Thursday, August 13, 2015

The deity of Christ in Hebrews 1


To oversimplify, we might say that in Heb 1, the author makes his case for the deity of Christ while in Heb 2 he makes his case for the humanity of Christ. Although few doctrines have wider and deeper Biblical attestation than the deity of Christ, no chapter of Scripture has such a concentrated argument for his deity. The author deploys a wide range of literary strategies to prove the deity of Christ.


Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…

What makes Jesus the culmination of that historical process? What makes him so special? If he's just another creature, that would be an arbitrary culmination. What makes it different in the case of Jesus is that he's different in kind. Not just more of the same. 

whom he appointed the heir of all things…

In Heb 1, there's an interplay between the divine sonship of Christ and the Davidic sonship of Christ. Jesus is heir to the Davidic kingship. But he's so much more than that. Ultimately, he's heir to the Father's kingship. In principle, a human could be David's heir, but only a divinity could be the Father's heir. 

To some extent, this trades on an anthropomorphic narrative: the transition of power from an aging monarch to his successor. In human affairs, this can take different forms.

The king may have a son who's the heir apparent. In theory, he will ascend the throne upon his father's death (cf. Heb 9:16-17). 

However, that's not a sure thing. As the king weakens with age, he becomes vulnerable, both to palace coups from within and deposition from without–by invaders who conquer his realm.

To secure transition to the rightful heir, a king will sometimes appoint his son to be coregent or abdicate the throne in favor of his son. That way, when he still has power, he can ensure the succession.

Heb 1 plays on the second scenario. The scepter passes from the Father to the Son. 

Although this is somewhat anthropomorphic, it has a corresponding reality. The divine messiah does become the cosmic ruler.

But one might ask, if the Son is truly divine, then in what sense was he ever waiting in the wings? Although the Son was always royalty, the Son Incarnate wasn't always royalty. Although the Son qua Son cannot be promoted, since he begins at the top, the Son qua Incarnate can be promoted.

through whom also he created the world.

The Son is the agent of creation. That's a distinctive divine prerogative. And that sets him apart from the creation. The Creator of the world is not a creature. And the Son stands to inherit what he himself made in the first place. 

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature

Here we have three interrelated images:

i) The "glory of God" alludes to the Shekinah in the wilderness. A manifestation of God's holy presence. 

ii) "the exact imprint of his nature" connotes exact resemblance and representation. A figurative facsimile that's indistinguishable from the original. 

It doesn't describe a process or product. Rather, it's the effect of a metaphorical process. The Son is identical to the Father. That can't be said of mere creatures.

iii) Apaugasma is a double entendre. It can either mean "radiance" or "reflection." The author probably trades on both senses to make it a linking image connecting the two other images. In common with the Shekinah, it shares the "radiant" connotation. In common with the "exact imprint," it shares the representational connotation (i.e. mirror image). 

and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

Not only is the Son the agent of creation, but providence. The emphasis on his "powerful word" hearkens back to the creative word if God in Gen 1. 

You are my Son,    today I have begotten you


That's from a coronation Psalm, using an adoptive metaphor to symbolize the enthronement ceremony. 


And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says

That uses primogeniture as a figurative honorific title to designate the Son's preeminent rank in the celestial hierarchy. 

Let all God's angels worship him


The angels do obeisance to the Son because he is the new king. They function as royal courtiers in the divine throne room. It's the same principle as Isa 6 and Dan 7. 


Angels are the highest creatures. For angels to worship the Son implies the divinity of the Son. He is above the angels, just as the Father is above the angels. He is on the divine side of the creature/Creator divide.


But of the Son he says,“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,    the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.


Here the Father directly addressed the Son as "God."


This is originally from a wedding Psalm for the Davidic king, but in typological escalation, the application of the divine title to Jesus is taken literally. 


10 And,“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,    and the heavens are the work of your hands;11 they will perish, but you remain;    they will all wear out like a garment,12 like a robe you will roll them up,    like a garment they will be changed.But you are the same,    and your years will have no end.”


This depicts the Son as the Creator God, without beginning or ending. Unoriginate and everlasting. 

For further reading:


Luke T. Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (WJK 2006)
Craig Koester, Hebrews (Doubleday 2001)

Peter T. O'Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews (Eerdmans 2010)

J. Ramsey Michaels, Hebrews (Tyndale 2009)

Thomas Schreiner, Commentary On Hebrews (B&H 2015)


Richard Bauckham, “The Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” in Richard Bauckham, Daniel R. Driver, Trevor A. Hart and Nathan MacDonald eds., The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) 15-36.

10 comments:

  1. How can anyone deny the deity of Christ reading the book of Hebrews? The only way to me is liberal criticism

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  3. Well, I guess Dale can start talking about the law of identity now and tell us why Hebrews doesn't mean what it actually means

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  4. Just a quick comment on this. "Deity of Christ" can mean a lot of different things. If it is meant to imply that God and Christ are numerically one, to the contrary, throughout chapter 1 of Hebrews, the author assumes that God is someone, and that Jesus is someone else - that they are two. This continues throughout the book, and eventually we find him holding out Jesus as a model of faith in God - something we wouldn't suspect, if this author was trying to imply that Jesus just is God himself. http://trinities.org/blog/?s=jesus+faith

    I allow that 1:10-12 present a prima facie difficulty for my theology. And Steve should likewise admit that this bit

    But about the Son he says,

    “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
    a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
    9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
    therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
    by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

    presents a difficulty for his. The "God" addressed here, the Son, has a god over him - obviously, God. So, they're not the same god and not the same "God".

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    1. "Just a quick comment on this. 'Deity of Christ' can mean a lot of different things."

      If you're asking for a theological definition, by "deity of Christ" I mean Christ (qua Son) has all the same divine attributes as the Father (and the Spirit), viz. aseity, omnipotence, omniscience, impassibility, incorporeity, timeless eternality, wisdom, justice, mercy.

      "If it is meant to imply that God and Christ are numerically one, to the contrary, throughout chapter 1 of Hebrews, the author assumes that God is someone, and that Jesus is someone else - that they are two."

      You always resort to the same semantic fallacies and gimmicks. No, throughout the chapter, the author does not assume that God is someone, and Jesus is someone else. Rather, he assumes the Father is someone and the Son is someone else, although both are equally divine.

      "This continues throughout the book, and eventually we find him holding out Jesus as a model of faith in God - something we wouldn't suspect, if this author was trying to imply that Jesus just is God himself."

      Dale, that's philosophically inept. Even as a unitarian apologist, if you must assume Incarnational Trinitarian theology for the sake of argument to object to it. By that frame of reference, Jesus is not "just God in himself." Rather, Jesus is the divine Son Incarnate. That's consistent with Jesus having faith in the Father.

      "I allow that 1:10-12 present a prima facie difficulty for my theology."

      The evidence for the deity of Christ in Heb 1 isn't confined to naming Christ "God" in one passage. I cited multiple lines of evidence, which Tuggy suppresses in his response.

      "presents a difficulty for his. The 'God' addressed here, the Son, has a god over him - obviously, God. So, they're not the same god and not the same 'God.'"

      i) Again, that's philosophically maladroit. For starters, there's the issue of how Biblical usage maps onto philosophical theology.

      ii) The author treats Father and Son as distinct divine individuals. By virtue of his redemptive Incarnation, the Son is below the Father. To be above the angels is to be divine, to be below the angels is to be human. Jesus is both.

      In the economic Trinity, the Son voluntarily assumes a subordinate status to redeem mankind. And that, in turn, is subject to promotion (Heb 2:7-9).

      Tuggy is failing to engaging the actual position of Incarnational Trinitarian theology.

      iii) From a Trinitarian perspective, we'd say the one God is the one Trinity.

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  5. "has all the same divine attributes as the Father"

    Yes, qualitative similarity. That's one thing that can be meant. Of course, it immediately raises the problem of apparently implying more than one god. As you later say, "distinct divine individuals" - this phrase just means the same thing as "more than one god", just as "distinct canine individuals" means the same thing as "more than one dog."

    "No, throughout the chapter, the author does not assume that God is someone, and Jesus is someone else."

    Someone - v. 1. Someone else: v. 2. The two of them mentioned together: v. 3, the one *representing* the other. v. 5-9 the first someone talking about the second someone via prophets. And so on. I know it's hard to get those creedal goggles off, but there the two of them stand, distinctly, on the very surface of the text.

    "By that frame of reference, Jesus is not "just God in himself." Rather, Jesus is the divine Son Incarnate. That's consistent with Jesus having faith in the Father. "

    Steve, if you grant that this is false: God / Father = Son, I'm glad about that. You're correctly, then, disagreeing with all the "Jesus is God" apologists out there, and aligning with the NT. I think you're correct, then, to hold that Father and Son are different selves. Interestingly, this rules out one-self Trinity theories, which are probably the most popular kind in these latter days. Here you side with me, and with the "social" (three-self) guys. You would still have the problem of explaining how what is in your view an omnipotent and omniscient being (Jesus) can have any need of faith. This is my apologist Tom Gilson, in the blog posts I linked above, wanted to deny that Jesus ever had faith in God.

    "a subordinate status"
    Such that Christ can fear an uncertain future, and have need to put his trust in God, entrusting his fate to him? This would seem to imply his not being one of these: omniscient, omnipotent. If so, this clashes with all orthodox theology up till somewhere around mid 19th c. Good discussion of the new-fangled kenosis theories here: http://www.amazon.com/Metaphor-God-Incarnate-Second-Christology/dp/0664230377/ref=sr_1_14?ie=UTF8&qid=1439834428&sr=8-14&keywords=hick+myth (Obviously, I don't endorse Hick's positive views; but his chapters here are quite good.)

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    1. "Yes, qualitative similarity. That's one thing that can be meant. Of course, it immediately raises the problem of apparently implying more than one god."

      i) Evidently, Tuggy doesn't know how the word "deity" is used in English discourse. There's a difference between saying Yahweh is a Deity and referring to the deity of Yahweh. In the second case, the word denotes the nature of being divine.

      There's nothing wrong with a qualitative definition of a qualitative noun. And that is how "deity" is used in a phrase like "the deity of Christ."

      ii) Moreover, Tuggy didn't ask for a definition of monotheism, but deity. So now he's moving the goal post.

      "As you later say, 'distinct divine individuals' - this phrase just means the same thing as 'more than one god'…"

      Actually, it doesn't mean the same thing. Distinct divine individuals is not synonymous with distinct individual Divinities. But it's always gratifying to see Tuggy put his philosophical incompetence on display.

      "Someone - v. 1. Someone else: v. 2. The two of them mentioned together…"

      Notice that Tuggy is constitutionally unable to be honest for 30 second straight. This is what I went on to say: "[the author] assumes the Father is someone and the Son is someone else."

      Tuggy, however, truncates my statement as if I denied that more than one party was in view. Tuggy is demagogue first and a philosopher last. As a unitarian propagandist, he never passes up an opportunity to misrepresent his theological opponent.

      "You're correctly, then, disagreeing with all the 'Jesus is God' apologists out there…"

      Yet another example of Tuggy's philosophical ineptitude. On the one hand there's ordinary language usage. In that respect it's perfectly fine to say "Jesus is God" in the same sense that "the Father is God" (or "the Spirit is God").

      If, however, we wish to speak with greater philosophical precision, it's preferable to say "the Trinity is God" and "the Father is divine," the "Son is divine," and the "Spirit is divine."

      That doesn't gain Tuggy any traction against "Jesus is God" apologists, for this is not a distinction between the deity of the Father and the deity of the Son, but between the person of the Father and the person of the son.

      "I think you're correct, then, to hold that Father and Son are different selves."

      I don't need to invoke your simplistic "self" categorization to explicate my position. I have my own preferred terminology.

      "You would still have the problem of explaining how what is in your view an omnipotent and omniscient being (Jesus) can have any need of faith."

      Here's Tuggy, taking refuge in equivocations. The Son in himself has no need of faith. The Son Incarnate is not "just the Son in himself."

      In addition, I've sketched a model of the Incarnation:

      http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2015/06/the-divine-drama.html

      "Such that Christ can fear an uncertain future, and have need to put his trust in God, entrusting his fate to him? This would seem to imply his not being one of these: omniscient, omnipotent. If so, this clashes with all orthodox theology up till somewhere around mid 19th c. Good discussion of the new-fangled kenosis theories here."

      This is yet another example of Tuggy obfuscating the issue. Compare it to substance dualism, where the incorporeal mind or soul is coupled with the brain. Depending on what perspective we wish to emphasize, we can refer to the combined properties of the union, or the distinctive properties of the soul over against the brain, or vice versa. The difference between an embodied mind, a discarnate mind, and inanimate body.

      If Tuggy wasn't such a hack philosopher, he'd draw these conceptual distinctions.

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    2. So Tuggy wants to show us that he's ignorant of historical theology. Fine. Take Turretin's discussion of the twofold state of Christ: humiliation and exaltation. That's not Kenotic. That's 17C Reformed Scholasticism.

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    3. "As you later say, 'distinct divine individuals' - this phrase just means the same thing as 'more than one god', just as 'distinct canine individuals' means the same thing as "more than one dog."

      Lousy analogy. Your comparison involves physical objects. The concrete exemplification of abstract properties (doghood) in objects individuated by time and space. That's hardly analogous to Trinitarian distinctions. A better comparison would be to internally complex abstract objects like the Mandelbrot set. But then your comparison would fall apart.

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  6. Dale mentioned dogs. Some Trinitarians are offended by the following analogies to the Trinity, but I myself think they are helpful. One view of the Trinity sees each person as a "center of consciousness." Assuming this version for the sake of argument, then the Trinity could be analogous to a human being with multiple personality disorder or to the mythical dog of the underworld Cerberus. In both cases there is one being but three centers of consciousness.

    Cerberus was often described as having multiple heads (often 3). Each head had it's own center of consciousness. Each consciousness could be said to be Cerberus. Yet, at the same time each consciousness is distinct/different from the other two consciousnesses. Similarly, each person of the Trinity is fully God, even though each person is not the other two persons, yet there is only one God not three Gods.

    12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him---A THREEFOLD CORD IS NOT QUICKLY BROKEN.- Eccl. 4:12 (see verses 9-12)

    Ecclesiastes 4:12 may or may not be a remez regarding the Trinity. Even assuming it isn't, the verse can illustrate the Trinity in some sense.

    T1 The First-Cord is not the Three-Fold-Cord

    T2 The Three-Fold-Cord is Cord

    Is the First-Cord Cord or not? Yes and no. On the one hand, the First-Cord is Cord in it's own right. Yet, on the other hand (and in another sense) the First-Cord is not Cord in the sense of being the Three-Fold-Cord. The Same is true of the Second-Cord and the Third-Cord.

    Similarly, the Trinity is God, and the Father is God even though the Father is not the Trinity, or the Son or the Holy Spirit.

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