Epistle to the Hebrews Chapter 1:1-4 Antique Commentary Quotes

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Hebrews 1:1

1–4. Thesis of the Epistle

1. God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake] It is hardly possible in a translation to preserve the majesty and balance of this remarkable opening sentence of the Epistle. It must be regarded as one of the most pregnant and noble passages of Scripture. The author does not begin, as St Paul invariably does, with a greeting which is almost invariably followed by a thanksgiving; but at once, and without preface, he strikes the key-note, by stating the thesis which he intends to prove. His object is to secure his Hebrew readers against the peril of an apostasy to which they were tempted by the delay of Christ’s personal return, by the persecutions to which they were subjected, and by the splendid memories and exalted claims of the religion in which they had been trained. He wishes therefore, not only to warn and exhort them, but also to prove that Christianity is a Covenant indefinitely superior to the Covenant of Judaism, alike in its Agents and its Results. The words “How much more,” “A better covenant,” “a more excellent name,” might be regarded as the keynotes of the Epistle (Heb_3:3, Heb_7:19-20; Heb_7:22, Heb_8:6, Heb_9:23, Heb_10:34, Heb_11:40, Heb_12:24, &c.). In many respects, it is not so much a letter as an address. Into these opening verses he has compressed a world of meaning, and has also strongly brought out the conceptions of the contrast between the Old and New Dispensations—a contrast which involves the vast superiority of the latter. Literally, the sentence may be rendered, “In many portions and in many ways, God having of old spoken to the fathers in the prophets, at the end of these days spake to us in a Son.” It was God who spoke in both dispensations; of old and in the present epoch: to the fathers and to us; to them in the Prophets, to us in a Son; to them “in many portions” and therefore “fragmentarily,” but—as the whole Epistle is meant to shew—to us with a full and complete revelation; to them “in many ways,” “multifariously,” but to us in one way—namely by revealing Himself in human nature, and becoming “a Man with men.”

God] In this one word, which admits the divine origin of Mosaism, the writer makes an immense concession to the Jews. Such expressions as St Paul had used in the fervour of controversy—when for instance he spoke of “the Law” as consisting of “weak and beggarly elements”—tended to alienate the Jews by utterly shocking their prejudices; and in very early ages, as we see from the “Epistle of Barnabas” some Christians had developed a tendency to speak of Judaism with an extreme disparagement, which culminated in the Gnostic attribution of the Old Testament to an inferior and even malignant Deity, whom they called “the Demiurge.” The author shared no such feelings. In all his sympathies he shews himself a Hebrew of the Hebrews, and at the very outset he speaks of the Old Dispensation as coming from God.

who] There is no relative in the Greek. Instead of “who … spake … hath spoken …” the force of the original would be better conveyed by “having spoken … spake.”

at sundry times] In the Greek, one word polumerôs “in many parts.” The nearest English representative of the word is “fragmentarily,” which is not meant as a term of absolute but only of relative disparagement. It has never been God’s method to reveal all His relations to mankind at once. He revealed Himself “in many portions.” He lifted the veil fold by fold. First came the Adamic dispensation; then the Noahic; then the Abrahamic; then the Mosaic; then that widening and deepening system of truth of which the Prophets were ministers; then the yet more advanced and elaborate scheme which dates from Ezra;—the final revelation, the “fulness” of revealed truth came with the Gospel. Each of these systems was indeed fragmentary, and therefore (so far) imperfect, and yet it was the best possible system with reference to the end in view, which was the education of the human race in the love and knowledge of God. The first great truth which God prominently revealed was His Unity; then came the earliest germ of the Messianic hope; then came the Moral Law; then the development of Messianism and the belief in Immortality. Isaiah and Ezekiel, Zechariah and Malachi, the son of Sirach and John the Baptist, had each his several “portion” and element of truth to reveal. But all the sevenfold rays were united in the pure and perfect light when God had given us His Son; and when, by the inbreathing of the Spirit, He had made us partakers of Himself, the last era of revelation had arrived. To this final revelation there can be no further addition, though it may be granted to age after age more and more fully to comprehend it. Complete in itself, it yet works as the leaven, and grows as the grain of mustard seed, and brightens and broadens as the Dawn. Yet even the Christian Revelation is itself but “a part;” “we know in part and prophesy,” says St Paul, “in part.” Man, being finite, is only capable of partial knowledge.

in divers manners] The “sundry” and “divers” of our A. V. are only due to the professed fondness for variety which King James’s translators regarded as a merit. The “many manners” of the older revelation were Law and Prophecy, Type and Allegory, Promise and Threatening; the diverse individuality of many of the Prophets, Seers, Warriors, Kings, who were agents of the revelation; the method of various sacrifices; the messages which came by Urim, by dreams, by waking visions, and “face to face” (see Num_12:6; Psa_89:19; Hos_12:10; 2Pe_1:21). The mouthpiece of the revelation was now a Gentile sorcerer, now a royal sufferer, now a rough ascetic, now a polished priest, now a gatherer of sycomore fruit. Thus the separate revelations were not complete but partial; and the methods not simple but complex.

spake] This verb (lalein) is often used, especially in this Epistle, of Divine revelations (Heb_2:2-3, Heb_3:5, Heb_7:14, &c.).

in time past] Malachi the last Prophet of the Old Covenant had died more than four centuries before Christ.

unto the fathers] That is to the Jews of old. The writer, a Jew in all his sympathies, leaves unnoticed throughout this Epistle the very existence of the Gentiles. As a friend and follower of St Paul he of course recognised the call of the Gentiles to equal privileges, but the demonstration of their prerogatives had already been furnished by St Paul with a force and fulness to which nothing could be added. This writer, addressing Jews, is not in any way thinking of the Gentiles. To him “the people” means exclusively “the people of God” in the old sense, namely Israel after the flesh. It is hardly conceivable that St Paul, who was the Apostle to the Gentiles, and whose writings were mainly addressed to them, and written to secure their Gospel privileges, should, even in a single letter, have so completely left them out of sight as this author does. On the other hand he always tries to shew his “Hebrew” readers that their conversion does not involve any sudden discontinuity in the religious history of their race.

by the prophets] Rather, “in the Prophets.” It is true that the “by” may be only a Hebraism, representing the Hebrew בְּ in 1Sa_28:6; 2Sa_23:2. We find ἐν “in” used of agents in Mat_9:34, “In the Prince of the demons casteth He out demons,” and in Act_17:31. But, on the other hand, the writer may have meant the preposition to be taken in its proper sense, to imply that the Prophets were only the organs of the revelation; so that it is more emphatic than διὰ “by means of.” The same thought may be in his mind as in that of Philo when he says that “the Prophet is an interpreter, while God from within whispers what he should utter.” “The Prophets,” says St Thomas Aquinas, “did not speak of themselves, but God spoke in them.” Comp. 2Co_13:3. The word Prophets is here taken in that larger sense which includes Abraham, Moses, &c.

Pulpit Commentary


Retaining the order of the words in the original, we may translate, In many portions, and in many modes of old God having spoken to the fathers in the prophets. Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως—not a mere alliterative redundancy, denoting variously:—the writer’s usual choice use of words forbids this supposition. Nor is the μερῶς of the first adverb to be taken (as in the A.V) to denote portions of time:—this is not the proper meaning of the compound. Nor (for the same reason) does it denote various degrees of prophetic inspiration, but (on etymological as well as logical grounds) the various portions of the preparatory revelation to “the fathers.” It was not one utterance, but many utterances; given, in fact, at divers times, though it is to the diversity of the utterances, and not of the times, that the expression points. Then the second adverb denotes the various modes of the several former revelations—not necessarily or exclusively the rabbinical distinction between dream, vision, inspiration, voices, angels; or that between the visions and dreams of prophets and the “mouth to mouth” revelation to Moses, referred to in Num_12:6-9; but rather the various characters or forms of the various utterances in themselves. Some were in the way of primeval promises; some of glimpses into the Divine righteousness, as in the Law given from Mount Sinai; some of significant ritual, as in the same Law; some of typical history and typical persons, spoken of under inspiration as representing an unfulfilled ideal; some of the yearnings and aspirations, or distinct predictions, of psalmists and of prophets. But all these were but partial, fragmentary, anticipatory utterances, leading up to and adumbrating the ‘one complete, all-absorbing “speaking of God to us in the SON,” which is placed in contrast with there all. If the subsequent treatment in this Epistle of the Old Testament utterances is to be taken as a key for unlocking the meaning of the exordium, such ideas were in the writer’s mind when he thus wrote. “Πολυμερῶς pertinet ad materiam, πολυτρόπως ad formam” (Bengel). Of old; i.e. in the ages comprised in the Old Testament record. Though it is true that; God has revealed himself variously since the world was made to other than the saints of the Old Testament, and though he ceased not to speak in some way to his people between the times of Malachi and of Christ, yet both the expression, “to the fathers,” and the instances of Divine utterances given subsequently in the Epistle, restrict us in our interpretation to the Old Testament canon. Addressing Hebrews, it is from this that the writer argues. Having spoken; a word used elsewhere to express all the ways in which God has made himself, his will, and his counsels, known (cf. Mat_10:20; Luk_1:45, Luk_1:70; Joh_9:29; Act_3:21; Act_7:6). To the fathers; the ancestors of the Jews in respect both of race and of faith; the saints of the Old Testament. The word had a well-understood meaning (cf. Mat_23:1-39. 30; Luk_1:55, Luk_1:72; Luk_11:47; and especially Rom_9:5). For the double sense of the term “father,” thus used, see Joh_8:56, “your father Abraham;” but again, Joh_8:39, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham;” and also Rom_4:1-25. and Gal_3:7. But this distinction between physical and spiritual ancestry does not come in here. In the prophets. The word “prophet” must be taken here in a general sense; not confined to the prophets distinctively so called, as in Luk_24:44, “Moses, the prophets, and the psalms.” For both Moses and the psalms are quoted in the sequel, to illustrate the ancient utterances. Προφήτης means, both in classical and Hellenistic Greek (as does the Hebrew איבִןָ, of which προφήτης is the equivalent), not a foreteller, but a forth teller of the mind of God, an inspired expounder (of. Διὸς προφήτης ἐστὶ Λοξι ́ας πατρός, AEsch., ‘Eum.,’ 19; and Exo_7:1, “See I have made thee a god to Pharaoh, and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet”). Observe also the sense of προφητεία in St. Paul’s Epistles (especially 1Co_14:1-40). In this sense Moses, David, and all through whom God in any way spoke to man, were prophets. On the exact force of the preposition ἐν, many views have been entertained. It does not mean “in the books of the prophets,”—the corresponding “in the SON” precludes this; nor that God by his Spirit spoke within the prophets,—this idea does not come in naturally here; nor is “the SON” presented afterwards as one in whom the Godhead dwelt, so much as being himself a manifestation of God; nor may we take ἐν, as simply a Hellenism for διὰ,—the writer does not use prepositions indiscriminately. Ἐν, (as Alford explains it) differs from διὰ as denoting the element in which this speaking takes place. This use of the preposition is found also in classical Greek; cf. σημαίνειν ἐν οἰωνοῖς, frequent in Xenophon; in the New Testament, of. Ἐν τῷ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίωι ἐκβα ́λλει τὰ δαιμόνια” (Mat_9:34).

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Hebrews 1:2

2. Hath … spoken] Rather, “spake.” The whole revelation is ideally summed up in the one supreme moment of the Incarnation. This aoristic mode of speaking of God’s dealings, and of the Christian life, as single acts, is common throughout the New Testament, and especially in St Paul, and conveys the thought that

“Are, and were, and will be are but is

And all creation is one act at once.”

The word “spoke” is here used in its fullest and deepest meaning of Him whose very name is “the Word of God.” It is true that this author, unlike St John, does not actually apply the Alexandrian term “Logos” (“Word”) to Christ, but it always seems to be in his thoughts, and, so to speak, to be trembling on his lips. The essential and ideal Unity which dominated over the “many parts” and “many modes” of the older revelation is implied in the most striking way by the fact that it was the same God who spake to the Fathers in the Prophets and to us in a Son.

in these last days] The better reading (א, A, B, D, E, &c.) is “at the end of these days.” The phrase represents the technical Hebrew expression be-acharîth ha-yâmîm (Num_24:14). The Jews divided the religious history of the world into “this age” (Olam hazzeh) and “the future age” (Olam habba). The “future age” was the one which was to begin at the coming of the Messiah, whose days were spoken of by the Rabbis as “the last days.” But, as Christians believed that the Messiah had now come, to them the former period had ended. They were practically living in the age to which their Jewish contemporaries alluded as the “age to come” (Heb_2:5, Heb_6:5). They spoke of this epoch as “the fulness of the times” (Gal_4:4); “the last days” (Jas_5:3); “the last hour” (1Jn_2:18); “the crisis of rectification” (Heb_9:10); “the close of the ages” (Heb_9:26). And yet, even to Christians, there was one aspect in which the new Messianic dispensation was still to be followed by “a future age,” because the kingdom of God had not yet come either completely or in its final development, which depended on the Second Advent. Hence “the last crisis,” “the later crises” (1Pe_1:5; 1Ti_4:1) are still in the future, though they thought that it would be a near future; after which would follow the “rest,” the “Sabbatism” (Heb_4:4; Heb_4:10-11; Heb_11:40; Heb_12:28) which still awaits the people of God. The indistinctness of separation between “this age” and “the future age” arises from different views as to the period in which the actual “days of the Messiah” are to be reckoned. The Rabbis also sometimes include them in the former, sometimes in the latter. But the writer regarded the end as being at hand (Heb_10:13; Heb_10:25; Heb_10:37). He felt that the former dispensation was annulled and outworn, and anticipated rightly that it could not have many years to run.

by his Son] Rather, “in a Son.” The contrast is here the Relation rather than the Person of Christ, “in Him who was a Son.” The preposition “in” is here most applicable in its strict meaning, because “in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” “The Father, that dwelleth in me, He doeth the works” (Joh_14:10). The contrast of the New and Old is expressed by St John (Joh_1:17), “The Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” In Christ all the fragments of previous revelation were completed; all the methods of it concentrated; and all its apparent perplexities and contradictions solved and rendered intelligible.

he hath appointed] Rather, “He appointed.” The question as to the special act of God thus alluded to, is hardly applicable. Our temporal expressions may involve an inherent absurdity when applied to. Him whose life is the timeless Now of Eternity and in Whom there is neither before nor after, nor variableness, nor shadow cast by turning, but Who is always in the Meridian of an unconditioned Plenitude (Pleroma). See Jas_1:17.

heir of all things] Sonship naturally suggests heirship (Gal_4:7) and in Christ was fulfilled the immense promise to Abraham that his seed should be heir of the world. The allusion, so far as we can enter into these high mysteries of Godhead, is to Christ’s mediatorial kingdom. We only darken counsel by the multitude of words without knowledge when we attempt to define and explain the relations of the Persons of the Trinity towards each other. The doctrine of the περιχώρησις, circuminsessio or communicatio idiomatum as it was technically called—that is the relation of Divinity and Humanity as effected within the Divine Nature itself by the Incarnation—is wholly beyond the limit of our comprehension. We may in part see this from the fact that the Son Himself is (in Heb_1:3) represented as doing what in this verse the Father does. But that the Mediatorial Kingdom is given to the Son by the Father is distinctly stated in Joh_3:35; Mat_28:18 (comp. Heb_2:6-8 and Psa_2:8).

by whom] i.e. “by whose means;” “by whom, as His agent.” Comp. “All things were made by Him” (i.e. by the Word) (Joh_1:3). “By Him were all things created” (Col_1:16). “By Whom are all things” (1Co_8:6). What the Alexandrian theosophy attributed to the Logos, had been attributed to “Wisdom” (see Pro_8:22-31) in what was called the Chokhmah or the Sapiential literature of the Jews. Christians were therefore familiar with the doctrine that Creation was the work of the Pnæ-existent Christ; which helps to explain Heb_1:10-12. We find in Philo, “You will discover that the cause of it (the world) is God … and the Instrument the Word of God, by whom it was equipped (kateskeuasthç)” De Cherub. (Opp. i. 162); and again “But the shadow of God is His Word, whom He used as an Instrument in making the World,” De Leg. Alleg. (Opp. i. 106).

also] He who was the heir of all things was also the agent in their creation.

he made the worlds] Literally, “the aeons” or “ages.” This word “aeon” was used by the later Gnostics to describe the various “emanations” by which they tried at once to widen and to bridge over the chasm between the Human and the Divine. Over that imaginary chasm St John had thrown the one wide arch of the Incarnation when he wrote “the Word became flesh.” In the N.T. the word “aeons” never has this Gnostic meaning. In the singular the word means “an age;” in the plural it sometimes means “ages” like the Hebrew olamim. Here it is used in its Rabbinic and post-biblical sense of “the world” as in Heb_11:3, Wis_13:9, and as in 1Ti_1:17 where God is called “the king of the world” (comp. Tob_13:6). The word kosmos (Heb_10:5) means “the material world” in its order and beauty; the word aiones means the world as reflected in the mind of man and in the stream of his spiritual history; oikoumene (Heb_1:6) means “the inhabited world.”

Pulpit Commentary


In these last days. The true reading being ἐπ ἐσχα ́τον τῶν ἡμερω ͂ ν τούτων, not ἐπ ἐσχα ́των, as in the Textus Receptus, translate, at the end of these days’, The Received Text would, indeed, give the same meaning, the position of the article denoting’ “the lustier these days,” not “these last days.” The reference appears to be to the common rabbinical division of time into αἰὼν οὖτος, and αἰὼν μέλλων, or ἐρχο ́ μενος: the former denoting the pro-Messianic, the latter the Messianic period. Thus “these days” is equivalent to αἰὼν οὓτος, “the present age,” and the whole expression to ἐπὶ συντε ́λειᾳ τῶν αἰώνων, “at the end of the ages” (infra, Heb_9:26); cf. 1Co_10:11,” for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come.” The term, αἰὼν μέλλων, is also used in this Epistle (6. 5); of. 1Co_2:5, τὴν οἰκουμένην τὴν μέλλουσαν. For allusions elsewhere to the two periods, of. Mat_12:32; Mar_10:30; Luk_18:30; Luk_20:35; Eph_1:21; Tit_2:12. Cf. also in Old Testament, Isa_9:6, where, for “Everlasting Father,” Cod. Alex. has πατὴρ τοῦ μελλόντος αἰῶνος. A subject of discussion has been the point of division between the two ages—whether the commencement of the Christian dispensation, ushered in by the exaltation of Christ, or his second advent. The conception in the Jewish mind, founded on Messianic prophecy, would, of course, be undefined. It would only be that the coming of the Messiah would inaugurate a new order of things. But how did the New Testament writers after Christ’s ascension conceive the two ages? Did they regard themselves as living at the end of the former age or at the beginning of the new one? The passage before us does not help to settle the question, nor does Heb_9:26; for the reference in both cases is to the historical manifestation of Christ before his ascension. But others of the passages cited above seem certainly to imply that “the coming age” was regarded as still future. It has been said, indeed, with regard to this apparent inference from some of them, that the writers were regarding their own age from the old Jewish standing-point when they spoke of it as future, or only used well-known phrases to denote the two ages, though they were no longer strictly applicable (see Alford’s note on Heb_2:5). But this explanation cannot well be made to apply to such passages as 1Co_10:11 and Eph_1:21, or to those in the Gospels. It would appear from them that it was not till the παρούσια (or, as it is designated in the pastoral Epistles, the ἐπιφα ́ νεια) of Christ that “the coming age” of prophecy was regarded as destined to begin, ushering in “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2Pe_3:13). Still, though “that day” was in the future, the first coming of Christ had been, as it were, its dawn, signifying its approach and preparing believers for meeting it. “The darkness was passing away; the true light was already shining” (1Jn_2:8). Hence the apostolic writers sometimes speak as if already in the “coming age;” as being already citizens of heaven (Php_3:20); as already “made to sit with Christ in the heavenly places” (Eph_1:6); having already “tasted the powers of the age to come” (Heb_6:5). In a certain sense they felt themselves in the new order of things, though, strictly speaking, they still regarded their own age as but the end of the old one, irradiated by the light of the new. To understand fully their language on the subject, we should remember that they supposed the second advent to be more imminent than it was. St. Paul, at one time certainly, thought that it might be before his own death (2Co_5:4; 1Th_4:15). Thus they might naturally speak of their own time as the conclusion of the former age, though regarding the second advent as the commencement of the new one. But the prolongation of” the end of these (lays,” unforeseen by them, does not affect the essence of their teaching on the subject. In the Divine counsels “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Hath spoken unto us (more properly, spake to us) in his Son. “His” is here properly supplied to give the meaning of ἐν υἱῷ. The rendering, a SON, which seems to have the advantage of literalism, would be misleading if it suggested the idea of one among many sons, or a son in the same sense in which others are sons. For though the designation, “son of God,” is undoubtedly used in subordinate senses—applied e.g. to Adam, to angels, to good men, to Christians—yet what follows in the Epistle fixes its peculiar meaning here. The entire drift of the curlier part of the Epistle is to show that the idea involved in the word “Son,” as applied to the Messiah in prophecy, is that of a relation to God far above that of the angels or of Moses, and altogether unique in its character. This idea must have been in the writer’s mind when he selected the phrases of his exordium. Nor is the article required for the sense intended. Its omission, in fact, brings it out. Ἐν τῷ υἱῷ would have drawn especial attention to “the personage in whom God spake; ἐν υἱῷ does so rather to the mode of the speaking—it is equivalent to “in one who was SON.” Son-revelation (as afterwards explained), is contrasted with previous prophetic revelations (cf. for omission of the article before υἱὸς, Heb_3:6; Heb_5:8; Heb_7:28). Whom he appointed (or, constituted) heir of all things; not, as in the A.V., “hath appointed.” The verb is in the aorist, and here the indefinite sense of the aorist should be preserved. “Convenienter statim sub Filii nomen memoratur haereditas” (Bengel). Two questions arise.

(1) Was it in respect of his eternal Divinity, or of his manifestation in time, that the Son was appointed “Heir of all things?”

(2) When is God to be conceived as so appointing him? i.e. What is the time, if any, to be assigned to the indefinite aorist?

In answer to question

(1) the second alternative is to be preferred. For

(a) his eternal pre-existence has not yet been touched upon: it is introduced, as it were parenthetically, in the next and following clauses.

(b) Though the term Son is legitimately used in theology to denote the eternal relation to the Father expressed by the Λόγος of St. John, yet its application in this Epistle and in the New Testament generally (excepting, perhaps, the μονογενὴς υἱὸς peculiar to St. John, on which see Bull, ‘Jud. Eccl. Cath.,’ Ecc_5:4, etc), is to the Word made flesh, to the Son as manifested in the Christ. And hence it is to him as such that we may conclude the heirship to be here assigned.

(c) This is the view carried out in the sequel of the Epistle, where the SON is represented as attaining the universal dominion assigned to him after, and in consequence of, his human obedience. The conclusion of the exordium in itself expresses this; for it is not till after he had made purification of sins that he is said to have “sat down,” etc; i.e. entered on his inheritance; having become (γένομενος not ὢν) “so much better,” etc. This is the view of Chrysostom, Theodoret, and the Fathers generally (cf. the cognate passage, Php_2:9).

(2) It seems best to refer the aorist ἔθηκε, not to any definite time, as that of the prophetic utterances afterwards cited, or that of the actual exaltation of Christ, but indefinitely to the eternal counsels, which were indeed declared and fulfilled in time, but were themselves ἐνἀρχῇ. A similar use of the aorist, coupled with other aorists pointing to events in time, is found in Rom_8:29, Rom_8:30. What this heirship of all things implies will appear in the sequel, By whom also he made the worlds. Interposed clause to complete tits true conception of the SON; showing who and what he was originally and essentially through whom God “spake” in time, and who, as SON, inherited. Here certainly, and in the expressions which follow, we have the same doctrine as that of the Λόγος of St. John. And the testimony of the New Testament to the pre-existence and deity of Christ is the more striking from our finding the same essential idea under different forms of expression, and in writings differing so much from each other in character and style. He who appeared in the world as Christ is, in the first place, here said (as by St. Joh_1:3) to have been the Agent of creation; cf. Col_1:15-17, where the original creative agency of “the Son of his love” is emphatically set forth, as well as his being “the Head of the body, the Church.” This cognate passage is of weight against the view of interpreters who would take the one before us as referring to the initiation of the gospel ages; with respect to which view see also the quotation from Bull given below under Col_1:3. Here τοὺς αἰῶνας is equivalent to “the worlds,” as in the A.V. For though the primary meaning of αἰών has reference to time—limited in periods, or unlimited in eternity—it is used to denote also the whole system of things called into being by the Creator in time and through which alone we are able to conceive time. “Οἱ αἰῶνες, saecula, pro rerum creatarum universitate est Hebraismus” (Bull); of. Heb_11:3, καταρτίσθαι τοὺς αἰῶνας ῥήματι Θεοῦ: also 1Co_2:7, πρὸ τῶν αἰώνων: and 2Ti_1:9; Tit_1:2, πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων.

Hebrews 1:3

3. the brightness] The substitution of “effulgence” for “brightness” in the Revised Version is not, as it has been contemptuously called, “a piece of finery,” but is a rendering at once more accurate and more suggestive. It means “efflux of light”—“Light of (i.e. from) Light” (“effulgentia” not “repercussus”) Grotius. It implies not only resemblance—which is all that is involved in the vague and misleading word “brightness,” which might apply to a mere reflexion:—but also “origin” and “independent existence.” The glory of Christ is the glory of the Father just as the sun is only revealed by the rays which stream forth from it. So the “Wisdom of Solomon” (Heb_7:26)—which offers many resemblances to the Epistle to the Hebrews, and which some have even conjectured to be by the same author—speaks of wisdom as “the effulgence of the everlasting light.” The word is also found in Philo where it is applied to man. This passage, like many others in the Epistle, is quoted by St Clement of Rome (ad Cor. 36).

of his glory] God was believed in the Old Dispensation to reveal Himself by a cloud of glory called “the Shechinah,” and the Alexandrian Jews, in their anxious avoidance of all anthropomorphism and anthropopathy—i.e. of all expressions which attribute the human form and human passions to God—often substituted “the Glory” for the name of God. Similarly in 2Pe_1:17 the Voice from God the Father is a Voice “from the magnificent glory.” Comp. Act_7:55; Luk_2:9. St John says “God is Light,” and the indestructible purity and impalpable essence of Light make it the best of all created things to furnish an analogy for the supersensuous light and spiritual splendour of the Being of God. Hence St John also says of the Word “we beheld His glory” (Joh_1:14); and our Lord said to Philip “he who hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (Joh_14:9). Comp. Luk_9:29.

the express image] Rather, “the stamp” (charactçr). The R. V. renders this word by “very image” (after Tyndale), and in the margin by “impress.” I prefer the word “stamp” because the Greek “charactçr” like the English word “stamp,” may, according to its derivation, be used either for the impress or for the stamping-tool itself. This Epistle has so many resemblances to Philo that the word may have been suggested by a passage (Opp. i. 332) in which Philo compares man to a coin which has been stamped by the Logos with the being and type of God; and in that passage the word seems to bear this unusual sense of a “stamping-tool,” for it impresses a man with the mark of God. Similarly St Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians (Col_1:15)—which most resembles this Epistle in its Christology—called Christ “the image (eikôn) of the invisible God;” and Philo says, “But the word is the image (eikôn) of God, by Whom the whole world was created,” De Monarch, (Opp. ii. 225).

of his person] Rather, “of His substance” or “essence.” The word hypostasis, substantia (literally that which “stands under”) is, in philosophical accuracy, the imaginary substratum which remains when a thing is regarded apart from all its accidents. The word “person” of our A. V. is rather the equivalent to prosôpon. Hypostasis only came to be used in this sense some centuries later. Perhaps “Being” or “Essence,” though it corresponds more strictly to the Greek ousia, is the nearest representative which we can find to hypostasis, now that “substance,” once the most abstract and philosophical of words, has come (in ordinary language) to mean what is solid and concrete. It is only too possible that the word “substance” conveys to many minds the very opposite conception to that which was intended and which alone corresponds to the truth. Athanasius says, “Hypostasis is essence” (οὐσία); and the Nicene Council seems to draw no real distinction between the two words. In fact the Western Church admitted that, in the Eastern sense, we might speak of three hypostaseis of the Trinity; and in the Western sense, of one hypostasis, because in this sense the word meant Essence. For the use of the word in the LXX. see Ps. 38:6, 88:48. It is curiously applied in Wis_16:21. In the technical language of theology these two clauses represent the Son as co-eternal and co-substantial with the Father.

upholding all things] He is not only the Creative Word, but the Sustaining Providence. He is, as Philo says, “the chain-band of all things,” but He is also their guiding force. “In Him all things subsist” (Col_1:17). Philo calls the Logos “the pilot and steersman of everything.”

by the word of his power] Rather, “by the utterance (rhemati) of His power.” It is better to keep “word” for Logos, and “utterance” for rhema. We find “strength” (κράτος) and “force” (ἰσχύς) attributed to Christ in Eph_6:10, as “power” (δύναμις) here.

when he had by himself purged our sins] Rather, “after making purification of sins.” The “by Himself” is omitted by some of the best MSS. (א, A, B), and the “our” by many. But the notion of Christ’s independent action (Php_2:7) is involved in the middle voice of the verb. On the purification of our sins by Christ (in which there is perhaps a slight reference to the “Day of Atonement,” called in the LXX. “the Day of Purification,” Exo_29:36), see Heb_9:12, Heb_10:12; 1Pe_2:24; 2Pe_1:9 (comp. Job_7:21, LXX.).

sat down] His glorification was directly consequent on His voluntary humiliation (see Heb_8:1, Heb_10:12, Heb_12:2; Psa_109:1), and here the whole description is brought to its destined climax.

on the right hand] As the place of honour comp. Heb_8:1; Psa_110:1; Eph_1:20. The controversy as to whether “the right hand of God” means “everywhere”—which was called the “Ubiquitarian controversy”—is wholly destitute of meaning, and has long fallen into deserved oblivion.

of the Majesty] In Heb_10:12 he says “at the right hand of God.” But he was evidently fond of sonorous amplifications, which belong to the dignity of his style; and also fond of Alexandrian modes of expression. The LXX. sometimes went so far as to substitute for “God” the phrase “the place” where God stood (see Exo_24:10, LXX.).

on high] Literally, “in high places;” like “Glory to God in the highest,” Luk_2:14 (comp. Job_16:19); and “in heavenly places,” Eph_1:20 (comp. Psa_93:4; Psa_112:5). The description of Christ in these verses differed from the current Messianic conception of the Jews in two respects. 1. He was divine and omnipotent. 2. He was to die for our sins.

Pulpit Commentary


Who, being, etc. The participle ᾢν—not γενόμενος, as in Heb_1:4—denotes (as does still more forcibly ὐπα ́ρχων in the cognate passage, Php_2:6) what the Son is in himself essentially and independently of his manifestation in time. This transcendent idea is conveyed by two metaphorical expressions, differing in the metaphors used, but concurrent in meaning. The brightness of his glory. The word δόξα (translated “glory”), though net in classical Greek carrying with it the idea of light, is used in the LXX. for the Hebrew דוֹבךָּ, which denotes the splendor surrounding God; manifested on Mount Sinai, in the holy of holies, in the visions of Ezekiel, etc; and regarded as existing eternally “above the heavens” (cf. Exo_24:15; Exo_40:34; 1Ki_8:11; Eze_8:4; Psa_24:7, Psa_24:8, etc). But the full blaze of this glory, accompanying” the face” of God, even Moses was not allowed to see; for no man could see him and live. Moses was hidden in a cleft of the rock while the God’s glory passed by, and saw only its outskirts, i.e. the radiance left behind after it; had passed; hearing meanwhile a proclamation of the moral attributes of Deity, by a perception of which he might best see God (Exo_33:18, etc). Similarly in the New Testament. There also, as on Sinai, in the tabernacle, and in prophetic vision, the glory of God is occasionally manifested under the form of an unearthly radiance; as in the vision of the shepherds (Luk_2:9), the Transfiguration (Luk_9:28, etc), the ecstasy of Stephen (Act_7:55). But in itself, as it surrounds “the face” of God, it is still invisible and unapproachable; cf. Joh_1:18, “No man hath seen God at any time;” 1Jn_1:5, “God is Light;” 1Ti_6:16, “Dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto (φῶς απρόσιτον), whom no man hath seen nor can see.” It denotes really, under the image of eternal, self-existent, unapproachable light, the ineffable Divine perfection, the essence of Deity, which is beyond human ken. “Sempiterna ejus virtus et divinitas” (Bengel). Of this glory the SON is the ἀπαυ ́ γασμα—a word not occurring elsewhere in the New Testament, but used by the Alexandrian writers. The verb ἀπαυγα ́ ζω means “to radiate,” “to beam forth brightness;” and ἀπαύ γασμα, according to the proper meaning of nouns so formed, should mean the brightness beamed forth—this rather than its reflection from another object, as the sun’s light is reflected from a cloud. So the noun is used in Wis. 7:26, as applied to Σοφία, which is there personified in a manner suggestive of the doctrine of the Λόγος: Ἀτμὶ ς γὰρ ἐστὶ τη ͂ς τοῦ Θεοῦ δυνάμεως καὶ ἀπόρροια τῆς τοῦ παντοκράτορος δόξης εἰλικρινής … a̓παύγασμα γὰρ ἐστὶ φωτὸς αἰδίου And Philo speaks of the breath of life breathed lute man (Gen_2:7) as τῆς μακαρίας καὶ τρισμακαρίας φύσευς απαύγασμα (‘De Spec. Leg.,’ § 11). As, then, the eradiated brightness is to the source of light, so is the SON, in his eternal being, to the Father. It is, so to speak, begotten of the source, and of one substance with it, and yet distinguishable from it; being that through which its glory is made manifest, and through which it enlightens all things. The Person of the Son is thus represented, not as of one apart from God, irradiated by his glory, but as himself the sheen of his glory; cf. Joh_1:14, “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father;” also Joh_1:4; Joh_1:9. The above is the view taken by the Fathers generally, and expressed in the Church’s Creed, φῶς ἐκ φωτός. And express Image of his substance; not “of his person,” as in the A.V. The latter rendering is due to the long-accepted theological use of the word ὑπο ́ στασις in the sense of personal subsistence, as applied to each of the Three in One. What the Latins called persona the Greeks at length agreed to call hypostasis, while the Greek οὐσία (equivalent to essentia) and the Latin substantia (though the latter word etymologically corresponds with hypostasis) were used as equivalents in meaning. But it was long after the apostolic age that this scientific use of the word became fixed. After as well as before the Nicene Council usia was sometimes used to denote what we mean by person, and hypostasis to denote what we mean by the substance of the Godhead; and hence came misunderstandings during the Arian controversy. Bull (‘Def. Fid. Nic.,’ 2.9. 11) gives a catena of instances of this uncertain usage. The definite doctrine of the Trinity, though apparent in the New Testament, had not as yet come under discussion at the time of the writing of this Epistle, or been as yet scientifically formulated; and hence we must take the word in its general and original sense, the same as that now attached to its etymological equivalent, substantia. It means literally, “a standing under,” and is used

(1) in a physical sense, for “foundation,” as in Psa_69:2, “I sink in deep mire where there is no standing,” where the LXX. has ὑπο ́ στασις:

(2) metaphorically, for “confidence” or “certainty,” as below, Heb_3:15 and 2Co_9:4;

(3) metaphysically, for that which underlies the phenomena of things and constitutes their essential being. Of the substance, understood in the last sense, of God the Son is the χαρακτὴρ, which word expresses a similar kind of relation to the Divine substance as ἀπαυ ́ γασμα does to the Divine glory. Derived from χαράσσω (equivalent to “mark,” “grave,” or “stamp,” with an engraven or imprinted character), its proper meaning is the perceptible image on the material so stamped or engraved, of which it thus becomes the χαρακτὴρ. Thus the “image and superscription” on a coin is its χαρακτὴρ, manifesting what the coin is. The instance of the tribute money (Mat_22:20) at once occurs to us: our Lord pointed to the χαρακτὴρ on the coin as manifesting its ὑπο ́ στασις, as being Caesar’s money. Thus also the lineaments of a countenance are called its χαρακτὴρ, as in Herod., 1.116, Ὁ χαρακτὴρ τοῦ προσώπου. A passage in Philo is illustrative of the sense intended; and it is to be observed (both with regard to the expression before us and to the preceding ἀπαυ ́γασμα) that the Alexandrian theologians are important guides to the interpretation of phrases in this Epistle, their influence on its modes of thought and expression being perceptible. He says (‘De Plant. Nee.,’ § 5) that Moses called the rational soul the image (εἰκόνα) of the Divine and Invisible, as being οὐσιωθεῖσαν καὶ τυπωθεῖσαν σφραγῖδι Θεοῦ ἥς ὁ χαρακτη ̀ρ ἐστὶ ν ὁ ἀ ΐδιος λόγος. Here, be it observed, χαρακτὴρ is used for the form or lineament of the Divine seal itself, not for the copy stamped on the plastic material. And it is applied, as here, to the “Eternal Word,” as being the manifestation of what the unseen Godhead is. Hence it would be wrong to understand the word, as some have done, as denoting the form impressed by one substance on another—as though the impression left on the wax were the χαρακτὴρ of the seal. This misconception would mislead (as might also ἀπαυ ́γασμα, if rendered “reflection”) in that it would seem to represent the Son as distinct from God, though stamped with his likeness and irradiated by his glory. Arian views about the SON, or even mere humanitarian views about the Christ, might thus seem countenanced. The two words ἀπαυ ́ γασμα and χαρακτὴρ, as has been said, express a similar relation to δόξα and ὑπο ́σρασις respectively, and convey the same general idea of the Son’s eternal relation to the Father. But both are, of course, but figures, each necessarily inadequate, of the inscrutable reality. If we may distinguish between them, it may be said that the former especially intimates the view of the operation and energy of the Godhead being through the Son, while the latter more distinctly brings out the idea of the Son being the Manifestation of what the God- head is, and especially of what it is to us. And upholding all things. We have here still the present participle, denoting the intrinsic operation of him who was revealed as Son. Though the word φέρειν, in the sense of upholding or sustaining creation, does not occur elsewhere in the, New Testament, it can hardly have any other meaning here, considering the context. We find a similar use of it in Num_11:14; Deu_1:9, “to bear (φέρειν) all this people alone.” And in the later Greek and rabbinical writers parallels are found. Chrysostom interprets φέρων as meaning κυβερνῶν τὰ διαπίπτοντα συγκρατῶν, which comes to the same thing as “upholding” or “sustaining.” The meaning is that not only were “the worlds” made through him; in his Divine nature he ever “upholds” the “all things” which were made through him, and of which, as SON, he was appointed “Heir;” el. Col_1:17, “And in him all things consist.” And this upholding operation must not be supposed to have been in abeyance during the period of his humiliation. He was still what he had been eternally, though he had “emptied himself” of the state and prerogatives of Deity (Php_2:7); el. (though the text is somewhat doubtful) Joh_3:13, “The Son of man, which is (ὢν) in heaven.” By the word (ῥήματι) of his power is an expression elsewhere used of the voluntas efficax of Deity—the utterance of Divine power; cf. Heb_11:3, “The worlds were framed by the Word (ῥήματι) of God.” The writer could hardly have used it in this connection, if speaking of a created being. As to the reference of “his” before” power,” whether to the subject of the sentence or to God, there is the same ambiguity in the Greek as in the English translation. Even if αὐτοῦ be intended, and not αὑτοῦ (and the former is most likely, since the pronoun, though it be reflective, is not emphatically so), it may with grammatical propriety refer either, like the previous αὐτοῦ, to God, or to him who thus upholds all things. In either case the general meaning of the clause remains the same. Enough has been said on the whole series of phrases which is thus concluded to show the untenableness of the Socinian interpretation, which would refer them only to Christ in the flesh and to the Christian dispensation. On such interpretation of the first of them Bull remarks, “Interpretatio Socinistarum, Deum nempe dici per Filiam saecula condidisse, quod per ipsum genus humanum reformavit et restauravit, et in novum quemdam statum transtulit, prodigiosum est commentum. Sane juramento aliquis tuto affirmare possit, ex Hebraeis, ad quos scripta fuit ilia epistola, ne unum quidem fuisse, qui scriptoris verba hoc sensu intellexerit, aut vel per somnium cogitaverit, per τοὺς αἰῶνας, saeculaa, significarum fuisse tantum genus humanum, nedum ejus pattem illam, cui tunc temporis evangelii lux effulserat” (‘Jud. Eccl. Cath.,’ 5.8). When he had made purification of sins. (So, according to the best-supported ‘rod now generally accepted text) The aorist is now resumed, denoting an act in time—the act accomplished by him as incarnate SON, previous to and necessary for his entering on the inheritance appointed to him as such. This act, the grand purpose of the Incarnation, was atonement. There can be no doubt that the cleansing effected by atonement, and not the mere moral reformation of believers, is meant hero by purification of sins. The sequel of the Epistle, being, as aforesaid, the lull expression of the drift of the exordium, is sufficient proof of this. For in it Christ is exhibited at great length as the true High Priest of humanity, accomplishing truly what the Jewish priesthood signified; and as having “sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,” in virtue of his accomplished atonement (Heb_8:1; Heb_10:12). Nor would the Hebrew readers to whom the Epistle was addressed be likely to understand καθαρισμὸν (“purification”) in any other sense than this. The verb καθαρίζειν is the LXX. equivalent for the Hebrew רהַםִ, frequent in the Old Testament for ceremonial cleansing, the result of atoning sacrifice; in which sense it is accordingly used in Heb_10:1-39. of this Epistle. The theory of the Jewish ceremonial law was that the whole congregation, including the priests themselves, were too much polluted by sin to approach the holy God who dwelt between the cherubim. Therefore sacrifices were ordained to make atonement for them. The word for “making atonement for” (Greek, ἰλασκε ́σθαι) is in Hebrew רפַךָ, which means properly “to cover;” i.e. to cover sin from the sight of God. And the result of such atonement was called “purification,” or “cleansing.” This appears clearly in Lev_16:1-34., where the ceremonies of the great Day of Atonement are detailed. After an account of the various sacrifices of atonement, for the high priest and his house, for the people, and for the holy place itself polluted by their sins, we read (Lev_16:19), “And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it [i.e. the altar] with his finger seven times, and cleanse it (καθαριεῖ), and hallow it from the uncleanness (τῶν ἀκαθαρσιω ͂ν) of the children of Israel.” And finally (Lev_16:30), “For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you (καθαρίσαι), that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.” It is to be observed, further, that it is especially the meaning of the ceremonial of the Day of Atonement that Christ is spoken of afterwards in the Epistle as having fulfilled. For the phrase, ποιησάμενος καθαρισμὸν ἁμαρτι ὼν, cf. Job_7:21, Διατί οὐκ ἐποι ήσω τῆς ἀνομι ́ας λήθην καὶ καθαρισμὸν τῆς ἁμαρτί ας μου. Its meaning in the Epistle may be that Christ, by his death, brought into being and established a permanent purification of sins—”a fountain open for sin and for uncleanness” (Zec_13:1)—in his blood, which is regarded as now ever offered at the heavenly mercy-seat (Heb_9:12) and sprinkled on the redeemed below (Heb_9:14, Heb_9:22). Thus the distinction, observed above, between the atonement (ἱλασμο ̀ς), of sacrifice and its application for cleansing (καθαρισμὸς) would be preserved (cf. 1Jn_1:7 and Rev_7:14). Sat down; i.e. entered on his inheritance of all things; not simply in the sense of resuming his pristine glory, but of obtaining the preeminence denoted in prophecy as appointed to the Son, human as well as Divine, and won by obedience and accomplished atonement. And this his supreme exaltation (as will be seen hereafter) carries with it the idea of an exaltation of humanity, of which he was the High Priest and Representative. But be it observed that there is no change in the subject; of the sentence. He who “sat down on high” after making purification is the same with him through whom the worlds were made, and whose eternal Divinity has been expressed by the present participles. This identification supports the orthodox position of there being but one personality in Christ, notwithstanding the two natures, and justifies, against Nestorian-ism, the term θεοτόκος as applied to the blessed Virgin, with other cognate expressions accepted in orthodox theology, such as, “God suffered,” though in his human, not his Divine, nature; “God shed his blood” (cf. Php_2:9, etc). On the right hand of the Majesty on high. The expression is taken from Psa_110:1, afterwards cited in this Epistle, and prominently referred to in like manner by St. Paul. The figure is suggested by the custom of Oriental kings, who placed at the right hand of the throne a son whom they associated with themselves in the prerogatives of royalty. Occurring as it does first in a Messianic psalm, the phrase is never applied to the Son’s original relation to the Father “before the ages,” but only to his exaltation as the Christ (on which see Bleek). The same idea seems expressed by our Lord’s own words, “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Mat_28:18). But in the end, according to St. Paul (1Co_15:24, 1Co_15:28), this peculiar “kingship” of the SON will cease, the redemptive purpose being accomplished. It is to be observed that, both here and afterwards (Heb_8:1), a fine periphrasis is used for “right-hand of God;” “the right hand of the Majesty on high” and “the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” This may be regarded, not only as characteristic of the eloquent style of the Epistle, but also as implying an avoidance of too local or physical a view of the session spoken of. It is apparent elsewhere how the writer sees in the figures used to denote heavenly things only signs, level to our comprehension, of corresponding realities beyond our ken.

Cambridge Bible Farrar

Hebrews 1:4

4. being made] Rather, “becoming,” or “proving himself to be.” The allusion is to the Redemptive Kingdom of Christ, and the word merely qualifies the “better name.” Christ, regarded as the Agent or Minister of the scheme of Redemption, became mediatorially superior to the Angel-ministrants of the Old Dispensation, as He always was superior to them in dignity and essence.

so much] The familiar classical ὄσῳ … τοσούτῳ (involving the comparison and contrast which runs throughout this Epistle, Heb_3:3, Heb_7:20, Heb_8:6, Heb_9:27, Heb_10:25) is not found once in St Paul.

better] This word, common as it is, is only thrice used by St Paul (and then somewhat differently), but occurs 13 times in this Epistle alone (Heb_6:9, Heb_7:7; Heb_7:19; Heb_7:22, Heb_8:6, Heb_9:23, Heb_10:34, Heb_11:16; Heb_11:35; Heb_11:40, Heb_12:24).

so much better than the angels] The writer’s object in entering upon the proof of this fact is not to check the tendency of incipient Gnostics to worship Angels. Of this there is no trace here, though St Paul in his letter to the Colossians, raised a warning voice against it. Here the object is to shew that the common Jewish boast that “they had received the law by the disposition of Angels” involved no disparagement to the Gospel which had been ministered by One who was “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Eph_1:21). Many Jews held, with Philo, that the Decalogue alone had been uttered by God, and that all the rest of the Law had been spoken by Angels. The extreme development of Jewish Angelology at this period may be seen in the Book of Enoch. They are there called “the stars,” “the white ones,” “the sleepless ones.” St Clement of Rome found it necessary to reproduce this argument in writing to the Corinthians, and the 4th Book of Esdras illustrates the tendency of mind which it was desirable to counteract.

hath by inheritance obtained] Rather, “hath inherited.” Comp. Luk_1:32; Luk_1:35. “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name” (Php_2:9). He does not here seem to be speaking of the eternal generation. Christ inherits His more excellent name, not as the Eternal Son, but as the God-Man. Possibly too the writer uses the word “inherited” with tacit reference to the prophetic promises.

a more excellent name than they] Not here the name of “the only-begotten Son of God” (Joh_3:18), which is in its fulness “a name which no one knoweth save Himself” (Rev_19:12). The “name” in Scripture often indeed implies the inmost essence of a thing. If, then, with some commentators we suppose the allusion to be to this Eternal and Essential name of Christ we must understand the word “inheritance” as merely phenomenal, the manifestation to our race of a præexistent fact. In that view the glory indicated by the name belonged essentially to Christ, and His work on earth only manifested the name by which it was known. This is perhaps better than to follow St Chrysostom in explaining “inherited” to mean “always possessed as His own.” Comp. Luk_1:32, “He shall be called the Son of the Highest.”

more excellent … than] This construction (παρὰ after a comparative) is not found once in St Paul’s Epistles, but several times in this Epistle (Heb_1:4, Heb_2:9, Heb_3:3, Heb_9:23, Heb_11:4, Heb_12:24). It should be observed, as bearing on the authorship of the Epistle, that in these four verses alone there are no less than six expressions and nine constructions which find no—or no exact—parallel in St Paul’s Epistles.

Pulpit Commentary


Having become by so much better than the angels as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they (διαφορωτέρον παρ αὐτοὺς). (For the same Greek form of comparison, see Heb_1:9; Heb_3:3) “Παρα ingentem printer caeteros excellentiam denotat” (Bengel). This verse, though, in respect of grammatical construction, it is the conclusion of the exordium, serves as the thesis of the first section of the argument to follow, the drift of which is to show the SON’S superiority to the angels. The mention of the angels comes naturally after the allusion to Psa_110:1-7., viewed and quoted as it is afterwards in connection with Psa_8:1-9., in which “a little lower than the angels” is taken to denote the state previous to the exaltation; and it is preparatory also for the argument that follows. The more distinguished name, expressing the measure of superiority to the angels, is (as the sequel shows) the name of SON, assigned (as aforesaid) to the Messiah in prophecy, and so, with all that it implies, “inherited” by him in time according to the Divine purpose. Observe the perfect, “hath inherited,” instead of the aorist as hitherto, denotes, with the usual force of the Greek tense, the continuance of the inheritance obtained. It’ we have entered into the view all along taken by the writer, we shall see no difficulty in the SON being said to have become better than the angels at the time of his exaltation, as though he had been below them before. So he had in respect of his assumed humanity, and it is to the SON denoted in prophecy to be humanly manifested in time that the whole sentence in its main purport refers. As such, having been, with us, lower than the angels, he became greater, the interposed references to his eternal personality retaining their full force notwithstanding. But why should the name of SON in itself imply superiority to the angels? Angels themselves are, in the Old Testament, called “sons of God.” It has been suggested that the writer of the Epistle was not aware of the angels being so designated, since the LXX., from which he invariably quotes, renders מילִאֶ ינִףְ by ἀγγέλοι. But this is not so invariably. In Gen_6:1; Psa_29:1; and Psa_89:7, we find υἱοί Θεοῦ. And, whatever be the application of the words in each of these passages, they at any rate occur in the LXX. as denoting others than the Messiah. Nor, in any case, would it be easily supposable that one so versed in biblical lore as the writer must have been had been thus misled in so important a point of his argument. The fact is that his argument, properly understood, is quite consistent with a full knowledge of the fact that others as well as the Messiah are so designated. For it is not merely the term “Son” as applied to the Messiah in prophecy, but the unique manner in which it is so applied, that is insisted on in what follows. The form of his commencement shows this. He does not say, “Whom, except the Messiah, did he ever call Son?” but, “To which of the angels did he ever speak as follows, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee?” In language generally the meaning of a word may depend very materially on the context in which it occurs and other determining circumstances. Indeed, the mere use of the title in the singular, “my Son,” carries with it a different idea from its use in the plural of a class of beings. But this is not all. A series of passages from the Old Testament is adduced by way of expressly showing that the sonship assigned to the Messiah carries with it the idea of a relation to God altogether beyond any ever assigned to angels. Such is the position of the writer. We shall see in the sequel how He makes it good.


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