glory) and ...."

w]n (eimi) pres. part. "is" - being. Serving as the first of three adverbial participles modifying the verb "he sat down": "being", "sustaining" and "having made (provided)." It introduces a participial clause, "being the radiance of the glory and the representation of the essence of him", providing another ground for the enthronement of Christ, his sitting at the right had of God. The relationship of the three participial constructions to the main verb "he sat down" is a matter of debate. Lane suggests that the first two are concessive, "the Son, although the radiance of God's glory .... and although sustaining the universe .... yet made purification for sins." Yet, it is more likely that they are temporal, so Kistemaker, Koester. The tense of participles is always a problem since the time of the action plays a part along with aspect. A present participle expresses action contemporaneous to the main verb, while an aorist participle expresses action prior to the main verb. So, the first two participles, taking a present tense, indicate a contemporaneous state, (present action better than "timeless eternity", Andriessen), namely Christ's enthronement, his exaltation and active providential care. The third participle, being aorist, indicates action prior to Christ's enthronement (expressed in the verb "he sat down", aorist = completed action), and best treated as forming an adverbial clause, temporal, as NIV, "after he had provided".

apaugasma (a) "radiance" - brightness, radiance. Referencing the shekinah glory, the divine radiance of God's being.

thV doxhV (a) gen. "of God's glory" - of glory. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "radiance", it is the "glory" type of radiance, "a glorious radiance", or idiomatic, "a radiance which images the radiance of the divine", as NIV. Jesus displays that element of God's person which he reveals to humanity.

carakthr (hr hroV) "the exact representation" - [and] mark, character, image (exact reproduction of a particular form or structure*). As of an image on a coin, expressing the idea that God the Father and the Son are alike and that this likeness (the image of divinity) is evident in Christ. "Describing the essential unity and exact resemblance between God (the Father) and his Son", Ellingworth. "Who is the precise counterpart of his very being", Cassirer.

uJpostasewV (iV ewV) gen. "of [his] being" - of the essence, substance, reality, being [of him]. The genitive is probably adjectival, attributive, limiting "image / representation"; "the Son is .... the essential image of him / God" - "essential being", Ellingworth. The exact sense here is unclear since it is only in later years that the Christian church used the term to define the common being of the three persons of the trinity. Koester suggests two meanings here: i] essential reality - "Jesus is the hidden reality of God .. brought within the realm of human experience"; ii] Steadfastness - "God is unwavering in his purposes and his faithfulness."

te "-" - and. Our author uses this conjunction as a variant for kai, although usually to express a closer association between two elements than may be the case with kai.

ferwn (ferw) pres. part. "sustaining" - carrying, sustaining, upholding, bearing. This adverbial participle introduces the second participial clause, "sustaining all things by his powerful word", providing another ground for Christ's enthronement, his sitting down at God's right hand. The actual meaning of the word here is unclear. Ellingworth offers five possibilities:

• "bear" in the sense of "prevent from falling", "sustains", REB;

• "bear along" in the sense of "guide / rule";

• "bear patiently" in the sense of "endure";

• "bear" in the sense of "produce", "create";

• "bear" as in "bearing the sins of the world".

The NIV "sustaining" seems best, ie. the first option. "He holds the universe together", CEV.

ta panta "all things" - everything. The created universe. The presence of the article gives the sense "all things in their unity", Westcott, ie., expressing the all-inclusive nature of Christ's sustaining role.

tw/ rJhmati (a atoV) "by [his powerful] word" - in word. Instrumental dative, expressing means, "by".

thV dunamewV (iV ewV) gen. "powerful" - [word] of power [of him]. The genitive is possibly objective, "the message about Christ", although more likely adjectival, limiting "word", "his mighty word", Cassirer.

poihsamenoV (poiew) aor. part. "after he had provided" - having made. This adverbial participle introduces the third participial clause, "having made purification for sins." The clause provides a further ground for Christ's enthronement, his sitting down at God's right hand. Attridge argues it is an addition to the hymn, but source issues are of little importance; content is what matters.

kaqarismon (oV) "purification" - a cleansing, purification. Note variant "Christ made purification through himself". Certainly a true statement expressing the idea that "Jesus' sacrifice cleanses the sins of humanity as a whole", Ellingworth.

twn aJmartiwn (a) gen. "for sins" - of sins. The genitive may be treated as verbal, objective, as NIV, although it does also function adjectivally by limiting kaqarismon, "purification", idiomatic, indicating what type of purification is intended; a "purification which covers sins." Harris suggests it is adverbial, expressing separation.

ekaqisen (kaqizw) aor. "he sat down" - As in taking his seat/throne at "the right hand" of God, ie., the place of authority and power, cf. Ps.110.1. Here of Christ's exaltation and enthronement.

thV megalwsunhV (h) gen. "of the Majesty" - [at the right hand] of the majesty. The genitive is adjectival, possessive; "at God's right hand." Obviously a title for God used in deference to his person, cf. 8:1.

en "+ dat. "in [heaven]" - on [high]. Expressing space/sphere; "on high" = "in heaven".

 
v4

iii] The Son is the Father's superior messenger and mediator, v4. The angels, who functioned as mediators of the divine message, were indeed important in revealing God's word to the patriarchs and prophets of old, but none compare with Jesus the Son of God. This verse seems to expand on the statement "he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven", noting that the position of the Son is greater than the angels. The superiority of Christ over angels is expanded in chapter 1 through to 2:16 indicating that this verse is both "a conclusion and transition", Grasser.

genomenoV (ginomai) aor. part. "so he became" - having become. The participle is adverbial, best taken as consecutive, expressing result, "and as a result he became ..."; "and thus he is superior to the angels", Moffatt. Also possibly causal, "for he is as much superior to the angels ...", Barclay, even temporal.

tosoutw/ dat. pro. "as much" - so much, so great. Possibly an instrumental dative, "by", but more likely dative of degree of difference, cf. Kistemaker. The construction tosoutw/ ....... o{sw/, "so much ..... as", which serves to establish a comparison, is a common construction, but only used once more in the NT in Heb.10:25; "being made so much better than the angels as ....", AV.

kreittwn (agaqoV) comp. adj. "superior" - better. Comparative of "good"; "having been made mightier than the angels", Zerwick. The superiority of Christ, as God's messenger, over the many other messengers from God, does not invalidate their message, but "it does indicate that confidence is misplaced if it (that confidence) rests on something other than Christ", Koester. We should also note that the emphasis in Hebrews "is not on the inauguration of Christ's position ("became", "inherited"), but on the fact of its superiority", Attridge.

twn aggelwn (oV) gen. "the angels" - of the angels, messengers. Genitive of comparison, "better than the angels." Only in the opening chapters of Hebrews does our writer focus on angels. From what is known of the intertestamental period in Jewish history, there was intense speculation about the role of angels. In Hebrews they function as mediators between God and his human messengers (eg. Moses), conveying the covenant to God's people. Our writer is making the point that a new messenger has appeared on the scene who is far superior to the many human messengers of the past, as well as their angelic mediators.

o{sw/ "as" - as great, how great, as much, how much. Serving to establish a comparison, see above. Literally: "as he has inherited a name more excellent than them."

onoma (a atoV) "the name" - a name. "Name" in the sense of personal identity and presumably here that name/identity is "the Son of God", ie., Christ's acclamation name is "my son", Ps.2:7, cf. Lane.

keklhronomhken (klhronomew) perf. "he has inherited" - he has inherited. The perfect expresses the idea that "the inheritance has been, is, and will be in effect", Kistemaker.

diaforwteron (diaforoV) comp. adj. "superior" - more excellent, superior, distinguished. "A more excellent name than they", AV.

para + acc. "to [theirs]" - Zerwick suggests that this construction here may express comparison; "in comparison to / than [theirs]."

 

Hebrews Introduction

Exposition

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