Illeism – A Response To A Stock Trinitarian Apologetic Move

In a recent online debate between a Roman Catholic apologist and a biblical unitarian apologist on the question “Is Jesus Yahweh God”, the Catholic brought up Hosea 1:7 during the section of the debate where they asked each other questions. Hosea 1:7 reads: “[Then Yahweh said] . . . But I will have pity on the nation of Judah. I will deliver them by the LORD their God; I will not deliver them by the warrior’s bow, by sword, by military victory, by chariot horses, or by chariots.” He queried the unitarian as to how many persons are in view in this passage, confidently declaring that it is “irrefutable” that two distinct persons are in view. Because the text tells us that Yahweh is the one speaking and so appropriately uses the 1st person pronoun ‘I’, but then speaks in the 3rd person of saving Israel “by Yahweh their God”, the Catholic regards this as irrefutable proof that there is more than one person who is called Yahweh. He imagines that in this text one Yahweh (God the Father) is making reference to another Yahweh (God the Son). In this brief article I will give a very simple reponse to this assertion.

It must first be noted that Hosea 1:7 is not the only passage in the Hebrew Bible in which this phenomenon is found. Other similar passages include Ex. 19:10-11, 20-22, 24; 30:11-12; 31:12, 15-17; 33:19; 34:5-7; Lev. 23:26-28; Num. 12:5-8; Josh. 24:5-7; Is. 3:16-17; Amos 4:11. There are, in fact, dozens of such passages.

So the question is: “Does this phenomenon of Yahweh or God referring to Yahweh or God in the 3rd person provide irrefutable proof that Yahweh consists of more then one person?” The question itself reveals a desperation among trintarians that is born out of a complete lack of any explicit attestation in the Hebrew Bible that God is comprised of more than one person. Their desperation reveals itself in the fact that these apologists do not even stop to consider whether there might be an alternative explanation for this phenomenon, but simply assume their own explanation based on their theological presuppositions.

A Simple Solution

The simplest explanation of this phenomenon is that it is a common and rational form of speech known as illeism. Illeism is defined as the act of referring to oneself in the third person rather than in the first person. I offer here two scholarly papers on this subject, one, a 20 page article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society from September 2009 by Andrew S. Malone titled GOD THE ILLEIST: THIRD-PERSON SELF-REFERENCES AND TRINITARIAN HINTS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT; the other a 247 page 2015 dissertation by Ervin Roderick Elledge titled THE ILLEISM OF JESUS AND YAHWEH: A STUDY OF THE USE OF THE THIRD-PERSON SELF-REFERENCE IN THE BIBLE AND ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN TEXTS AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR CHRISTOLOGY. Elledge’s dissertation is, of course, a much more thorough treatment of the subject. In it he shows how illeism is a common form of speech found not only of Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible but also of other individuals in the OT such as David, Solomon, Jacob, Lamech, and Samuel. He shows how it is even more common in the speech of kings in the OT and documents it’s use in the speech of kings and gods in ANE literature. He also shows the different contexts in which illeism appears and the various purposes it’s use may be fulfilling.

Malone’s approach is not as detailed as Elledge’s and his purpose is to present an alternative to the “two Gods” interpretation of the phenomenon. At the outset of his paper he clearly lays out his purpose:

Since the first generations of NT believers [this phenomenon] has been employed as a significant tool for divining OT hints of the trinitarian plurality of God. It continues to be promulgated by contemporary evangelical systematicians, particularly in the influential textbooks of the last hundred years. Given the theological weight attributed by theologians to this syntactic phenomenon, coupled with renewed interest in it in the contemporary media, it is appropriate for us to critique how illeism has been used—and misused—in identifying the Trinity in OT texts. I propose that the various rhetorical uses identified by biblical and secular commentators offer a more responsible hermeneutic than do the revelatory claims made by many Christian apologists and theologians.

Malone reasons that this kind of 3rd person self-reference by Yahweh in the Hebrew scriptures is a valid and common form of speech and that “such texts can indeed be better understood as divine self-references, rather than as one God or divine Person referring to another.” While Elledge’s purpose was more research oriented he does note his agreement with Malones conclusion. This is significant in that both Elledge and Malone are orthodox trintarians and so are not biased against the idea of multiple persons in God. Malone concludes his article saying:

There are a number of questions left open. In particular, I have not offered much insight into “two Gods” texts that are not formally illeistic. Nor have I surveyed the use that the NT itself has made of such “two Gods” texts . . . Nor does a recognition of the prevalence of illeism deny either the existence of the Trinity in the OT nor the possibility of direct or indirect revelations of it there. I am simply challenging whether this particular syntactic phenomenon can bear the weight which some continue to place upon it . . . I hope to have demonstrated that the illeistic texts of Scripture may well be open to responsible and evangelical interpretations other than those often promulgated by the early Church Fathers and contemporary systematic theologians.

It is clear that Malone has a trinitarian bias, yet, as regards the phenomenon of God’s use of 3rd person self-references in the OT, he has let the evidence lead him to his conclusion, and for this he must be respected.

Jesus And Illeism

There are also examples of illeism in the NT, with Jesus’ use being the chief example (113x), predominantly in his ‘son of man’ sayings. Elledge devotes about thirty pages to Jesus’ use of illeism while Malone just a short paragraph. Elledge acknowledges the validity of Malone’s observation that:

such self-references have never been used to distinguish Jesus from another “Jesus Christ” or from another “Son of Man.” If anything, some scholars are happy to pursue a less-than-divine interpretation of the title by insisting that such a third-person phrase need be only an acceptable form of self-reference.

Some of Jesus’ use of illeism matches Yahweh’s use in the OT in that Jesus will speak of himself in a 1st person reference and then switch to speaking of himself with a 3rd person reference. For example:

Luke 22:21-22 – “But look, the hand of the one who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man is to go just as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” NET

Can anyone seriously conclude from this statement that Jesus is referring to some person other than himself in v. 22? We would be hard pressed to find any of the promoters of the “two Gods” interpretation of the comparable OT texts who would draw such a conclusion. It is simply taken for granted that, for whatever reason, Jesus is referring to himself in the 3rd person. So why isn’t the same reasoning applied to the same phenomenon when found in the speech of Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible? Could it be that desperation noted earlier that is behind this kind of inconsistent exegesis?

Conclusion

Two facts make the assertion by the Catholic apologist – that this phenomenon of 3rd person self-references of Yahweh is irrefutable proof of more than one person in Yahweh – manifestly indefensible. First, the common and recognized form of speech called illeism provides a reasonable explanation of the phenomenon. Second, there are scholars, who are themselves biased in favor of the belief in a multiplicity of persons in God, who deny that this phenomenon can be used to support such a claim, based on the illeism.



The Glory Of Jesus In The Gospel Of John

In this study I want to examine the seven passages in the Gospel of John (GoJ) which refer specifically to glory that belongs to Jesus. The purpose of this examination is to establish whether or not such references to glory, as something which Jesus possesses, are attestations to his supposed deity or if they attest to something else. Most traditional Christians are inclined to see in these references, proofs, or at least hints, of Jesus’ deity, but is this the inescapable conclusion that must be drawn from these passages or is there a better way, within their own cultural context, to understand them? The seven passages in question are 1:14; 2:11; 12:41; 17:5; 17:10; 17:22; 17:24.

The Meaning of Glory

Before we delve into the passages, it is important for us to understand what exactly is meant by the term glory. Glory can be one of those nebulous, abstract kind of concepts that is hard to define; we think we know what it means but when we encounter the word in Scripture it doesn’t always seem to align with what we suppose it means. One reason for this is simply because the word does not have the same meaning in it’s every occurrence within scripture. The Greek word translated as glory in our seven passages is doxa. In our English versions doxa is typically translated by the word glory, but sometimes by the word praise. The lexical definitions for doxa are:
1. brightness, splendor, radiance
2. majesty, magnificance, splendor
3. fame, renown, good reputation
4. praise, honor, glory

In the Greek version of the OT (LXX), doxa most frequently translates the Hebrew word kabowd, which emcompasses all of the meanings given for doxa. One unique use of kabowd (and doxa in the LXX) is in reference to a visible manifestation of Yahweh’s presence with the phrase “the glory of Yahweh appeared . . . “ This manifestation was usually in the form of a glowing fire within a cloud {Ex. 16:10; 24:15-17; 40:34-35; Lev. 9:23; Num. 16:42; Is. 4:5}. So then we see that the word glory can denote a number of different things, and so we must pay attention to the context to determine what specific meaning should be assigned to each occurrence.

One additional meaning of glory should be noted, which is related to numbers 3 and 4. We could say that the glory of someone is those qualities or characteristics which make them praiseworthy and bring them renown. This may refer to ones deeds, status, position, unique abilities, etc. Two passages in Isaiah illustrate this meaning:

Is. 42:8 – “I am Yahweh, that is my name; I will not give my glory over to another or my praise to idols.”
Is. 48:11 – “For my own sake, for my own sake, I will act. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.”

Here God is saying that the glory that is distinctly his he will not let any others claim for their own. In the first passage my glory refers to his being the Creator (v.5) and the one who raises up his servant to accomplish his purposes (vv. 1, 6-7). In the second my glory refers to his being able to announce beforehand what he will do and his ability to then bring it to pass, something the gods of the nations cannot do. These are characteristics of Yahweh that make him worthy of praise and glory and he will not allow idols to take the credit for what he alone has done.

Incredibly, Christian apologists will sometimes appeal to these two verses when arguing for the deity of Jesus. The argument goes like this: God does not share his glory with any one else, but in John 17:5 Jesus shares glory with God, therefore Jesus must be God along with the Father. The mistake of the apologists is that they fail to understand the idiom in use in John 17:5. Since John 17:5 is one of the seven passages we will examine, I will refrain for now from commenting on it.

The Passages

John 1:14 And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, a glory as of an only one from a father, full of grace and truth.

The first point I want to make on this verse is regarding the translation. While most English versions translate the second half of the verse asthe glory of the only begotten from the Father,” there are, in fact, no definite articles in the Greek text, and so the above translation is more accurate. This translation, without the articles, is reflected in the AMPC, CEV, DARBY, YLT, NRSVUE (see also Meyer’s NT Commentary). The common translation with the articles seems to be based solely on the traditional understanding of the passage passed down from the early church fathers (ECF), for there is no reason from the text alone to include the articles. What the text is simply saying is that this person (he is yet unnamed in the text) had a glory like that of an only one (i.e. an only son) from a father.

My main focus in this article is the glory of Jesus, so I will not delve into the debate about the meaning of ho logos i.e. the word. I have written an article on the prologue of John which can be read here. Whether one believes the word to be a pre-existent divine person or a personification of God’s word (i.e. his promise of a savior), all agree that once the word becomes flesh we are speaking about a human person, the man Jesus of Nazareth. It is this human person who is the subject of the glory that was beheld by the author and his companions.

In the traditional interpretation given by ECF, not only of this passage, but of all the passages we will examine, his glory refers to Jesus’ supposed divinity. Now that interpretation is based on certain presuppositions concerning the concept of the Logos which were held by the ECF. What I am presenting here is a way to understand the passage without those presuppositions. In other words, if his glory does not refer to a supposed divinity in Jesus then what does it refer to? If it is not his supposed deity that made Jesus prasieworthy in the eyes of his disciples then what was it? To determine the answer to that question we must take a brief look at what is meant by “an only one from a father.”

The words “only one” is the translation of the Greek word monogenes. This word has been, in the past, typically translated as only begotten, but has more recently been understood to denote only, single, unique (see LSJ and Thayer’s lexicons). This would be the literal meaning of the word. If we take it in it’s literal meaning then we would have to conclude that Jesus is here being denoted as the only one who is a son, presumably of God. But what of the many NT passages that include all believers in the category of sons of God1? If believers in Messiah are designated as ‘sons of God’ then how can it be said that Jesus is the “only one?” Now, of course, the ECF, drawing on their education in Greek metaphysics, answered that question by postulating that Jesus was the Logos of Platonic and Stoic philosophy, an emanation out of the Supreme God’s own divinity. This later developed into the doctrine of the eternally begotten, i.e. generated, son of God. But no text of scripture ever says anything like that, and I do not approach this text with the same presuppositions held by the ECF. The question before us, therefore, is in what sense is the man Jesus of Nazareth portrayed as an “only one” in relation to God?

Like many words, in every language, monogenes has not only it’s literal meaning but also a figurative meaning. This figurative meaning can be shown by the interrelationship between monogenes in the LXX and the Hebrew word yachid, and between yachid and another Greek word, apagetos, meaning beloved one. The Hebrew word yachid is a straightforward equivalent to the Greek word monogenes, both meaning only one. We can see this clearly in Gen. 22:2, 12, and 16 where the phrase “your son, your only one” is repeated. This is said in reference to Abraham’s son Isaac, who was, in fact, not Abraham’s only son, because Ishmael was born to Abraham prior to Isaac. Now, the interesting thing is that we might have expected the translators of the LXX to translate yachid in these verses by monogenes, as they did in Judges 11:34, but they didn’t. Instead the use the word agapetos, i.e. beloved one. What they were doing was translating not the literal meaning of yachid but the figurative meaning which would denote someone special and dear. So the LXX has Gen. 22:2,12 and 16 as “your son, your beloved one”. In a similar vein the JPS Tanach (1985) has “your son, your favored one,” favored one being their translation of yachid. Zechariah 12:10 is another example of the figurative use of yachid. The Hebrew reads literally, “they will mourn for him as one mourns for the only one, and grieve for him as one grieves for the firstborn.” Once again, the LXX translates this as “as one mourns for a beloved one (Gr. apagetos)” and the JPS as “wailing over them as over a favorite son.” Observe also that yachid is set in parallel to the term ‘firstborn’ in this passage, which further supports the figurative meaning of yachid. A firstborn son, while not necessarily an only son, is certainly beloved and favored. So we note that both the LXX and the JPS Tanach are taking yachid in it’s figurative sense in these passages.

What I propose for John 1:14 is that the author is thinking Hebraically in using monogenes as one would use yachid when writing in Hebrew, but that he expects his readers to understand it in the figurative sense rather than the literal sense. Further evidence that John may be using monogenes in it’s figurative sense is the fact that the synoptic gospels portray Jesus’ relationship to God predominately by the term “beloved son” {Matt. 3:17; 12:18; 17:5; Mk. 1:11; 9:7; 12:6; Lk. 3:22; 20:13} but never by the term monogenes. Whereas John uses monogenes but never apagetos. Could it be that John’s monogenes is equivalent to the synoptic’s apagetos? The figurative meaning would be something like special, beloved, favored, privileged. So from this perspective the text would be saying that the glory of this one is like the glory of a specially favored one of a father. More proof that this is what John had in mind is found in 1:18, where the monogenes son2 is said to be “in the bosom of the Father.” Despite the fact that ECF tended to see in this statement some eternal metaphysical or ontological relationship between the Father and son, this language may simply be nothing more than an idiom expressing the the dearness and the place of special privilege this son, over all others, possesses in relation to God3. We saw earlier that yachid in the Hebrew text of Zech. 12:10 and agapetos in the LXX were parallel to firstborn, which denotes a privileged position over other siblings in relation to a father. This is consistent with Paul’s understanding as laid out in Romans 8 where from v. 14 – 25 he speaks of the sonship of believers and in v. 29 concludes that “he (i.e. the son) should be the firstborn among many brothers.”

So the glory of this one, which was beheld by his disciples, was the glory of a specially loved and particularly privileged Israelite, who held a special place in God’s purposes for Israel. His status with God was above that of every other Israelite. Therefore, the way they beheld his glory was in all the ways this special privileged status was made manifest in Jesus’ life; in the fact that he was given the spirit of God, which was demonstrated in the wisdom he displayed as well as in the miracles he performed, in his willingness to lay down his life on behalf of the nation, in his resurrection from the dead prior to and apart from the resurrection of the righteous, in his ascension into heaven, in the fact that he shall reign as king over the house of Israel on the throne of David. All of this together is the glory of this monogenes son, for which he is worthy of glory and honor.

John 2:11Jesus performed this first sign in Cana of Galilee. He displayed His glory, and his disciples believed in him.

In performing this first of his miracles, Jesus displayed his glory to his disciples. This shows that the ability to perform miracles was one aspect of what made Jesus praiseworthy. Whereas the glory in 1:14 encompassed all he accomplished in his ministry and beyond, here the glory is limited to his ability to perform miracles. That this ability did not, in the minds of his disciples, translate to Jesus being himself divine is evident in what Luke records in two places:

“Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people . . .” ESV

“Fellow Israelis, listen to these words: Jesus from Nazareth was a man authenticated to you by God through miracles, wonders, and signs that God performed through him among you, as you yourselves know.” ISV

Luke 24:19 and Acts 2:22

What this means is that Jesus is worthy of glory and honor not because he is God who has somehow become man, but because he is a man whom God has chosen and exalted and upon whom God has set his seal of approval.

John 12:41Isaiah said these things because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke
about him.

Christian apologists often employ this verse and it’s context as a proof-text for the deity of Jesus. They imagine that John is saying that Isaiah saw Jesus when he had the vision recorded in Is. 6:1-2. The Hebrew text says that Isaiah saw Yahweh and so John must be equating Jesus with Yahweh. In actuality, John said nothing like that. I have already written an article on this very passage, so I will not rehash the whole thing here. Here is a link to the article : Why John 12:37-41 Is Not A Prooftext For The Deity Of Jesus. Let me simply state here that Isaiah most certainly saw, by revelation and vision, the glory that would come to the Messiah. The glory spoken of in this passage refers to the exaltation of the Messiah after his sufferings per Is. 52:13-15.

John 17:5Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with that glory I had with
you before the world existed
.

Once again, we have here a passage which is often used as a proof-text by apologists for the deity of Jesus. It appears that Jesus is asking the Father to return to him the glory that he formerly had with him prior to his incarnation; I say ‘appears’ because only if one holds a certain presuppositions will the verse seem to say this. But if one does not hold to these presuppositions concerning the nature of Jesus the verse can still make perfect sense within the cultural context in which it was written. I spoke of this passage earlier in the article and noted the apologists’ failure to recognize the idiom in use in this passage. First I will offer two translations in which the meaning of the idiom is given, then I will explain the idiom. Here are the translations:
Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with that glory you have
predestined for me before the world existed.

or
Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with that glory you have
had in store for me before the world existed.

Either of these translations expresses the meaning of the idiom Jesus used. When a ancient Israelite wanted to express the thought that God had some blessing or reward laid up in store for him, one way to do so was to say that the reward or blessing was his but that it was with God, the idea being that it would be bestowed upon him at the appointed time. Another example of this idiom is found in Matt. 6:1 where the Greek text reads literally “you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” While some versions retain the idiom most translate the idiom as “you will have no reward from your Father. . .,” putting the receiving of the reward from the Father in the future. Is. 49:4 conveys the same thought:

But I myself said: I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and futility; yet my vindication is with the LORD, and my reward is with my God. – HCSV

Now look how the NET translates the idiom to a future tense:

But I thought, “I have worked in vain; I have expended my energy for absolutely nothing.” But the LORD will vindicate me; my God will reward me. – NET

The idea of having something with God before the world began which is then later received as an actual possession is seen in passages like 2 Tim. 1:9b and Romans 5:2:

. . .  the grace that was given to us in the Messiah Jesus before time began.

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand . . .

It is evident that this grace which was given to us before the ages of time was only given to us in prospect, in the plan and intention of God, for none of us actually existed at that time. Only later, at some point in time, did we actually receive this grace as an actual possession. The glory that Jesus asked of the Father was the glory that had been given him in prospect before the world existed, in the predestined plan and intention of God, and to be actually experienced by Jesus only after his suffering. This glory speaks of his resurrection to immortality and his subsequent exaltation to the position of ruler over God’s kingdom.

John 17:10All that is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine, and I have
been glorified through them
.

Jesus is here referring to his followers. Some of them had been faithful followers of Yahweh and were given by God to the Messiah to be his disciples. Some had just recently repented through Jesus’ preaching and became his followers and thus belonged to God. But whatever the case, Jesus had been glorified in them, i.e. in the fact that they accepted that he was from God and followed him. So the glory spoken of here pertains to the honor that came to Jesus by the fact that men were willing to follow him at great cost to themselves.

John 17:22 – The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be
one just as we are one.

Now this passage is not typically employed by apologists as a proof-text for the deity of Jesus, but since it deals with a glory that belongs to Jesus I have included it in this study. This statement by Jesus is somewhat enigmatic and so we have to get more of the immediate context to rightly interpret what is being said, paying careful attention to the idioms and figures of speech which pervade this whole chapter. If we back up to v. 18 we read, “As you have sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” Jesus is speaking of his immediate disciples, the 12 apostles. He says that he has sent them into the world, but what does this mean? First of all, it shows that Jesus’ being “sent into the world” does not entail that he pre-existed somewhere outside of this world and was then sent into this world. He says that his sending them into the world is just as the Father’s sending of him into the world. This implies that whatever it means in the one case it must mean in the other. We have here an another idiom. To be sent into the world is idiomatic for being commissioned to openly and publicly proclaim a message. This is what being “sent into the world” means for both Jesus and his apostles; Jesus being commissioned by the Father and the apostles being commissioned by Jesus. That this is what Jesus means by this idiom is confirmed by v. 20 where Jesus speaks of “those who will believe in me by means of their message,” i.e. the message they were commissioned to openly and publicly declare. Jesus goes on, in v. 21, to ask the Father that “all of them” i.e. the apostles and all who believe through their preaching, “may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” The later half of that verse is an idiom expressing oneness of will and purpose. For two persons to be in each other simply means they are one. So Jesus’ statement amounts to saying ,“that all of them may be one, Father, just as you and I are one” {see v. 11}. That this is not referring to some kind of ontological oneness is seen in what Jesus says next, “May they also be in us,” i.e. may they be one with us. Jesus is praying that the disciples would not only be one among themselves but one with himself and the Father. This oneness involves a unity of will and purpose, with each participant fulfilling his part. The Father has a will and purpose to exalt the son; the son must willingly submit to the Father’s planned means for him to attain this exaltation i.e. death; and the disciples must acknowledge and submit to the exaltation of the son. This oneness would result in the world i.e. the unbelieving among the Israelites, believing that Jesus was indeed the Messiah

Now we come to our passage in v. 22. There are two ways to understand Jesus’ past tense verb “I have given them” – either literally, i.e. he had already given them the glory that God had given him, or proleptically, i.e. he is speaking of something yet future as if it is already done. Also, the glory that was given to Jesus by the Father must be understood in either of these two ways. I contend that Jesus is speaking proleptically of the glory that will be given to him in the resurrection and his subsequent exaltation,the same glory he asked of the Father in v. 5, which had been predetermined for him from before the foundation of the world. Jesus wants his disciples to experience the same glory i.e. resurrection to immortal life and to be co-rulers with him in the kingdom of God. Jesus can speak of his having already given them this glory because it is in his intention and will to do so {see Jn. 5:21, 28-29}.

John 17:24 – Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am,
so that they can see my glory, which you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

This passage solidifies my contention regarding v.22 being proleptic in nature. If Jesus were speaking of glory that was actually given to him during his ministry, as in God performing miracles through him, this would be a glory that the disciples had already beheld {see 1:14}. But Jesus seems to be referring to a glory which his disciples had yet to behold and this must refer to the glory in which he will appear the second time {see Matt. 19:28; 24:30; 25:31; 2 Thess. 1:7-10}. For now Jesus’ disciples acknowledge and confess his glory by faith, calling him Lord, but then we shall see him in all his glory and our faith will be turned to sight.

This glory, which was still in the future when Jesus said these words, had already been given to him in the mind and plan of God before the foundation of the world. If you think this sounds too strange, I remind you of 2 Tim. 1:9 where Paul says that grace was given to believers before the ages of time {see also Eph. 1:4-6} That something can be given to someone in the mind and plan of God before the world began does not necessitate that persons actual existence before the world began. That Jesus could be loved before the foundation of the world simply means that he was foreknown and chosen in the plan and purpose of God, but then made manifest at a point in human history {1 Pet. 1:20}.

Conclusion

So we have seen that there is nothing in these texts themselves that demand us to understand the glory of Jesus in the gospel of John to be the glory of divinity. It is merely tradition that dictates that perspective, a tradition inherited from ECF, based upon an interpretation which they derived from reading scripture through the lens of their former education in Greek metaphysics. When the passages are read in their own cultural setting, taking into account idioms and figures of speech then current, they make good sense from the perspective of a purely human Jesus.

Endnotes

  1. Matt. 5:9, 45; Lk. 6:35; Rom. 8:14, 19; 2 Cor. 6:18; Gal. 3:26; 4:6-7; Heb. 2:10; 12:6-7; Rev. 21:7 – these verses use the Greek word huios (a son) for believers.
    John 1:12; 11:52; Rom. 8:16-17, 21; 9:8; Eph. 5:1; Phil. 2:15; 1 Jn. 3:1-2, 10; 5:2 – these verses use the Greek word technon (a child).
  2. In verse 18 we have a famous textual variant. Did the text originally read “only-begotten son” or “only-begotten God” ? While the vast majority of Greek manuscripts read “son”, three early and weighty witnesses support “God”. Quotations of the verse in church fathers is a mixed bag. Most have “son”, some have “God”, and a few even quote the verse both ways. I don’t think manuscripts or church fathers are going to resolve the issue. I take the original reading to be “only-begotten son” because this designation is given to Jesus three other times in John’s writings {John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9} while “only-begotten God” never shows up again. Another reason I prefer the “son” reading is that to me “only-begotten God” always did have a gnostic ring to it. There is evidence that the Valentinians used this designation for the Arche within their system, along with Son.
  3. See also Deut. 13:6; 28:54, 56; Is. 40:11


The Immortality Of the Soul – Truth Or Myth (Part 3) : The Spirit Of Man

In the first two parts of this study, we examined both the Hebrew Bible (HB) and the NT to discover the biblical concept of the soul. We concluded that the soul of man is not a distinct component of his nature which lives on in sentient consciousness after death. We saw that both the Hebrew word nephesh and the Greek word psuche have a varied semantic range which does not include the idea of an immaterial immortal part of man as distinct from the body, which survives the death of the body. We saw that this concept of the soul is of pagan origin and found it’s way into the thinking of Christendom through the influence of Greek education upon the early Gentile church fathers.

But scripture also speaks of spirit in relation to man. Is spirit another component of man’s nature? Are human beings made up of three constituent parts – a spirit, a soul and a body? Based on some passages of scripture {1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 4:12} this might appear to be the case. Is there a distinction between soul and spirit, and if so what is it? These are the questions we will seek to answer in this study.

Let’s first take a look at how the concept of man’s spirit is understood in differing Christian circles.

GotQuestions.Com defines the human spirit as “the incorporeal part of man.” But this is basically how they also define the human soul. In their answer to the question, “What is the difference between the soul and spirit of man” they further define the spirit as “the immaterial part of humanity that connects with God.” In their answer they do maintain a distinction and separability of the soul from the spirit.

One popular belief is that the spirit is the part of man that experiences the ‘new birth’ when one receives Christ. The spirit in man is said to be dead, separated from God, until it is born again, receiving new life. It is believed then that it is the spirit of man that possesses eternal life. Some Christian teachers regard the spirit of a man as the real person, i.e. man is basically a spirit being who has a soul (which enables him to engage the world on an emotional and psychological level) and lives in a body (by which he engages the world on a physical level). These views are expressing a belief that man has a tripartite nature – a spirit, soul and body.

Others see man as consisting of only two constituent parts – soul and body. In this view there is no real distinction between spirit and soul; they are just different ways of saying the same thing. This dichotomist view typically sees the spirit/soul as the immaterial part of man that consciously survives the death of the body. This view is expressly espoused in the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“The bodies of men, after death, return to dust and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them; the souls of the righteous are received into the highest heaven and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell. Besides these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledges none.”

XXXII/i

Most of these popular views see the spirit of man as a independent, self-conscious entity in it’s own right; the soul and body, in a trichotomy, or just the body, in a dichotomy, being only necessary for proper intercourse in the natural or material world. It must be noted that the idea that the human spirit is the true self which has a kind of immortal existence has also been a prominent belief in most religious systems, such as Hinduism, Islam, various forms of Gnosticism, Bahaism, Zoroastrianism, Reincarnation, Wicca, Hermeticism, ancient Egyptian religion, New Age/esotericism, Vodou, and many others.

The Spirit Of Man In The Hebrew Bible

In the Hebrew scriptures there are two words which are translated as ‘spirit‘ in connection with humans, and these two words are very closely related. The first is neshamah, whose primary meaning is a blast of air, and hence it’s most literal and predominate meaning in the HB is breath. The second word is ruach, which denotes the movement of air, and hence it’s most literal meaning in the HB is breath and wind. When these words are used to convey the idea of ‘spirit’ in the HB they are being used figuratively. These two words are used as synonyms as the following verses show:

Job 4:9 – “By the blast (neshamah) of God they perish and by the breath (ruach) of his anger they are consumed.”

Job 27:3 – “As long as my breath (neshamah) is in me, and the breath (ruach) from God in my nostrils . . .”

Job 32:8 – “Truly a spirit (ruach) it is in man, the breath (neshamah) from the Almighty enables him to understand.”

Job 33:4 – “The spirit (ruach) of God has made me, and the breath (neshamah) of the Almighty gives me life.”

Job 34:14-15 – “If he set his heart to do so, and gathered to himself his spirit (ruach) even his breath (neshamah), all flesh together would perish and man would return to the dust.”

Psalm 18:15 – “The valley of the seas were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, O Yahweh, from the blast (neshamah) of the breath (ruach) of your nostrils.”

Is. 42:5 – “Thus says the God Yahweh, who created the heavens and . . . the earth . . . who gives breath (neshamah) to the people upon it and breath (ruach) to those who walk on it.”

The only passage where neshamah is translated as spirit in our English versions has to do with humanity specifically:

The spirit (neshamah) of man is the lamp of Yahweh, searching all the inner places of the belly.

Prov. 20:27

This passage is highly figurative and somewhat enigmatic. The words ‘lamp’, ‘searching’ and ‘belly’ are obviously being used figuratively, but what about neshamah; is it to be taken figuratively as ‘spirit’ or more literal as ‘breath’. Is this verse teaching something about a particular part of man’s nature? I propose that ‘the lamp of YHWH‘ should probably be understood as an ablative genitive i.e. ‘a lamp from (i.e. given by) YHWH‘. Hence the neshamah of man is a lamp given to man by YHWH. This coincides with the first mention of neshamah in the HB:

Yahweh God formed the man from the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath (neshamah) of life, and the man became a living being.

Gen. 2:7

But how does the breath of life given to man by God act as a lamp which searches all the inward parts of the belly? Again, the whole passage must be regarded as figurative. The inner places of the belly is figurative of the motives, intentions, purposes, etc. that are hidden within a person’s heart, unseen by others and often not fully known to the person themself. But there is in man the ability to discern his own inner workings, a self-awareness by which he can know himself. This is what neshamah is figurative of in this verse. So this passage really lends no support to the idea that man has a spirit entity in his body that is the true self, which will consciously survive the death of the body.

We now move to the word ruach, which is the word that is chiefly translated as ‘spirit‘ in our English versions. We will look only at passages in which ruach relates to humans.

Ruach as Breath

Many times when ruach is used of human beings it simply refers to the breath of life which God gave to the original man and which has been transmitted to all humans through the man’s seed. This is one of it’s literal meanings. These verses are Gen. 6:17; 7:22; Num. 16:22; 27:16; Job 12:10; 27:3; 32:8; Ps. 104:29; 146:4; Eccl. 3:19-21; 12:7; Is. 38:16 (maybe figurative); 42:5; 57:16 (maybe figurative); Ezek. 37: 5,6,8,9,10. Of course, there are many verses where ruach is used also in connection with God and ‘breath‘ is the probable meaning. In all of these passages the idea of a spirit entity in man that consciously survives death is most improbable. For example, the Genesis passages speak of the “ruach of life”, which could be taken as ‘the spirit of life’, but two thing are against it. First, in 7:22 it is specifically stated that this ‘ruach of life’ is in the nostrils, hence it refers to breath. Second, in this same verse, as well as in 7:15, the phrase is applied to animals. But those who hold to the dichotomist or the trichotomist views of man would not typically say that animals have a spirit entity in them that is their real self and which survives the death of the body. But animals do share with humans the breath of life in their nostrils. This is also apparent in the Eccl. 3:19-21 passage.

Ruach as Disposition/Inclination/ State of Mind/ Temperament

Often in the HB ruach is used figuratively to denote a dominate disposition or frame of mind, or even a temporary state of mind of a person. Here are passages which reflect this meaning: Gen. 26:35; 41:8; Ex. 6:9; Num. 5:14, 30; 14:24; Deut. 2:30; Joshua 2:11; 5:1; Judg. 8:3; 9:23; 1 Kings 21:5; 1 Chron. 5:26; Job 7:11; 15:13; 21:4; 32:18; Ps. 34:18; 51:17; 77:3; 142:3; 143:4; Prov. 11:3; 14:29; 15:4, 13; 16:18, 19, 32; 17:22, 27; 18:14; 25:28; 29:23; Eccl. 7:8-9; 10:4; Is. 19:14; 28:6; 29:24; 37:7; 54:6; 57:15; 61:3; 65:14; 66:2; Jer. 51:11; Ezek. 3:14; Dan. 2:1, 3; Hosea 4:12; 5:4; Haggai 1:14; Zech. 13:2; Mal. 2:15-16.

Ruach as Mind/Will/Resolve/Motives

Another figurative use of ruach is to denote a persons thoughts, their will or an inner resolve. Here are passages with this meaning: Ex. 35:21; 1 Sam. 1:15; 1 Chron. 28:12; 2 Chron. 36:22; Ezra 1:1, 5; Job 6:4; 20:3; Ps. 32:2; 51:10, 12; 77:6; 78:8; Prov. 1:23; 16:2; 29:11; Is. 29:24; Jer. 51:1, 11; Ezek. 11:5; 19; 13:3; 18:31; 20:32; 36:26; Dan. 2:1.

Ruach as Vigor/Inner Strength/Courage

Verses which demonstrate this figurative use of ruach are: Gen. 45:27; Joshua 2:11; 5:1; Judges 15:19; 1 Sam. 30:12; Ps. 76:12; 143:7; Is. 19:3; Ezek. 21:7.

Ruach as Divine Enablement/Prophetic Inspiration/Supernatural Ability

This figurative use of ruach signifies an ability or enablement from God. Here are the verses: Gen. 41:38; Ex. 28:3; 31:3; 35:31; Num. 11:17, 25, 26, 29; 24:2; 27:18; Deut. 34:9; Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14; 1 Sam. 11:6; 19:20, 23; 2 Kings 2:9, 15; 2 Chron. 15:1; 20:14; 24:20; Neh. 9:20, 30; Job 32:18; Ps. 106:33; 143:10; Is. 11:2; 42:1; Hosea 9:7.

Ruach as Synonymous with Leb (Heart)

The following verses establish the use of ruach and leb as synonyms through the device of synonymous parallelism: Ex. 35:21; Deut. 2:30; Josh. 2;11; 5:1; Ps. 34:18; 51:10, 17; 77:6; 143:4; Is. 57:15; 65:14; Ezek. 11:19; 18:31; 21:7; Mal. 2:15, 16. This category of usage helps to further clarify the figurative use of ruach as ‘spirit‘ and shows that it does not refer to a supposed immaterial entity within human nature that is the real self and which can exist apart from the body. These passages show that ruach and leb (spirit and heart) are used interchangeably and so it is necessary to understand what is being conveyed by ‘heart’ in the HB.

When the HB speaks of a man’s heart it speaks of the inner activity of man in contrast to that which is outer; of that which is unseen in contrast to what is seen. The concept of leb can denote a person’s mind, will, motives, emotions, affections, desires, devotion, commitments, loyalties, etc., as the following verses show: Gen. 6:5; 8:21; 17:17; 27:41; 50:21; Ex. 4:14; 7:23; 25:2; 35:5, 22; Num. 16:28; Deut. 28:65; 29:19; Josh. 14:8; Judg. 5:15; 16:15; 18:20; 1 Sam. 1:13; 9:20; 10:26; 2 Sam. 6:16; 7:27; 15:6; 1 Kings 8:23; 11:3; 1 Chron. 28:9; Neh. 2:12; 6:8; Job 31:27; 36:13; Ps. 10:17; 21:2; 26:2; 37:31; 44:21; 57:7; 64:6; 78:37; 84:2; 119:11; Prov. 4:23; 6:18; 12:20; 16:1; 23:12; Eccl. 1:17; 9:1; Is. 35:4; 41:22; 65:14; Jer. 3:16; 12:3; 20:12; Lam. 1:20; 3:21; Ezek. 33:31; 40:4; Dan. 1:8; 10:12; Hosea 10:2; Mal. 2:2. There are literally hundreds more verses showing the meaning of leb in the HB.

Now for those who hold that man can be divided up into two or three constituent parts i.e. spirit, soul and body, I ask, “What is the heart of man?” If you say that the heart corresponds to the human spirit, which I agree with, we find that the popular notions of man’s spirit do not coincide well with how leb is used in the HB. One popular belief regarding the spirit of man is that it is the part of man that relates to God, while the soul is the part that relates to other humans. But we have seen that leb many times describes the inner activity of a person toward other people. Not only that but leb and nephesh (i.e. soul) are also used in synonymous parallelism in the HB: Ps. 84:2; Prov. 2:10; 23:7; 24:12. To complicate things even further nephesh and ruach are also used in synonymous parallelism in Job 7:11; 12:10; Is. 26:9. It appears that when these words are used in their figurative sense they are practically interchangeable terms. The error made by many Bible teachers is to regard these words as technical terms for distinct parts of human nature, but a careful examination of how these words are used does not bear this out.

A Closer Look At Specific Passages

We will now look at some specific passages in which ruach could be taken in the sense of ‘spirit’ i.e. that the spirit of man is an immaterial entity within a man which is a distinct and independent part of his nature, surviving the death of his body in conscious existence.

Numbers 16:22 {see also 27:16} – “But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, ‘O God, God of the spirits of all flesh . . . ‘ “

This would be an odd expression if ‘spirits’ here refers to a distinct part of man’s nature; is God the God only of the spirits of men and not of their souls and bodies also. This should be understood in the sense of the following passages:

  • Job 12:10 – “In his hand is the life (nephesh) of every living thing and the breath (ruach) of all the flesh of man.”
  • Is. 42:5 – “Thus says the God Yahweh, who created the heavens and . . . the earth . . . who gives breath (neshamah) to the people upon it and spirit (ruach) to those who walk on it.”

The statement is simply expressing the truth that God is the source of the life of all mankind. That life comes from the breath which he breathed into man at the beginning. The fact that ruach is plural i.e. ‘breaths’, rather than the typical singular ‘breath’, could be viewed as a superlative plural. In this view the ‘flesh’ that Moses speaks of is specifically that of all mankind and not of animals. Since animals also share the breath of life with man {see Gen. 1:30; 6:17; 7:15, 22} Moses uses a superlative plural to signify the breath of all mankind and not of the animals.

Psalm 31:5 “Into your hand I entrust my spirit; You have redeemed me Yahweh, God of truth.”

Is David entrusting to God the immaterial entity that dwells in his body? No, he is entrusting his breath i.e. his life to God.

Psalm 146:4“When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that day their plans come to nothing.”

Is this referring to the idea that when men die the spirit entity in them departs and goes to either heaven or hell where it is consciously alive? No, it is simply referring to the breath of life that departs from one at death.

Prov. 18:14 “The spirit of a man sustains him in sickness, but a broken spirit who can endure?”

Here spirit denotes an inner attitude or state of mind. If one’s state of mind is joyful or cheerful it will sustain him through sickness, yet if one’s state of mind is that of dejection how can he endure. Prov. 17:22 gives the same idea: “A cheerful heart brings about a good healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”

2 Kings 2:9 & 15“. . . Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask what I may do for you before I am taken away from you.’ And Elisha said, ‘Please let a double portion of your spirit be to me’ . . . And when the company of prophets saw him . . . they said, ‘The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.’

It should be obvious that the “spirit of Elijah” does not refer to Elijah’s ghost i.e. an immaterial entity within him, but rather to the prophetic and supernatural ability by which he carried out his ministry.

Job 32:8“Truly a spirit it is in men, a breath from the Almighty gives them understanding.”

Since ‘a spirit’ is synonymous with ‘the breath from the Almighty’ and based on the context {vv. 6-9}, ruach here probably denotes inspiration from God in the form of understanding and wisdom.

Psalm 76:12“He restrains the spirit of rulers; he inspires fear in the kings of the earth.”

Here ‘spirit of rulers’ probably denotes either the proud will or the wrath of rulers.

Psalm 88:10“Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up to praise you?” (NIV)

Here it appears that the spirits of the dead may refer to what is typically called ghosts, giving the impression that man has a spirit that lives on after death. But this translation is misleading. The word translated ‘spirits‘ here is raphaim, which some understand to refer to the departed spirits of the dead. Now this may have been how the word was used among pagan peoples in the Semitic world, but in the Hebrew Bible it is simply a synonym for the dead. This can be clearly seen in it’s other seven uses: Job 26:5; Prov. 2:18; 9:18; 21:16; Isa. 14:9; 26:14, 19. In each of these passages raphaim is set in synonymous parallelism to death or the dead (Heb. muth). There is no reason to take raphaim as a reference to departed spirits. A better translation of the above phrase is simply, “Do the dead rise up to praise you?” Of course, the answer is NO!

Psalm 146:4“His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans vanish.”

Some mistakenly take this to say that when a man dies his still living and conscious spirit departs and his body goes back to the earth. But all that it is actually saying is that when a person dies his breath departs from him and he returns to the earth. It is the man who returns to the earth, hence there is no spirit that is the real person distinct from the body. This same concept is seen in Eccl. 3:19- 21 which speaks of the death of both men and animals as their breath departing from them and they returning to the earth.

Conclusion

What we can conclude from this survey is that the concept of man as an immaterial entity or spirit (a.k.a. a ghost) living in a body, which is able to survive the death of the body in conscious existence, is not a necessary deduction drawn from any passage in the Hebrew Bible. This was the same conclusion we reached in the survey of the soul, in parts 1 and 2 of this study. It is equally as clear from this study that the Hebrew Bible knows no distinction between soul and spirit, i.e. as if these were two constituent parts of man. While the words nephesh (soul) and ruach (spirit) are, in there literal meanings, two distinct concepts, in their figurative meaning there is overlap between them. But again, neither of these concepts denotes an immaterial part of man which is immortal, living on consciously after death. In part 4 we will survey the New Testament for it’s concept of ‘spirit’ in relation to man.

Jesus, The Archegos Of Life

In a recent live video discussion with a Trinitarian Christian, it was brought up by this person that Jesus is the author or originator of life, based on Acts 3:15. This person understood this to mean that Jesus is the creator, the source from which all life comes. Having looked into this passage before, I immediately knew that this person had wrongly apprehended the passage. Wanting to reassure myself that I understood what the true meaning of this passage was, I looked deeper into the meaning of the Greek word archegos, which is translated as author, prince, or originator in most English versions. What I found confirmed what I already knew, but also gave me a deeper appreciation for this passage. In this article, I share with you my research in the hope that you too will gain a greater appreciation for this passage and what it means for you.

Acts 3:15 In Translation

Acts 3:15 – “You killed the archegos of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.

NET – “Originator of life”
ESV – “Author of life”
NASB – “Prince of life”
HCSV – “source of life”
CEV – “the one who leads people to life”
GNT – “the one who leads to life”
NCV – “the One who gives life”
NLV – “the very One Who made all life”

We can see from the varied ways that archegos is translated, that it is not just a simple matter. Why are there so many options? Some of these translations (NET,ESV,HCSV,NCV,NLV) could certainly imply that Jesus is the Creator of life, while others (NASB,CEV,GNT) would not imply that at all. Since the English versions present an ambiguity as to exactly what kind of relationship between Jesus and life is being asserted here, we must look to the lexicons to see if we can obtain a clearer definition of archegos.

Archegos – The Lexical Data

Thayers Greek Lexicon:
ἀρχηγός, ἀρχηγόν, adjective, leading, furnishing the first cause or occasion . . . chiefly used as a substantive . . .
1. the chief leader, prince
2. one that takes the lead in anything and thus affords an example, a predecessor in a matter
3. the author

BDAG:
1. one who has a preeminent position, leader, ruler, prince
2. one who begins something, that is first in a series, thereby providing impetus for further developments
3. one who begins or originates, hence the recipient of special esteem in the Gr-Rom. world, originator, founder

Lidell-Scott Greek Dictionary:
I. beginning, originating . . . primary, leading , chief
II. 1. as substantive, a founder, first father . . . the founder of a family
2. a prince, chief . . .
3. a first cause, originator

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament:
a. The ―hero of a city, its founder or guardian; b. the ―originator or ―author (e.g., Zeus of nature or Apollo of piety); c. ―captain. Philo uses the term for Abraham, and once for God, while the LXX mostly has it for ―military leader. In the NT Christ is archēgós in Acts 5:31: we bear his name and he both looks after us and gives us a share of his glory, especially his life (3:15) and salvation (Heb. 2:10); he is also the archēgós of our faith both as its founder and as the first example when in his death he practiced his faith in God‘s love and its overcoming of the barrier of human sin (Heb. 12:2).

Discovery Bible HELPS Word Study:
properly, the first in a long procession; a file-leader who pioneers the way for many others to follow. (arxēgós) does not strictly mean “author,” but rather “a person who is originator or founder of a movement and continues as the leader – i.e. ‘pioneer leader, founding leader’ ” (L & N, 1, 36.6).

NET Bible Commentary:
The Greek word . . . is used of a “prince” or leader, the representative head of a family. It also carries nuances of “trailblazer,” one who breaks through to new ground for those who follow him. 
“Founder” (of a movement), founding leader.

So now, let’s boil this down. The three basic meanings of the word are:
1. a chief leader, ruler, prince
2. the originator or founder or beginner of something, hence the first in
a series, one who pioneers a way for others
3. a first cause, author, in the sense of a source or cause of something

OT & NT Usage

The word occurs in the Hebrew Bible some 24 times. The majority of times it refers to a ruler, leader, head of a family, or a captain. One deviation from this is Micah 1:13 where the city of Lachish is spoken of as “the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion.” This probably refers to the fact that Lachish was the first city in the southern kingdom of Judah where the idolatry of the northern kingdom had taken root, and subsequently, over time, spread to the rest of Judah. In that regard it could correspond to definitions 2 or 3 above.

In the NT the word appears three other times, all in reference to Jesus, in Acts 5:31; Heb. 2:10; 12:2. Let’s look at these passages to see if we can gain a better understanding of what archegos means.

Acts 5:31 – “God exalted him to his right hand as Archegos and Savior . . .”

The English versions translate this in three main ways:
“Prince and Savior” – KJV, ASV, NIV, NASV, YLT
“Leader and Savior” – ESV, ISV, NET, NRSV, RSV, TLV
“Ruler and Savior” – MEV, HCSB, CJB, CSB

It seems clear that in this passage archegos is best taken in the sense of leader or ruler, for the fact that it is paired with Savior (Gr. soter) seems to be drawing from usage in the book of Judges, where the judges were referred to by both terms, archegos (leader) in 5:2 and soter (savior) in 3:9, 15. The usage in Judges precludes any necessary divine connotation to the word. Also, this statement was made by Peter before the Sanhedrin, the body of Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, who would have been well acquainted with the Scriptures and would have known exactly what Peter was referring to.

Heb. 2:10 – “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting for God, for whom and through whom all things exist, to make the archegos of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

Here’s how the different English versions translate archegos in this passage:
“author of their salvation” – ASV, DRA, EHV, MEV, NASB1995, NCB, WEB, YLT
“captain of their salvation” – KJV, NKJV, BRG
“founder of their salvation” – ESV
“leader of their salvation” – Darby, Phillips, NABRE
“pioneer of their salvation” – NET, ISV, RSV, NRSVUE, NIV, CEB, CSB, AMPC
“source of their salvation” – GW, HCSB, NOG
“originator of their salvation” – NASB, LEB

As with Acts 3:15, we find a wide array of possible meanings of “archegos of salvation.” How can we know the best way to understand the text? We get a clue from Heb.5:9, where the author says that Jesus, after he had suffered death and was made perfect, i.e. immortal, “he became the source (Gr. aitos)of everlasting salvation . . . “ If we assume that the author is using archegos and aitios as synonyms, then we can take archegos as source, or perhaps cause. When you look up the definition of source on Google (provided by Oxford Languages) it gives as synonyms author, cause, originator and origin. When you look up the word originator, two of the synonyms it gives are founder and pioneer. So all of these English words have a similar meaning. That Jesus is the source of salvation would denote that salvation comes because of him or is obtained through him. This need not imply that Jesus is the ultimate source but only the secondary source. Just as the judges were the secondary source of salvation from the enemies of Israel, but God was the ultimate cause, calling and empowering and backing up his chosen agents, so the same can be predicated of Jesus in his role as savior. God saves us through or by means of Messiah {2 Cor. 5:18-19}.

We could also understand “archegos of salvation” in the sense that Jesus was the first to attain everlasting salvation, i.e. immortality and exaltation. This is what I believe the author of Hebrews means when he speaks of Jesus being perfected. Because he is the first, he becomes the source of this salvation to all those who follow him; he becomes the pattern to which all others will be conformed {see Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:20-21}.

Heb. 12:2 – “. . . fixing our attention on Jesus, the archegos and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Here’s how the different English versions translate archegos in this passage:
“author and finisher (or perfecter) of [our] faith” – KJV, ASV,BRG, DLNT, GNV,
NASB1995, JUB, MEV, YLT
“pioneer and perfecter of our [the] faith” – CSB, ISV, Mounce, NET, NIV, NRSV
“founder and perfecter of our faith” – ESV

This is a difficult one. “Author and finisher of our faith” could imply that our personal faith is something that is begun and finished by Jesus, but this, I believe, would be inaccurate. The Greek actually has “the faith” not “our faith”. This, in the context, would be referring back to chapter 11, where the personal faith of many OT believers is highlighted. We might say that “the faith” means the life of faith, as exhibited in these OT notables. Jesus is then being portrayed as the archegos and perfecter of the life of faith. But this cannot mean he was the first one to live the faith life as a pioneer, or the first in a series, for all of the people mentioned in chapter 11 preceded Jesus. It could be that archegos here is being used as an adjectival noun in the sense that Jesus is the leading or chief example of the life of faith. The words “fixing our attention on” in Greek is the word aphorao, which more precisely means to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something. So after pointing out the faith of the OT examples, the author of Hebrews exhorts his readers to focus all of their attention on the ultimate example of faith – Jesus, who remained faithful to God till the end and then actually entered into the reward of faith, i.e. exaltation, in contrast to those who came before {see 11:39}.

Jesus could, perhaps, be understood as the pioneer of faith in the sense that he is the first, upon completing the race, to receive the reward of immortality, opening the way for those who will follow. Jesus would not be the first to finish the race, but the first to complete the life of faith by entering into the experience of the reward.

Exegesis of Acts 3:15

So having collated the lexical and biblical usage data, let’s apply it to our text. In what sense can Jesus be said to be the archegos of life? To rightly answer this question we first have to answer the question as to what is meant by life. Did Peter mean life in the sense of the life that all living things possess? Is Jesus the archegos of all life? This is what my trinitarian interlocutor understood it to mean, and then postulated that Jesus is the Creator of the life of all living things. Now, of course, it could be saying that, but nothing in the text itself necessitates that meaning. In fact, only someone who already presupposes that Jesus is the Creator would interpret it that way. But imagine Peter standing before the crowd of Jews in the temple courtyard and telling them that the man they were recently complicit in putting to death is actually the Creator of all life. The Jews knew the Creator of all life to be Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Would these Jews have understood that Peter, by calling Jesus the archegos of life, was declaring him to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? This is most untenable, especially in light of the context of Peter’s message:

“Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Why do you stare at us as if we had made this man walk by our own power or piety? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our forefathers, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate after he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a man who was a murderer be released to you.” Acts 3:13-14 NET 

Clearly, no one in that crowd hearing Peter would have thought he was equating this man Jesus with the Creator, for he explicitly differentiates between Jesus and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, calling him the servant of Him. We can, therefore, rule out that Peter’s meaning is that Jesus is the Creator of all life.

A more plausible way to understand life in this context is that it refers to everlasting life i.e. immortality. This would mean that Peter was calling Jesus the “archegos of immortality“. So the life being spoken of here is the life of the age to come {see Lk. 20:34-36} not the the common life that all possess now in this age. So then what does it mean that Jesus is the archegos of immortality?

Looking at the lexical data and the usage in the other three occurrences of archegos in the NT, it seems reasonable to understand Acts 3:15 in the same sense as Heb. 2:10, and in fact, the two passages are saying the same thing. So one option is to take it as saying Jesus is the source of immortality, understanding it in the sense that he is the secondary source, not the ultimate source. This would mean that life in the age to come is necessarily obtained from, through, or by means of Jesus. That this would not require Jesus to be divine is clearly confirmed in such passages as 1 Cor. 15:20-23; Acts 17:31; John 5:28-30 and Heb. 2:6-14.

A second option is to see Jesus as the beginning of immortality for the human race, the first in a series. This would fit well with a number of other statements in the NT, such as Acts 26:23; 1 Cor. 15 20-23; Col. 1:18; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; Rev. 1:5, 17-18. But an even better option is to understand both of these ideas as being conveyed, i.e. having become the first human being to possess immortality, he becomes the source of this immortality for all others, and, in fact, this seems to be exactly what Heb. 5:8-9 is saying, but in different words.

Now someone might object that Peter said to the crowd, “You killed the archegos of life,” implying that he was already this when they killed him, instead of becoming such by his resurrection from the dead. But this is simply answered by assuming that Peter was speaking anachronistically. At the time Peter was speaking, Jesus had already been raised from the dead and was, therefore, indeed the archegos of life. If I were to say to my wife, “There is the highschool my father attended,” I would not mean by this that he was my father at the time he attended the school. Later he became my father and that is how I speak of him even when referring to that period of time of his life prior to becoming my father. So the language of Peter does not require Jesus to have already been the archegos of life at the time he was killed. Peter spoke anachronistically to heighten the irony of their situation i.e. they killed the one, who by means of his death, became the firstborn from the dead and the means by which immortality must be obtained by all others.

That Jesus is the “archegos of immortality” should have significant meaning for those who follow him. The promise of immortality is no longer simply a vague hope or fancy or dream. One of our own race has already entered into this glorious state, this participation in the divine nature, and has thus confirmed the promise to those who love God. As a result we have now entered into a living hope, a confident expectation of sharing in this immortality with Jesus, who has gone before us, making possible our own future participation in the divine nature.

Peace and hope to all who are in Messiah Jesus our Lord!


A Refutation of Dr. Al Garza’s Opening Statement in the Xavier – Garza Debate On ‘Is Jesus God In Psalm 110:1’

This debate took place on April 15 between Carlos Xavier, a biblical unitarian, and Dr. Al Garza, a trinitarian scholar. Dr. Garza is the author of over 20 books and holds a PhD in Biblical Studies and is an Associate Scholar in Biblical Linguistics from Hebrew University’s Institute of Biblical Studies, Israel. Dr. Garza was answering the debate question in the affirmative.

I was expecting a vigorous presentation by Dr. Garza, but instead was surprised to hear him offer such a weak case. In fact, it seemed as if Dr. Garza was unenthusiastic or half-hearted about the debate, using only half of his allotted ten minutes for his opening. His opening consisted of four main points and a conclusion, all of which were weak and unconvincing. In this article I want to go through each point and show it’s flaw. I will also engage with some of what he said in the cross-examination section. Finally, I will give an explanation of what Jesus was getting at in Matt 22:41-45 {see also Mk. 12:35-37; Lk. 20:41-44}. Here is a link to the debate video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o3c0pPpkHo&t=497s

Garza’s Case Refuted

Garza’s main argument in this debate was that the original reading of Ps. 110:1 did not say: “YHWH said to my lord (Heb. ladoni – which could refer to a man), as we have it in the Masoretic text, but rather, “YHWH said to the Lord (Heb. ladonai – which must refer to God). His first line of defense for this assertion (3:45-4:22) is the fact that in Matt. 22:43-45 Jesus is recorded as saying that David, in the psalm, called the messiah “lord” rather than “my lord”. To Dr. Garza’s mind this means that the text that Jesus knew in his day did not contain ladoni (to my lord) but ladonai (to the Lord), for if the text had said ladoni then Jesus would have said that David called him “my lord”. But since Matthew records Jesus as saying that David called the Messiah “lord” then this is proof that the text of Jesus’ day read ladonai instead of ladoni.

Well, I must say that this is not a very strong argument. Why should we assume that, if David called the Messiah “my lord”, Jesus would have to say that David called him “my lord” and that it would be inaccurate for Jesus to simply say that David called him “lord” if in fact David called him “my lord”. Jesus’ point is that David called the Messiah by the title lord, not that he specifically said either “my lord” or simply “lord”. In fact, there is another passage in the NT which parallels this passage in Matthew and shows Dr. Garza’s argument to be irrelevant – 1 Peter 3:6:

. . . like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him lord.

Here are the two passages in Greek :

Matt. 22:45 – καλεῖ (calls) αὐτὸν (him) Κύριον (lord)
1 Pet. 3:6 – κύριον (lord) αὐτὸν (him) καλοῦσα (calling)

So we see that the two passages are identical except for the different forms of kaleo. Now here is the thing I want you to see. The only place in the Hebrew bible that Peter could have been referring to is Gen. 18:12, which reads:

After I am worn out, and my lord (Heb. adoni) is old, shall I have pleasure?

Here we have an exact parallel case. In both Ps. 110:1 and Gen 18:12 we have someone calling someone else “my lord”. And in both cases, when someone in the NT is referring to these passages, they relate them as if they said merely “lord” instead of “my lord”. Is Dr. Garza going to claim, based on 1 Pet. 3:6, that the original Hebrew of Gen. 18:12 must have read adon instead of adoni? I think not! This point by Dr. Garza is, therefore, invalidated.

His next point (4:30-5:28) is that there are no rabbinic commentaries that ascribe Ps. 110 to the Messiah. He states that the rabbinic interpretation is that the “lord” whom YHWH invites to sit at his right hand is Abraham, and he quotes Rashi to that effect. He then makes the claim that it was based on this traditional understanding of the psalm as referring to Abraham that the scribes added the vowel points to make the word adoni rather than adonai, which is supposedly used exclusively for God. For those who may not know, the original Hebrew text consisted of only consonants. The proper vocalization of the scriptures was passed down by tradition and vowel pointings were added to the text by the Masoretes between the 7th and 10th centuries, based on that tradition. In the original, without vowels pointings, there would have been no distinction between adoni and adonai, except by the traditional vocalization. What Dr. Garza is claiming is that when they added the vowel points at Ps. 110:1 they did so purposely based on the tradition that the psalm referred to Abraham, hence adoni, a word that can refer to men, rather than adonai, a word that refers to God.

This is indeed a bold assertion, but what proof does he offer for it? Well, the only supposed proof that he kept referring to throughout the debate is the fact that rabbinic tradition applied the psalm to Abraham. But this is simply begging the question. How can the fact that a rabbinic tradition that Abraham is the referent of Ps. 110:1 prove that the original text read adonai instead of adoni? Dr. Garza simply assumes it because that’s how he wants it to be. Are there any rabbinic sources admitting that the scribes pointed the vowels for the express purpose of aligning the text with their tradition of interpretation of the text? He doesn’t provide any because they don’t exist. It is much more rational to reason that, based on the tradition of vocalization, which read Ps.110:1 as adoni rather than adonai, that they interpreted it as referring to Abraham (and David and Saul), because they believed, based on that traditional vocalization, that it referred to a man, not to God. Dr. Garza’s claim is simply preposterous. Not only that, but his claim that there is no rabbinic tradition which refers the psalm to Messiah is false. Here are some sources:

  • Yalkut Shimoni on Tehilim 110:
    “Rabbi Yusan said for Rabbi Aha Bar Hananiah: in the future the Holy one blessed be He will sit the King Messiah at his right and Abraham at his left, and Abraham’s face crumpled and he said: the son of my son sits at the right and I sit at the left? but the Holy one blessed is He reconciled him by saying: the son of your son sits at your right and I sit at your right hand…”
  • T’fillat R. Shimon ben Yochai:
    “And the Holy one, blessed be he, will fight for Israel and will say to the Messiah: ‘Sit at my right’. And the Messiah will say to Israel: ‘Gather together and stand and see the salvation of the Lord’.”
  • Midrash Rabbah, Genesis LXXXV, 9:
    “… AND THY STAFF alludes to the royal Messiah. as in the verse The staff of thy strength the Lord will send out of Zion (Ps. 110: 2).”
  • Midrash Rabbah, Numbers XVIII, 23:
    “…That same staff also is destined to be held in the hand of the King Messiah (may it be speedily in our days!); as it says, The staff of thy strength the Lord will send out of Zion: Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies (Ps. 110: 2).”
  • Artscroll Tenach Commentary Tehillim:
    “Sforno says that this Psalm is dedicated to the future king Messiah. He is on God’s right hand and the ministering angels are on the left. The armies of Gog and Magog will attack, but HaShem will subdue them until they come crawling to the feet of the Messiah.”

The fact that rabbis could refer the psalm to Messiah, knowing that the traditional vocalization read adoni, shows us that they regarded the Messiah who was to come, strictly as a human being, not as God. On top of the rabbinic sources, the very fact that Jesus uses Ps. 110 as recorded in Matt 22:41-45, proves that the Jewish leaders of that day must have considered the psalm messianic. Jesus’ purpose in applying the psalm to Messiah would have been completely moot if those to whom he was speaking did not regard the psalm as messianic. Mr. Xavier pointed this out to Dr. Garza later in the debate, but he had no response.

Dr. Garza’s next point (5:28-6:01) is where we start to see some sleight of hand. He asserts that we can know that Ps. 110:1 originally said ladonai, i.e. to the Lord, instead of ladoni, i.e. to my lord, because in all of the psalms ladoni appears no where else, but ladonai does. As if to strengthen this claim he makes the following statements: “David wrote ladonai in every other place in the psalms . . . When we look at all of the places in the book of Psalms where ladonai appears, we can see what David intended to write. David did not intend to write ladoni in any other place in all 150 psalms.” Note the underlined sections of this quote. Don’t you get the impression that there must be many places in the psalms where ladonai occurs. Well, if so, you would be wrong. In fact, the word occurs only twice in the psalms, in 22:30 and 130:6. So Garza’s argument seems to be that because ladonai is used by David in two other psalms then 110:1 must read ladonai instead of ladoni. No, really, that is his argument. Not only is this a weak argument, but it borders on ridiculous. I’m stunned that someone would not see the silliness of such an argument. By what logic does the fact that David intended to write ladonai in two places in the psalms mean that he didn’t intend to write ladoni in another psalm? What a text reads is not to be determined by how many other times the same word is used, either in the same book or in other books of the Bible. The fact of the matter is this, that in every Hebrew text, in every Greek text, and in the OT Peshitta, Ps. 110:1 reads to my lord. To postulate that it should read “to the Lord” based on such weak arguments as Dr. Garza presented in this debate is to leave the realm of reality for the world of fantasy.

Next (6:02- 6:19), he attempts to strengthen his case by appealing to v. 5 of the psalm, which reads, The Lord (Heb. adonai) is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. Dr. Garza says that, “David describes Adonai at the right hand of Yahweh, referencing back to v.1.” He then states that in the NT only Jesus is depicted as at the right hand of God, implying that Jesus must be Adonai. He also states that Yahweh is never mentioned as being at the right hand of the Messiah. The problem that Dr. Garza is going to have is that vv.5-7 are somewhat ambiguous and open to multiple interpretations. Such passages are not at all conducive for use as proofs. One interpretation, given by the NET Bible commentary, takes adonai as a reference to Yahweh, who is being addressed, hence “O Lord, at your right hand he (the king) strikes down kings in the day of his wrath.” Vv. 6-7 then would be referring to the king who sits at Yahweh’s right hand. Another possible explanation is to see adonai i.e. Yahweh as being at the right hand of the king. Dr. Garza claims that Yahweh is never mentioned as being at the Messiah’s right hand. Well, yes and no. There is no passage specifically about the Messiah which mentions Yahweh being at his right hand, but in Ps. 16:8 David, as Israel’s king and Yahweh’s anointed (i.e. messiah), stated that Yahweh is at his right hand. Therefore, there is no reason why Ps. 110:5 could not be understood in this way. The NET Bible commentary gives a third option – to revocalize adonai as adoni to match v.1. This would make v.5, as well as vv. 6-7, addressed to Yahweh but about the king. In any case, Dr. Garza’s understanding of the text is not at all certain and is therefore a weak proof of the debate thesis.

His next point (6:29-6:46) is another case of sleight of hand by Dr. Garza. He quotes from the Targum on Psalm 110 and states that it “refers to adoni as the Word.” He quotes it as saying, “Yahweh said at him or with him the word . . . “ In quoting it like this he gives the impression that the “my lord” in the Hebrew text is replaced with “the word” (Aram. memra) in the Targum. He then goes on to show how Jesus is referred to as “the word” in the NT. But this is completely false. The Aramaic text of the Targum actually has the word ribbon or ribbona, not memra, as the translation for adoni. Here is how one English translation of the Aramaic text reads:

1.     Composed by David, a psalm. The Lord said in his decree to make me lord of all Israel, but he said to me, “Wait still for Saul of the tribe of Benjamin to die, for one reign must not encroach on another; and afterwards I will make your enemies a prop for your feet.” Another Targum: The Lord spoke by his decree to give me the dominion in exchange for sitting in study of Torah. “Wait at my right hand until I make your enemies a prop for your feet.” Another Targum: The Lord said in his decree to appoint me ruler over Israel, but the Lord said to me, “Wait for Saul of the tribe of Benjamin to pass away from the world; and afterwards you will inherit the kingship, and I will make your enemies a prop for your feet.”

Targum Psalms – An English Translation by Edward M. Cook 2001

Note the underlined word “decree”. This is the word memra, i.e. “the word” that Dr. Garza wants us to believe is replacing the adoni of the Hebrew text. Now note the underlined word “lord”, which is ribbon or ribbona in Aramaic, and which is the translation of the Hebrew adoni. Dr. Garza has either completely misunderstood the Targum text or he was being less than candid in what it says. This point by Garza fails to show what he wants it to.

In conclusion(7:38 – 7:44) he states, “We can safely conclude that adoni in Ps. 110:1 is based on rabbinic tradition.” I’m sorry, but he did not even come close to proving any such thing. I hope you can see just how flawed and deficient Dr. Garza’s opening presentation was in proving his case. So much for his opener.

Further Fallacies

I now want to show other fallacious arguments used by Dr. Garza in the rest of the debate. At timestamp 26:14-26:48 Dr. Garza states emphatically that in the NT Jesus is never once called kurios mou (i.e. my lord), the Greek rendering of adoni. But this is manifestly false. Jesus is called kurios mou in Lk. 1:43; Jn. 20:13, 28; Phil. 3:8. When I pointed this out to Dr. Garza in the comment section on the debate video page, instead of admitting his mistake he obfuscated the issue with these responses:
I already stated that in those verses you read ‘THE Lord of me’ with the article in a different tense in Greek and you have other places where Jesus is called just Lord like God the Father. Kurios is a generic word for Lord and can go either way based on your belief. The Hebrew and Peshitta are more exact to YHVH and Adonai to Jesus which I pointed out and Carlos did not refute.”

“In other words, you would not translate Luke and John has to say “to my lord.” It would be translated as ‘the Lord of me.’ That is the difference grammatically.”

The underlined section of his response is hard to make sense of. He says “different tense” but I think he meant different cases. But the meaning of a word does not change because the case is different. Kurios mou (nominative), kuriou mou (genitive), kurion mou (accusative), all mean the same thing, my lord.

But even more than this, Jesus is called dozens of times in the NT kurios (or kurion, kuriou) hemon, which means “our lord”. Mou is the 1st person singular genitive of the Greek word ego. Hemon is the 1st person plural genitive of ego. So Jesus is called “my lord” in the singular and “our lord” in the plural many times in the NT. Dr. Garza is simply wrong!

At stampmark 27:52-29:17 Dr. Garza appeals to the Peshitta NT, claiming that in Matt. 22:43-45 the Peshitta calls Jesus by the divine name Yahweh. Is this true? I had never heard this claim before this debate, so I did some checking to see if his claim is true. What he is referring to is that in the Peshitta the Aramaic word for “lord” in Matt 22:43 & 45 is marya. It seems that there are a few scholars in the field of Peshitta studies who have put forward the theory that marya, a form of mara, meaning ‘lord’, is meant to designate the name Yahweh. Hence the “lord” in Matt. 22:43 & 45, which is referring to the Messiah, is supposed to be calling him Yahweh. The claim is that marya = mar+yah = Lord Yahweh1. From what I could gather, only some scholars take this position while others deny it, seeing marya simply as the emphatic form of mara. It is true that marya is used throughout the Peshitta OT and NT for the tetragrammaton (YHWH), but this appears to be a substitution for the divine name, like kurios in Greek. Marya is most likely an equivalent of the Hebrew adonai, which was used by the Jews as a substitute for YHWH when reading or reciting the scriptures out loud, and like adonai is an emphatic form of adon, so marya is the emphatic form of mara. Kurios is an equivalent of adonai in Greek, and it seems to me the best way to understand marya is as an equivalent to adonai in Aramaic.

That marya occurs a few times with reference to Jesus in the NT is extrapolated by the proponents of this view to mean that Jesus is being called Yahweh. But Dr. Rocco A. Errico, a former student of Dr. George Lamsa, takes a more sensible approach:

“When the Aramaic word Mariah is used it may refer to either the LORD God or to the highest ranking Lord of lords. For instance Jesus was called by the people “my Lord”, Mar- from the word Mara, lord, master, sir…The term Mariah-LORD was substituted for the Hebrew word Yahweh, which refers to the LORD God only, but on a few occasions the Messiah is called Mariah (as in [Matthew] verse [22]:45) because he is the highest Lord among men. (GOD is the LORD of the Messiah.)”

The validity of Dr. Errico’s perspective can be seen in the absurdities that would result if marya, when used of Jesus, meant to signify him as Yahweh. Take for example Acts 2:38: “Therefore, let all the people of Israel understand beyond a doubt that God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” The Peshitta has marya for the word “Lord”, which if we would take it to mean Yahweh would result in this: “Therefore, let all the people of Israel understand beyond a doubt that God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Yahweh and Messiah!” God made the man Jesus {see v.22} Yahweh? What kind of nonsense is that? Another example is Rom. 14:9, which would read like this: “For this reason the Messiah died and returned to life, so that he might become Yahweh of both the dead and the living.” Does anybody really find this plausible?

Dr. Garza’s perspective is that just as he thinks that Jesus being called kurios in the Greek NT means he is Yahweh, because kurios is used as a substitute for the divine name in both the LXX and the NT, so likewise, that Jesus being called marya in the Peshitta means he is Yahweh, because marya is used as a substitute for the divine name in the Peshitta OT and NT. But he is mistaken on both counts. The words kurios and marya have meaning beyond their use as a substitute for the divine name. In Acts 25:26 the Emperor of Rome is called kurios by the Roman governor of Judea. Are we to assume that this Roman governor was calling Caesar Yahweh? If kurios, when used of Jesus, was meant to designate him as Yahweh, then the oft used phrase in the NT, “our Lord Jesus Christ” would amount to “our Yahweh Jesus Christ.” I’m sorry, but this is simply ridiculous and makes no sense whatsoever. Jesus is called “lord” (kurios in Greek and marya in Aramaic), not because the NT authors are designating him Yahweh, but because they are designating him as the one Lord out of all created beings, whom God has appointed and exalted to that position, and to whom all others must submit.

Matthew 22:41-45

41 While the Pharisees were still gathered, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They told him, “David’s.” 43 He asked them, “Then how can David by the Spirit call him ‘Lord’ when he says, 44 ‘The Lord told my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘? 45 If David calls him ‘Lord’, how can he be his son?

Orthodox Trinitarian Christians are nearly universal in the belief that the only way to make sense of this passage is to see Jesus as affirming that the Messiah is himself God and that this is why David could call him Lord. In other words, the Messiah must be more than just David’s son or descendant if David calls him ‘Lord.’ He must also be David’s God.

The first thing that needs to be said in response to this is that the text does not explicitly say this. No where in this passage, or in it’s parallels in Luke and Mark, does the text have Jesus or the author explaining that what Jesus meant is that the Messiah must be God. This is merely an assumption on the part of those who already presuppose that Jesus is God in accordance with orthodox creedal dogma. To be sure, if one holds this presupposition then the passage can be made to correspond, making the passage appear to be support for the presupposition. But what if one does not approach this text with the presupposition that Jesus is God? Can the text be made to make sense if it is approached with the presupposition that the Messiah is strictly a man? Well, let’s see.

The first point I want to look at is that the words of Jesus in this passage give the impression that he is challenging the popular belief of the Jews that the Messiah would be a descendant of David. But I don’t think we should even entertain such a thought too long. Why would Matthew start off his gospel with the words, “This is the record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham,” and then include a statement of Jesus denying this very thing. The Jews were certainly correct to hold that the Messiah would be a son of David, since their scriptures declared as much {1 Chron. 17:11-14; Is. 9:6-7; Jer. 23:5-6}. That Jesus is a descendant of David is affirmed in other NT documents {see Lk. 1:32-33, 69; Acts 13:22-23; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 22:16}. So then what is Jesus driving at by this questioning of the Jews. Again, some say that he is challenging their belief that the Messiah is simply a man. This is, of course, Dr. Garza’s position, but it is not the necessary conclusion that must be drawn from the passage.

Jesus’ question can be put like this, “If the Messiah is David’s son, then how is it that David calls him ‘Lord’?” The relevance of the question is to be found in the Semitic culture, in which a man’s son or descendant would not be considered greater than himself. This would be even more so if the man were a great patriarch or, as was David, the originator of a royal dynasty. Take Abraham, for example. It is doubtful that Jews would have thought that any descendant of Abraham, the father of their nation, would ever hold a place of greater honor than Abraham, not even the Messiah. They would have envisioned the Messiah, no matter how great he would be, as bowing down before Abraham to pay him honor. This can be seen in the rabbinic quote cited earlier in this article:
“Rabbi Yusan said for Rabbi Aha Bar Hananiah: in the future the Holy one blessed be He will sit the King Messiah at his right and Abraham at his left, and Abraham’s face crumpled and he said: the son of my son sits at the right and I sit at the left? but the Holy one blessed is He reconciled him by saying: the son of your son sits at your right and I sit at your right hand…”
Here Abraham takes offence at the Messiah being given a greater honor than him. But God placates him by reminding him that the Messiah and ,indeed, God himself is sitting at Abraham’s right hand, thus putting Abraham in a place of greater honor. In the same way, David, the great king of Israel, would likely be viewed as bowing before Abraham and addressing him as ‘my lord’ after the resurrection, in the age to come, rather than the reverse.

I have to disagree with Carlos Xavier when he said (55:00 – 56:02) that Jews would not have a problem with a son becoming greater than his father and uses the story of Joseph’s dream in Gen 37:9-11 as evidence. But the reaction of Jacob in v. 10 shows that he was not comfortable with the thought. Mr. Xavier says that Jacob accepted it, believing God had a plan, but the text doesn’t say this, it merely says that Jacob “kept the matter in mind.” Later in the story, when Joseph and Jacob are reunited, there is no indication in the text that Jacob bowed down to Joseph and called him ‘my lord’ as Joseph’s brothers had done.

So it seems to me that Jesus is challenging the Pharisee’s understanding of the extent of Messiah’s authority and position in comparison to the patriarchs. The Jews, though they would have held Messiah to be a figure of great importance and authority and worthy of great honor in his own day, in the resurrection it seems they would have regarded Messiah as subject to the patriarchs. By quoting Ps. 110:1 Jesus was showing an inconsistency in the thinking of these Jews. If the Messiah would be subject to the patriarchs after the resurrection then why does David call him ‘my lord’, an address that a subordinate bestows on a superior?

What the Jews of that day did not know, in that it was hidden from them, was the fact that the Messiah would be rejected by the people, be put to death, and then be raised from the dead, not along with all of the righteous of all time in the resurrection event at the end of the age, but in a separate and singular event, prior to the event known by the Jews as the resurrection. Hence the Messiah would be the first man to receive immortality and so become the source of resurrection for all others, including the patriarchs themselves, establishing him as preeminent over all others {Heb. 5:7-9; Jn. 5:26-30; Rom. 14:9; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:17-182}. So in the resurrection at the end of the age it is the Messiah who will call forth from their graves the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David, who will then bow down before Messiah and acknowledge his preeminence. This is what was faulty in the Jew’s understanding of Messiah, not that he would be God come in human flesh.

Endnotes
1. Here is an article that explains the problem : https://logoi0.blogspot.com/2011/11/marya-miryam.html?fbclid=IwAR3EGxSlfZB7muTA8F0F0xlAInJJ_Li-BngZDYWoRf9bhLYuzgtiTzgGi-I
2. The appellation “the First and the Last” need not be understood as denoting deity simply because Yahweh is so designated {Is. 44:6; 48:12-13}. The appellation can be understood as a declaration of being unique in one’s class. Yahweh is the First and the Last in that among all the gods of the nations he alone is the true and living God, the Creator. Jesus the Messiah is the First and the Last in that among all humanity he is the only one to have died and been raised from the dead immortal, prior to the resurrection event at the end of the age.

Why Daniel 7:14 Is Not A Proof-Text For The Deity Of Christ

Daniel chapter seven is often used by trinitarian and oneness apologists as evidence that the OT scriptures do indeed present a portrait of the Messiah as God, in some sense. Two elements of the chapter that are the focus of these apologists are 1. the fact that the ‘son of man’ figure in v. 13 is said to be “coming on the clouds of heaven” and 2. that he receives ‘worship’ from “all peoples, nations and men of every language” in v. 14. I have already addressed the first issue in a previous article1, so in this article I want to address the second point.

The Assertion

Here is the assertion of the apologists and the reason why they think Daniel 7:14 is a proof-text for the deity of Christ. The ‘son of man’ figure in v. 13 is assumed to be a prophetic picture of Jesus, who is said to be ‘worshipped’ by all nations. Now, while some words in the Hebrew Bible which denote worship can be used to signify the kind of homage that can be legitimately given to humans, such as to kings, like the word shachah (Str. # 7812), the word used in Dan. 7:14 is the Aramaic word pelach (Str. # 6399), which, according to the apologists, is used exclusively for the worship given to a deity, whether to Yahweh or to false gods. From this it is deduced that the ‘son of man’ figure is indeed a deity figure, and if this figure is indeed Jesus, then we must conclude that Dan. 7:14 is affirming the deity of Christ.

To further bolster this claim it is often pointed out that in the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (LXX) the word latreuo (Str. #3000) is used to translate pelach. Latreuo, like pelach, is said to refer exclusively to worship given to a deity. So again, based on these facts, it is asserted that the ‘son of man’ must be regarded as a deity figure, and so when Jesus is depicted in the gospels as applying this epithet to himself, he is, in fact, making a claim to deity.

The Rebuttal

The Meaning of Pelach
First, I want to address whether or not pelach is rightly translated as ‘worship’. Usually, when this passage is presented by apologists it is quoted with the word ‘worship’ as the translation of pelach, but actually, I could find only three versions that rendered pelach as worship, the NIV, AMP, and EHV (Evangelical Heritage Version). All other versions I checked rendered pelach as serve. The AMP has both serve and worship, but the classic version of the AMP has only serve. The NET has serve but in their note on this verse they say, “Some take ‘serving’ here in the sense of ‘worshiping.’ So it seems that the support for pelach meaning worship is rather slim in the English versions, for the vast majority translate it as serve. So if pelach is a specialized word used only in reference to a deity, then it should be understood as service rendered to a deity, not worship rendered to a deity. The idea that the word means worship is probably a consequence of the fact that, from the apologists’ perspective, in it’s ten appearances in the Hebrew Bible it is used only with reference to a deity, and so, therefore, must refer to worship. But, as we will see, this is merely superficial.

So would the fact that, in all of it’s appearances in the OT2, excluding Dan. 7:14, pelach is used only with reference to a deity, prove that the ‘son of man’ figure in Dan. 7:14 is a deity figure? Not at all, simply because the limited use of the word in the OT must not be what determines the meaning of the word. We must examine all of the data concerning the word pelach to see if the assertion made by the apologists holds true.

First, it must be understood that pelach is an Aramaic word and appears only in those sections of the Hebrew Bible which are written in Aramaic. The Aramaic sections are Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; Dan. 2:4-7:28 and Jer. 10:11, for a total of 268 verses. It is within this very limited setting that pelach appears ten times, once in Ezra and nine times in Daniel. But this is hardly sufficient to determine the meaning of the word. We must look beyond the limited use of the word in the OT and the best place to look is in the Targums, which are Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible.

When we look at the Targums we find that pelach is used many times to translate the Hebrew word abad (Str. # 5647) throughout the Pentateuch. In this regard, it is used many times with reference to serving men, as well as serving God. Here are a few passages in which pelach refers to serving men in the Targums: Genesis 14:4; 15:14; 27:29; 29:18, 25; 31:41; Exodus 1:13; 14:12; 21:2; Leviticus 25:40; Deuteronomy 15:12; 20:11; 28:48. There are many more but this should suffice to prove the point. This evidence clearly shows that the meaning of pelach is not limited to service rendered to a deity, but includes service rendered to men.

Now someone is sure to respond to this data by saying that the Targumic usage of pelach is irrelevant to the discussion because in the inspired Scriptures it has a specialized meaning, and we know this because in all of it’s occurrences in the OT it refers to a deity. But this is simply special pleading. Why should we believe that pelach acquired a special limited meaning within Scripture that it didn’t have in everyday usage within the culture and time in which it was written? If God chose to communicate his word within a certain culture and language, why would He change the meaning of a specific word in that language? Is He trying to confuse us? Also, the assertion that pelach is used exclusively in reference to deity in the Scripture reveals the circular reasoning of the apologists. Of the ten occurrences of pelach in the OT, only eight of them are clearly in reference to a deity, while the remaining two, Dan. 7:14 and 7:27, are ambiguous, and could be using pelach with reference to serving men. But the apologists, already holding the presupposition that Christ is deity, simply assume that 7:14 fits this supposed limitation of the meaning of pelach. 7:27 is probably even more ambiguous, in that pelach could refer to either the “Most High” or the “people of the Most High.” The second option is reflected in the following versions: CEV, CJB, ERV, ESVUK, EXB, GNT, ICB, TLB, MSG, NOG, NCV, NRSV, OJB, RSV. So if we don’t just assume that the ‘son of man’ figure is a deity figure and if we take v. 27 to be referring to the “people” of the Most High, then there is no reason to assume that pelach has a specialized meaning in the OT, but that it carries the same meaning found in common usage.

So we see the apologists’ case begin to come apart at the seams. The reason why it seems to the apologists that pelach is a specialized word which refers exclusively to deity is simply because 1. the apologists’ presuppositions cause them to see Dan. 7:14 and 27 as referring to deity, and 2. because if one examines the entirety of the Aramaic sections of the OT, it becomes obvious that within that limited section there never arises a context in which pelach could have been used in reference to serving men, unless Dan. 7:14 and 27 are the only two instances. But when we look at the wider use of the word in the Targums, we do see many contexts in which it is used of serving men, completely refuting their assertion3.

What About the Greek?
What about the LXX use of latreuo for pelach? Doesn’t this support the apologists’ assertion? I will admit that latreuo does seem to have attained a specialized meaning of service rendered to God. All 21 occurrences of the word in the NT are in reference to God, and in the LXX, all but one of the 89 uses of latreuo seem to be in reference to deity, unless, of course, Dan 7:14 be excepted. The one unambiguous exception in the LXX is Deut. 28:48, which reads:

“And you shalt serve (latreuo) your enemies, which the Lord will send forth against you, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in the want of all things; and you shall wear upon your neck a yoke of iron until he shall have destroyed you.”

This one undeniable exception, within the biblical data, to the seeming rule, should not be discounted; if there is one exception why couldn’t there be another? Add to this the fact that Greek lexicons list service to men as one of the meanings of latreuo:

LSJ Lexicon – work for hire or pay; to be in servitude, serve; to
be subject or enslaved to.
Thayer – to serve for hire; to serve, minister to, either to the Gods or men and
used alike of slaves and freemen.
TDNT – the word is used literally for bodily service (e.g. workers on the land or
slaves).

Furthermore, the LXX uses a different Greek word for pelach in v. 27, the verb hupotage (Str. # 5292) which means to be in submission to, to obey. This shows that latreuo is not necessarily the equivalent to pelach. Not only this, but in Theodotion’s Greek translation of Daniel, he translates pelach in both v. 14 and v. 27 with the Greek verb douleuo (Str. # 1398) meaning to serve, to be in subjection to. This verb is used with reference to serving both God and men. Theodotion’s use of douleuo also shows that latreuo is not the necessary translation of pelach, and unless one considers the LXX to be inspired and inerrant in it’s readings, it’s use of latreuo in v. 14 is not authoritative. The noun form doulos (Str. # 1401) refers to a slave or a servant, one who is in subjection to the will of another. This means that the better way to understand Dan. 7:14 (as well as v. 27) is not that the nations are rendering religious worship to the ‘son of man’ figure, but that they are made subservient to him, which fits well with what the OT says elsewhere of the Messsiah {see Gen. 49:10; Ps. 2:8-9}.

Conclusion

What all of this means is that the assertion made by the apologists regarding Dan. 7:14 is another example of them overstating their case. The assertion is sullied by circular reasoning, eisegesis and the lack of pertinent data, either purposely or through poor study skills. Whatever the reason, the apologists should, for the sake of integrity, desist from using Daniel 7:14 as a proof-text for the deity of Christ.

Endnotes
1. The Rider On The Clouds – A Critique Of Dr. Michael Heiser’s View Of Daniel 7
2. Ezra 7:24; Daniel 3:12, 13, 17, 18, 28; 6:16, 20; 7:14, 27
3. The same holds true for the Aramaic Peshitta OT. Even the Peshitta NT uses pelach at least twice in reference to serving men, Matt. 6:24 and Acts 7:7.

Does Genesis 1:26 Prove A Multiplicity Of Persons In God?

Gen. 1:26 – “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ “

The assertion that the plural pronouns in the phrase “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness . . .,’” are a reference to multiple persons within God, i.e. the Father speaking to the Son, and hence a reference to the Trinity, is typical of many Christian apologists, bible commentators and lay people, as well as many of the early church fathers from the 2nd century on. And certainly, for anyone who already accepts the Trinity doctrine, this could be a confirmation of that belief. But it must be said right from the start that the Trinity doctrine is not taught by this passage. Of course it may accommodate that belief for the one who already holds that doctrine; but it could also accommodate the belief in poly-theism and Arianism. And why would the  plural pronouns suggest ‘three’ persons in God? Why not two or ten? The only reason it would suggest ‘three’ is because the Trinity concept, which came along at a much later time, is being read back into this text. The simple or plain reading of the text is that God, a singular person, is speaking to someone else, whether one or more persons.

So is this verse a slam dunk for Trinitarians? While many popular commentators and apologists think so, and many church fathers thought so, modern scholarship is decidedly against the notion that Gen.1:26 implies a multiplicity of persons within God. This is true even among Trinitarian scholars. Gordon J. Wenham comments on this verse in the World Biblical Commentary on Genesis, saying:

Christians have traditionally seen [Gen. 1:26] as adumbrating the Trinity. It is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author.

Charles Ryrie, in the Ryrie Study Bible gave this brief comment on Gen. 1:26:

Us…Our. Plurals of majesty.

The Liberty Annotated Study Bible, published by Liberty University states regarding this verse:

The plural pronoun “Us” is most likely a majestic plural from the standpoint of Hebrew grammar and syntax.

The staunchly Trinitarian NIV Study Bible has this in it’s commentary note on this passage:

us… our…our. God speaks as the Creator-King, announcing his crowning work to the members of his heavenly court …

H. L. Ellison, in The International Bible Commentary, edited by F. F. Bruce, says regarding the traditional Christian view that the plural refers to the Trinity:

This should not be completely rejected, but in it’s setting it does not carry conviction. The rabbinic interpretation that God is speaking to the angels is more attractive, for mans creation affects them … But there is no suggestion of angelic cooperation. Probably the plural is intended above all to draw attention to the importance and solemnity of God’s decision.

The Cambridge Bible Commentary states on the passage:

i. Until recently, the traditional Christian interpretation has seen in the 1st pers. plur. a reference to the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. The requirements of a sound historical exegesis render this view untenable: for it would read into the book of Genesis the religious teaching which is based upon the Revelation of the New Testament.

Gleason Archer, in his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, while not commenting on Gen. 1:26, does comment on Gen. 3:22, where again God speaks in the plural ‘us’:

Who, then, constitutes the “us” referred to in verse 22? Conceivably the three persons of the Trinity might be involved here (as in Gen. 1:26), but more likely “us” refers to the angels surrounding God’s throne in heaven …

I want to note again that the above quotes are from Trinity-believing, traditional, orthodox scholars, honest ones I might add. At this point, it becomes difficult to see how Gen. 1:26 can be considered a proof-text for a multi-person God, and hence, a proof-text for the Trinity, when so many OT scholars, themselves trinitairans, deny that it proves such a idea. Even some popular level scholars like Dr. Michael Heiser and Dr. Michael Brown deny that this text proves the Trinity. Of course, this does not prevent less thoughtful trinitarian apologists from repeatedly using Gen 1:26 with great confidence in debates with unitarians.

As we can see, from most of the quotes above, the most prominent alternative interpretation is that God is speaking to his heavenly court, the angelic beings surrounding his throne.1 Some object to this on the basis that angels could not have been active participants in the creation of man – this was God’s work alone. Isaiah 44:24 is often cited as proof of this –  “I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by myself and spreading out the earth all alone.” In response, it should be observed that Is. 44: 24 specifically mentions the creation of the heavens and the earth, which had already been accomplished before day 6 of the creation week, when man was created. And as far as I am aware, there is no passage which states emphatically that God alone was involved in the creation of man. We do see, in the text of Genesis 1, a distinction in the way that God created everything else leading up to the creation of man. In every other case the text says that God simply spoke “and it was so.” Yet when it comes to man’s creation God does not just speak and it happens, but he involves others in the act. Why could we not surmise that God involved the angels in some way, perhaps as the ones who gathered the dust of the ground and formed the shape of the man. From that point God would have taken over to actually transform the lifeless man-shaped dirt into a body of flesh and blood. In this scenario the angels are simply agents of God who are doing his bidding, but it is God who provides the power necessary for the completion of the process.

Now someone might object that Gen. 2:7 states that “Yahweh God formed the man from the dust of the ground . . . ,” and that this precludes that the angels were involved. But such an objection simply fails to understand the concept of agency in scripture. God is often credited with the actions of his agents. Moses was sent by God, as his agent, to deliver the Israelites from Egypt and he did so. Yet, God is credited as the one who brought them out {see Ex. 3:9-10; Num. 20:14-16; Joshua 24:5; 1 Sam. 12:6-8; Acts 7:34-36}. Likewise, though the prophet Samuel anointed David with oil, God speaks of himself as doing it {see 1 Sam. 16:13; Ps. 89:20}. In Is. 29:3 God says to Jerusalem, “I will encamp against you on all sides; I will encircle you with towers and set up my siege works against you,” yet it is the army of Babylon led by Nebuchadezzar that fullfills it. Who delivered the Israelites from their enemies in the book of Judges, God or the judges {see Judg. 2:16-18}? I could go on with many more examples but this should suffice to show that the objection is without merit. That God is ultimately the one who created man, even if the angels assisted in some way, is seen by verse 27 which reads literally, “So God, he created man in his own image . . . ” Here the verb is singular and so is the pronoun, showing that God alone is credited with the act of man’s creation. 

Another possible way to understand it is that if God was speaking to the angels it was not necessarily to include them in the act of man’s creation, but perhaps to invite them to be observers of his crowning achievement. This was also the predominant rabbinic interpretation. It may also be that angels are also created in the image of God, and so the “us” and “our” is intended to include them in that regard only. As far as I  am aware, there is no verse in Scripture which says that man alone is created in the image of God. We should also note that if verse 26 is referring to multiple persons in God, then why does verse 27 not read, “So God, they created man in their own image?” The fact is, that the text does not give us enough information to be absolutely certain, but what I have presented here is certainly plausible, and is, in fact, a better interpretation than the one that imports a concept into the text which would not come into existence until many centuries later.

So I conclude that the best or most plausible way to interpret Gen. 1:26 is that God is speaking to his angels. This interpretation would likewise apply to the three other “us” texts, found at Gen. 3:22; 11:7 and Is. 6:8.

Endnotes
1. Gordon Wenham, in volume 1 of his Word Biblical Commentary on Genesis, lists six possible ways to understand the “us” in Gen. 1:26 and concludes that the angel view is the most probable, even briefly answering two main objections to this view.

2 Peter 1:1, Titus 2:13 And The Granville Sharp Rule – A New Approach

In the arsenal of orthodox Trinitarian apologists is something known as the Granville Sharp Rule and its specific application to certain NT texts bearing on Christology, in particular 2 Peter 1:1 and Titus 2:13. These two verses are often employed as proof-texts for the deity of Jesus based solely on the Granville Sharp Rule (GSR). In the online NET Bible commentary notes on both of these passages it is asserted that they are “the clearest statements in the NT concerning the deity of Christ,” and this is attributed to the GSR.

Granville Sharp was an amateur British theologian and staunch defender of trintarianism, who, in response to the growing unitarian (Socinian) movement of his day, taught himself Greek in order to better debate the issue. That he was motivated by theological concerns is evident from the full title of his book published in 1798, Remarks on the Uses of the Definitive Article in the Greek Text of the New Testament, Containing Many New Proofs of the Divinity of Christ, from Passages Which Are Wrongly Translated in the Common English Version. In this work Sharp set forth six principles regarding the use of the definite article in Greek, one of which has become famously known as the Granville Sharp Rule. Sharp stated the rule in this way – “When the copulative και connects two nouns of the same case, [viz. nouns (either substantive or adjective, or participles) of personal description, respecting office, dignity, affinity, or connexion, and attributes, properties, or qualities, good or ill], if the article ὁ, or any of its cases, precedes the first of the said nouns or participles, and is not repeated before the second noun or participle, the latter always relates to the same person that is expressed or described by the first noun or participle: i.e. it denotes a farther description of the first-named person . . .” In short the rule states that when you have two nouns joined by “and” (kai in Greek), and the definite article appears before the first noun but not the second, then both nouns have the same referent. In the remainder of this article this construction will be referred to by the acronym TSKS (the + substantive + kai + substantive).

In order for this rule to be absolute Sharp had to eliminate from its scope certain categories of nouns: 1. impersonal nouns 2. plural nouns 3. proper nouns. So then, for the rule to apply the nouns have to be personal, singular and common. How this relates to the two passages of concern is as follows:

1 Pet. 1:1 – ( τοῦof the θεοῦGod ἡμῶνof us καὶand σωτῆροςof Savior )
ARTICLE + NOUN + “and” (καὶ) + NOUN

Titus 2:13 – ( τοῦof the μεγάλουgreat θεοῦGod καὶand σωτῆροςof Savior )
ARTICLE + NOUN + “and” (καὶ) + NOUN

Because these two passages follow the pattern that Sharp laid out he concluded that there is only one referent in view to which the titles ‘God’ and ‘Savior’ apply, and that referent is Jesus Christ. This became for Sharp a strong proof that the NT does indeed apply to Jesus the designation the God. Now, at first glance, this does appear to be a solid case for the deity of Jesus, but is the matter really that simple?

Objections To Sharp’s Rule

While many scholars, both in Sharp’s time and today, have jumped on the bandwagon, there have also been many who have not. But why should this be if Sharp’s rule just is an observable fact of Greek grammar? Many who have opposed the rule, both then and now, have been orthodox trinitarian Christians, and so, not motivated by an anti-trinitarian bias. Dr. Calvin Winstanley, a contemporary of Sharp and a trinitarian scholar, wrote a treatise1 opposing Sharp’s rule, in which he cited many exceptions to the rule he found in the writings of the church fathers and in secular Greek writings.

Moulton and Turner, in discussing these two passages in A Grammar of New Testament Greek, stated: “In Hellenistic, and indeed for practical purposes in classical Greek, the repetition of the article was not strictly necessary to ensure that the items be considered separately.” Dr. Turner further stated in Grammatical Insights into the New Testament: “Unfortunately, at this period of Greek we cannot be sure that such a rule [regarding the article] is really decisive. Sometimes the definite article is not repeated even where there is clearly a separation in idea.”

It is also worthy to note that Sharp advocated for an alteration of eight verses in the NT, touching on christology, based on his rule, which would explicitly designate Jesus as our God. Yet in the intervening years, subsequent English versions have largely not followed Sharp’s suggestions in these passages, with the exception of Titus 2:13 and 1 Peter 1:1. Edward D. Andrews, CEO and President of Christian Publishing House and Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version, himself a confessed trinitarian, has written an article on the Christian Publishing House Blog demonstrating why Sharp’s rule should not be the deciding factor in how these passages are translated.2

Further Modifications to the GSR

One of the most avid and influential defenders of the GSR today is Dr. Daniel Wallace.  He is the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible and the Executive Director for the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. On the Bilbe.org website he has published an article titled Sharp Redivivus? – A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule, in which he presents a formidable defense of the GSR. In this article Wallace addresses four categories of exceptions to Sharp’s rule found by Dr. Winstanley in ancient Greek writings outside of the NT. For each of these exceptions Wallace then modifies the rule to exclude them from its scope. For instance, one category is that of nouns that, though singular, are generic. Wallace’s solution:

 “We might, however, in light of Winstanley’s exceptions, modify Sharp’s rule to say both that nouns which are plural syntactically and those which are plural semantically (i.e., generic nouns) are not within the purview of the rule.  Another way to put this is that Sharp’s rule applies only to nouns which have an individual referent, as opposed to a class or group.”

Winstanley also pointed out an example from the LXX of Prov. 24:21, which reads, “Fear God . . . and the king.” In the Greek there is no article before ‘king’ and so it follows Sharp’s rule of a TSKS construction, yet involves two referents. Wallace does acknowledge this as a true exception but exempts it on the basis that the LXX is “translation Greek”:

 “Thus, we might modify Sharp’s rule still further by saying that sometimes (once—so far) translation Greek will violate the rule, if the base language has a contrary construction.”

Another exception found by Winstanley was from Herodotus’ Histories which reads, “the cup-bearer and cook and groom and servant and messenger.” Here the first personal noun has the article but the subsequent ones do not. Wallace simply modifies the rule further:

“We might therefore, in refining Sharp’s rule still further, add that where several nouns are involved in the construction it may or may not follow the rule.”

So it seems that whenever exceptions to the GSR are found, Wallace’s mode of dealing with them is to fit them into a category which can be exempted from the rule. Now I am not saying that this is totally without warrant but it does seem just a bit contrived.

In his article, Wallace next deals with the eight christologically significant passages for which Sharp proposed a revision. Here’s what he said:

“Sharp invoked dubious textual variants in four of the eight texts to support his rule (Acts 8:28; 1 Tim 5:21; 2 Tim 4:1; Jude 1). As well, in 1 Tim 5:21 and 2 Tim 4:1, if the almost certainly authentic reading of τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ Χριστοῦ  ᾿Ιησοῦ (for τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ κυρίου Χριστοῦ  ᾿Ιησοῦ) is accepted, then the text can also be dispensed with, for “Christ Jesus” is surely a proper name, and thus does not fall within the limitations of Sharp’s rule.  Further, two other passages seem to involve proper names. Second Thessalonians 1:12 does not have merely “Lord” in the equation, but “Lord Jesus Christ.” Only by detaching κυρίου from  Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ  could one apply Sharp’s rule to this construction. Ephesians 5:5 has the name “Christ” in the equation, though one would be hard-pressed to view this as less than a proper name in the epistles.” This leaves two passages, Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1, which have escaped the difficulties of textual uncertainty and the charge of disqualification via proper names.

So Wallace excludes six of the eight passages as not falling under Sharp’s rule because they are either dependent upon textual variants or they include proper nouns. This leaves us with our two passages, which he thinks fits the GSR. He then goes on to show the validity of the rule in the case of these passages. But wait a minute! Am I missing something here? How can Wallace say that 2 Thess. 1:12 is beyond the scope of Sharp’s rule because the name Jesus Christ is attached to the title Lord but then admit Titus 2:13 and 1 Pet. 1:1 where the name Jesus Christ is attached to the title Savior. In fact, 2 Thess. 1:12 and 2 Pet. 1:1 are grammatically identical except for the different titles attached to the name Jesus Christ:

2 Thess. 1:12 – τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.
2 Pet. 1:1 – τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ·

So why does Wallace see a difference between these two verses? He doesn’t even touch on it in the article, as if he was unaware of the contradiction. But Wallace is certainly correct in the case of 2 Thess. 1:12, that because the name Jesus Christ is attached to the title Lord, a single referent cannot be maintained. Indeed, most reputable English versions translate the verse as implying two referents, including the NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV, HCSB, NET, ASV, ERV. So then why cannot the same be said of 2 Pet.1:1? Yet every one of these same versions, with the exception of the KJV and ASV, translate 2 Pet. 1:1 as if only one referent were in view. This is certainly an inconsistency in these translations. I can only guess that the reasoning behind this lies in the presupposition that the word Savior in 1 Pet. 1:1, rather than being attached to the name Jesus Christ, is instead to be joined to our God.

What I now propose is a further modification of the GSR, another category that should be considered exempt from it’s scope. Here is the new category:

Any TSKS construction found in the NT where the first noun is God and the second noun is a title, with or without a 1st person possessive pronoun, followed immediately by the name Jesus Christ.

So then 2 Thess. 1:12, Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet. 1:1 would all be exempt from Sharp’s so called rule. Now surely someone is bound to object on the grounds that such a limitation to Sharp’s rule is certainly arbitrary and biased. But I don’t think that is the case. The fact of the matter is that in these types of passages, where there seems to be some ambiguity in the Greek construction as to whether or not Jesus is being equated with the God, it is not grammar alone which is the deciding factor. Dr Winstanley put it this way:

“If the sacred writers have expressed themselves ambiguously in
some instances, and on the same subject clearly in others, and still more in a great plurality of others, we are bound, in exclusion of every extraneous authority, to consult them as their own best interpreters . . .”

With this in view, I state unequivocally that the universal and unanimous mode of expression in the NT documents is to identify the God as the Father and to distinguish between the God and Jesus Christ.3 This is acknowledged by most, if not all, NT scholars. Brian James Wright, in a paper titled Jesus as Theos: Scriptural Fact or Scribal Fantasy?, which he presented at the Evangelical Theological Society’s southwestern regional meeting in 2007, stated, “No one contests that the NT usually reserves the title Theos for God the Father.” Similarly, Murray Harris in his 1992 book Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus, concluded his chapter on the use of Theos in the NT with this assessment of the data:

“No attempt has been made in the preceding survey to be exhaustive. But we have seen that throughout the NT [(theGod] is so often associated with and yet differentiated from [lord Jesus Christ] that the reader is forced to assume that there must be both a hypostatic distinction and an interpersonal relationship between the two . . . God is the Father (in the trinitarian sense)4, Jesus is the Lord (1 Cor. 8:6). When [(theGod] is used, we are to assume that the NT writers have [the Father] in mind unless the context makes this sense of [(theGod] impossible.”

pg 47 (the words in brackets are in Greek characters in the original)

Therefore, any NT passage that has an ambiguous grammatical construction which could be attributing the title the God to either the Father or to Jesus Christ, must be decided in favor of the Father, unless factors other than grammatical can establish Jesus as the referent. When I speak of the ambiguity of the grammar in these passages I do not mean to imply that there would have been any such ambiguity in the minds of the original authors or the original readers. It is, in fact, the imposition of the presupposition of trinitarianism upon these texts that has produced the ambiguity.

Further Problems For The GSR

These considerations expose the circular reasoning involved in applying the GSR to Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet. 1:1. Because these passages fit the pattern for Sharp’s rule it is assumed that the rule has no exceptions in the NT. But as Dr. Winstanley wrote in response to Sharp:

“There are, you say, no exceptions, in the New Testament, to your rule; that is, I suppose, unless these particular texts [i.e., the ones Sharp used to adduce Christ’s deity] be such, which you think utterly improbable. You would argue, then, that if these texts were exceptions, there would be more. I do not perceive any great weight in this hypothetical reasoning. But, however plausible it may appear, the reply is at hand. There are no other words, between which the insertion of the copulative would effect so remarkable a deviation from the established form of constructing them to express one person, and of course would so pointedly suggest a difference of signification . . . it is nothing surprising to find all these particular texts in question appearing as exceptions to your rule, and the sole exceptions . . . in the New Testament . . .” 

So if we accept the new limitation to Sharp’s rule that I have suggested, and this limitation being based upon the two incontrovertible facts regarding the NT data, these being 1) the God is invariably identified as the Father and 2) the God is consistently distinguished from Jesus Christ, then the verses that fall under this limitation are indeed NT exceptions to the GSR, including Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet. 1:1, as well as 2 Thess. 1:12.

The validity of this approach can be seen even in the immediate context of 2 Pet. 1:1. For immediately after writing ,“To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ,” the author wrote, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” Almost every modern version translates v.1 as if Jesus is being designated as the God and v. 2 as if he is distinguished from the God. The trinitarian may respond that this is exactly what the doctrine of the Trinity teaches, that Jesus is God but is distinguished from God the Father. But if the God is distinguished from Jesus in v. 2 because he is the Father, then how can the God in v.1 be identical to the Son? Are we dealing with modalism here?

Sharp and other proponents of his rule have assumed that the rule applies to these passages and that, therefore, there are no exceptions to the rule in the NT. But they have ignored the other factors which I have noted, which should be determinate in deciding whether one or two referents are in view in these passages. A good example of this faulty reasoning is seen in the chapter on 2 Peter 1:1 in Murray Harris’ book. Under the heading B. Arguments for a Reference to One Person and the sub-heading 1. The Single Article, Harris acknowledges:

“Now it is true that (1) the article is not required with the second noun if the distinction between the two nouns is regarded as obvious or is assumed; (2) Savior is shown to be definite by the Jesus Christ that follows, so that an article is not required; and (3) the single article may be accounted for by the writer’s conceptual association of two separate items.”

pg. 233

Here Harris recognizes that there are other factors which may determine the number of referents in 2 Pet. 1:1. The first one he mentions coincides with the two incontrovertible facts regarding the NT data that I mentioned above. In the second point he is conceding that Savior is to be regarded as definite because of it’s attachment to the name Jesus Christ, a point that I made earlier in this article. Finally, in point three he allows that the absence of the article before the second noun could be because the author perceived an association between two distinct referents, a point that other grammarians have noted. But instead of allowing these considerations to guide his determination of how the passage should be understood he simply by-passes them and looks for other reasons to maintain a single referent, no doubt, so that the verse can be adduced as a proof text for the deity of Jesus.

Because of the significance of the other factors upon which I have proposed a new limitation of the GSR, it becomes necessary to look for other viable grammatical options in these passages. Both of our passages are in the genitive case with an implied definite article for the second nouns based on their attachment to the proper name Jesus. Hence, the following translations are permissible, even preferable.

Titus 2:13 – “. . . waiting for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and of our Savior Jesus Christ.”

2 Peter 1:1 – “. . . To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and of the Savior Jesus Christ.”

While most English versions translate these passages as if Jesus Christ is the sole referent of the titles the God and Savior, not all have followed suit with Sharp’s rule. Here are some English versions which translate both or either of these verses as if two referents are in view, i.e. the God and Jesus Christ : Weymouth NT, The Webster Bible, The Third Millennium Bible, KJV, The Complete Jewish Bible, ASV, Hebrew Names Version, Douay Rheims, Tyndale Bible, World English Bible, Wycliffe Bible, A Faithful Version, Darby Bible, ERV, J.B. Philips NT, NAB, Moffatt NT, New Matthew Bible.

Endnotes

  1. vdocument.in_calvin-winstanley-a-vindication-of-certain-passages-in-
  2. TITUS 2:13 and 2 PETER 1:1: What Is the Long-Debated Controversial Granville Sharp Rule?
  3. See my article: Who Is God According To The Authors Of The NT?
  4. The words in parentheses are original and betray Harris’ presupposition, which colors his assessment. Nothing in the NT requires us to understand that when it presents God as the Father it is in “the trinitarian sense”. The simple truth of the NT is that the Father is the God, and the son is the man Jesus of Nazareth.

An Interpretive Key to Hebrews Chapter 1 (Part 2)



V. 6 – I have already noted, in part 1, that the reference to God’s ‘firstborn’ here is likely an allusion to Ps. 89:27, and fits well into the author’s theme that the ‘son’ is the Davidic king, and not an eternal second person in the Godhead. This notwithstanding, some trinitarian apologists see in this verse elements that support the interpretation of this chapter as proving the deity of the son. The first point they make is that this ‘firstborn’ is said to be brought into the world. They deduce from this that the son was existing outside of this world and then had to be brought into this world, hence they read the doctrine of the incarnation of the pre-existent son into the passage. They then point to the fact that the son is worshipped by angels as further proof that the author of Hebrews is presenting this son in terms of deity. On top of this, the quotation the author gives appears to be from Deut. 32:43, which, in it’s original context, refers to worshipping Yahweh. Based on these elements in the verse trinitarians believe they have a sound proof-text for the deity of the son. So let’s look at each of these aspsects of the passage.

First, it is merely an assumption that the son’s being brought into the world implies the incarnation. A more reasonable assumption would be that it refers to Messiah’s return to establish the kingdom of God upon the earth. The Greek says literally, “When then again he brings the firstborn into the world.” While some expositors see the ‘again’ here as simply introducing another quotation about the ‘son,’ the word order seems to favor the connection of palin (again) with the verb eisagage (bring in), which would give us the sense of “When he brings again the firstborn into the world.” Also, eisagage is an aorist subjunctive verb which would indicate an event that has not yet happened. If the supposed incarnation were in view the aorist indicative would have been used. So then, this ‘bringing in again’ of the son is a future event. This would be in keeping with one of the prominent themes of the book – the coming again of Messiah {see 2:5; 9:28; 10:37-39}. That the second coming of Messiah would be described as God once again bringing the firstborn into the world should not be controversial. If trinitarians insist that the language implies he be brought from somewhere then the second coming answers this – he is brought into the world from where he is now. But really the language does not have to imply this at all. Even if it were referring to his first coming it would simply be speaking of his birth. All men are brought into the world in the same manner, i.e. by birth.

Now, as to the fact that the angels are enjoined to worship the son, trinitarians are incredulous as to how Jesus could be a mere human and receive such worship. This is due to their mistaken presupposition that worship can only rightly be given to God. The word for ‘worship’ is proskuneo which may mean nothing more than to show homage to a superior by prostrating oneself before him. The word does not denote only the worship of a deity but also the paying of homage to one who is a superior and is used of such homage being given to men throughout both testaments. One such passage which is of special note is 1 Chron. 29:20:

So they all praised Yahweh, the God of their fathers; they bowed low and paid homage to Yahweh and the king.

Seeing that Yahweh’s anointed one, the king, legitimately received shachah, the Hebrew equivalent of proskuneo, along with Yahweh, it is not unreasonable to conclude or difficult to understand how the son can be simply human and yet receive such worship as this verse envisions.

Finally, regarding the quotation of Deut. 32:43 being applied to the son, and that by this, the author is equating the son with Yahweh, let me say that this is simply untenable. Let’s remember that the author’s purpose in this chapter is to show the superior nature of Messiah’s role in God’s plan compared with that of angels. He does this in the first two quotations, in v.5, by showing that he is the one chosen to rule over God’s kingdom. He does this in v. 6 by showing that angels are commanded to pay him homage, thereby signifying a superior status to theirs. The whole exercise of the author would be superfluous if Messiah just was Yahweh. If the author and recipients of the letter both believed Messiah was Yahweh why would the author spend the time to show his superiority to angels? Wouldn’t that be obvious? And if it is assumed that he is using this quotation of Deut. 32:43 to prove to his readers that Messiah is Yahweh, then I have two questions. First, wouldn’t his readers have already believed he was Yahweh if they were Christians, i.e. from a trinitarian perspective? Second, exactly how does Deut. 32:43 prove Messiah is Yahweh? The verse says absolutely nothing about the Messiah or the son or the firstborn. How does a passage which enjoins angels to worship Yahweh prove that Messiah is Yahweh? Obviously something else is in play here.

This is perhaps an example of this author’s penchant for midrashic interpretation. Other examples are found in 2:13; 9:8; 10:19-20; 13:10-12. Though Deut. 32 in the LXX does not mention the Messiah it is not unlikely that ancient Jews saw the passage, especially vv. 40-43, as messianic, as do modern Jews. Here is the passage:

40 For I will lift up my hand to heaven, and swear by my right hand, and I will say, I live for ever. 41 For I will sharpen my sword like lightning, and my hand shall take hold of judgment; and I will render judgment to my enemies, and will recompense them that hate me. 42 I will make my weapons drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh, [it shall glut itself] with the blood of the wounded, and from the captivity of the heads of [their] enemies that rule over them. 43 Rejoice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him; rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him; for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and he will render vengeance, and recompense justice to his enemies, and will reward them that hate him; and the Lord shall purge the land of his people.


It is possible that the author is following a tradition which saw in this passage the coming of Messiah as the agent who executes Yahweh’s vengeance upon Israel’s enemies at the end of this age. They could have seen in either the words “my hand” or “my sword” a reference to the Messiah, who would be the agent through whom Yahweh executes his vengeance on the nations in the last days. From the author’s perspective this would take place when God again brings his firstborn i.e. the Messianic king, into the world {Cf. Rev. 19:11-16}. In this understanding of the passage, the call for the angels to pay homage to him, would be referring to the Messiah rather than to Yahweh. This is perfectly in keeping with Jewish methods of interpretation, especially of passages they regarded as messianic. This interpretation of the passage does not entail that the son be divine in nature.

V. 7 – The quote from Psalm 104:4 seems to suggest a minor role for angels in God’s plan as compared to that of the ‘son’; they are sometimes ‘winds’, sometimes ‘fire’, whatever suits the need of God.

V. 8-9 – As I pointed out in part 1, this quotation from Psalm 45 once again confirms that the son of which he is speaking is not an eternally begotten (whatever that means) son who is of the same substance as the Father (that is Gnostic mythology), but that the son is the reigning Davidic king. Psalm 45 is an idealized depiction of the Davidic king, not a description of a pre-existent divine being. The son is God’s vicegerent, ruling over God’s kingdom in God’s power. The Davidic ruler is addressed by the honorific ‘God’ in the Psalm not because he is ontologically so, but because he functions as the visible representative of God’s rule. Now the point of our author’s quoting of this passage from Psalm 45 is not that the ‘son‘ is called God, and so his readers are supposed to think the son is synonymous with God, but the point is that the Davidic throne is an everlasting throne. He says this in contrast to the role of angelic beings, which as we shall see, our author sees as temporary.

V. 10-12 – Once again we come across a passage cited by the author that trinitarian expositors interpret as the author presenting the son as Yahweh himself. The reasoning goes like this: At the beginning of v. 8 the author says,“But of the son . . . “ and then cites Ps. 45:6-7. Then at the beginning of v. 10 we have the word “and” and then the quotation from Ps. 102:25-27, which begins, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands . . .” So it appears that the second citation is being said about the son just as the first one is. From this is drawn the rather overly simplistic and superficial conclusion that the author is telling his readers that the son is the creator of the heavens and the earth.

Now this absurd notion suffers from the same problem that we saw with v. 6, where the quotation of Deut. 32:43 is also superficially taken to be equating the son with Yahweh. Just as in that case, Ps. 102 says nothing about the Messiah, whereas all of the other passages he cites regarding the son refer specifically to the Davidic king. Is it reasonable to suppose that in a section where the author is trying to establish for his readers the fact of the son’s superior status compared to angels, that he would pull a passage out of the OT that speaks of God creating the the heavens and the earth and simply apply it to the son, even though it makes no mention of the son? How would this be convincing to the readers? It seems to me that this would only be effective if the readers already believed that the son was Yahweh, the creator. But if they already believed this then the whole exercise of the author in this chapter is superfluous; you would not have to prove to Jews that the Creator is superior to angels. The fact is that Ps.102:25-27 does not in any sense prove that the son is Yahweh. We must consider the possibility that perhaps the author cited this passage for some other reason than to say that the son is Yahweh, in the making of his case for the superiority of the son.

This is precisely what I will propose, but before I do I want to first show that the typical biblical unitarian (BU) interpretations of this passage are also inadequate. There are two predominate BU interpretations: 1.The author does intend that Ps. 102:25-27 refers to the son, but that the creation of the heavens and earth refer to the new creation not the original one. Hence, the son is the creator of the new heavens and earth. 2.The author does not intend the verse to refer to the son but to the Father, and he employs it to show the everlasting nature of God’s kingdom in the words, “But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” Neither of these interpretations is satisfying for the following reasons: #1 is untenable because it would involve the perishing of the new heavens and earth. Attempts have been made to alleviate this problem but they are not convincing. Plus this understanding has the same problem that the trinitarian interpretation has, i.e. the passage does not mention the son at all. #2 doesn’t seem right because it breaks the flow of thought of the whole passage, in which the author is switching back and forth between citing verses about the son and verses about angels. Why would the author interrupt this flow to simply show that Yahweh created the heavens and the earth? Also, this passage was not needed to show the everlasting nature of the kingdom because his prior quote from Ps 45: 6-7 already established that fact in the words, “Your throne O god, is for ever and ever.”

So if the trinitarian and the typical BU interpretations are inadequate to account for the authors use of Ps 102:25-27, then what was his purpose for employing it in his argument? The answer is simply this – he cites this passage because it says something about the angels that is in contrast to his previous citation regarding the son. His previous citation showed the everlasting nature of the throne, and hence kingdom, of the son; this citation shows the temporary nature of the role of angels in whatever ruling capacity they may have. This proposal fits well with the flow of the argument. In v. 5 the author cites passages about the son; in vv. 6-7 about angels; in vv. 8-9 about the son; in vv. 10-12 about angels; in v. 13 about the son; v. 14 speaks of the angels. If the passage was cited in reference to either the son or the Father it would interrupt this flow.

So just what exactly does Ps. 102:25-27 have to do with angels? Well, at first glance it doesn’t appear to say anything about angels, at least not to 21st century non-Jewish readers. But the question we must ask is how would a 1st century Jew have understood the authors citation of this passage. My contention is that the mere mention of ‘the heavens’ in this passage would have connoted more to the Jewish readers of this letter than just the physical heavens. It would have implied also the things in the heavens, which included the host a spiritual beings which were believed to inhabit the heavens. That the mention of ‘the heavens’ would have evoked the thought of angels in the mind of 1st century Jews would not be controversial to anyone who has studied the development of angelology in the 2nd Temple period. Taking their cue from the book of Daniel, Jewish writers in the intertestamental period penned a number of writings which can only be labeled as apocalyptic fiction, in which they elaborated and expanded upon what the biblical text itself said about angels. By the time of the writing of the NT it was common among Jews to speak of the rulers and authorities in the heavens {see Eph. 3:10; 6:12}. It may very well be the case that a Jewish sect that had become overly preoccupied with the mediatorial role of angels had exerted an influence over some of the members of the congregation to which the author of Hebrews was writing, to the point that some of them were giving greater weight to the mediatorial role of angels than to that of the chosen descendant of David, which spurred the author to remind them again of the superior status of the son.

Now the biblical text itself was the foundation upon which this development took place. The fact that ‘the heavens’ could denote the beings who inhabit them can be seen in the following passages:

Deut. 32:43 (LXX) – “Rejoice you heavens with him, and let all the angels of God worship him.”
Here the ‘heavens’ and the ‘angels’ are synonymous thoughts, thus the heavens implies the angels.

Ps. 89:5 – “The heavens praise your wonders, O Yahweh, also your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.”
To say that the heavens praise Yahweh is to say that those in the heavens praise Yahweh.

Neh. 9:6 – “You alone are Yahweh. You created the heavens, the highest heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them, and the heavenly host worships You.”

Deut. 32:1 – “Listen, O heavens, and I will speak; hear O earth, the words of my mouth.”
To call upon the heavens to listen is to call upon those who inhabit them to listen, just as to call upon the earth to hear is to call upon those who are upon the earth to hear.

Is. 24:21 – “In that day Yahweh will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below.”

Joel 3:16 – “Yahweh will roar from Zion, and from Jerusalem will utter his voice, and the heavens and earth will quake. But Yahweh will be a refuge for his people and a place of safety for the sons of Israel.”
That the heavens and earth will quake simply means that those in the heavens and those in the earth will quake.

So it is both reasonable to conclude and probable that the author of Hebrews quoted Ps. 102:25-27 specifically because of the clause which states that the heavens will be rolled up like a robe and like a garment be changed, and that his readers would have understood this. His point would be that while the throne of the son will last for ever, whatever function angels presently have is only temporary and will come to an end. In order to get the flow of the author’s thought I will combine the two citations but only with the pertinent clauses, according to what I think the author’s purpose was in citing each passage.

But to the son [it says], “Your throne, O god, will last for ever and ever . . .
and [it also says] . . . the heavens (and by implication those who rule in the heavens) . . . will wear out like a garment. You will role them up like robe; like a garment they will be changed . . .”

So then, this view of the passage solves all of the problems that are inherent in the other views, both the trinitarian and BU views. It also maintains the original context of Psalm 102 and the flow of thought of the author’s argument. It also takes into account the Jewish mindset of the author and recipients of the letter. I can think of only one objection that might be raised to this proposal and to my mind it is not formidable.

Someone may object on the basis that the two citations i.e. Ps 45 and Ps 102, are connected simply by the Greek word kai, which typically means and. This might imply that both citations refer to the son. It is true that in the Greek language kai is not typically used contrastively, unlike the Hebrew waw, which is often so used in the Hebrew bible, but there are a number of instances. Most of these may be regarded as Hebraisms i.e. a typical feature of the Hebrew language expressed through the Greek. This happens when one writes in a second language and is probably done more sub-consciously rather than on purpose. It is possible that the author of Hebrews sub-consciously used the kai contrastively, in imitation of the Hebrew waw, which would give the meaning of but or however. I know that this is impossible to prove or disprove, but to my mind a simple kai cannot turn the human son of God into the creator of the heavens and earth.

V. 13 – As we saw in part 1, the one from David’s line whom God chooses is called to share God’s rule over his people and to have the full backing of God. This is a call to co-rulership of His kingdom. This right was given, by covenant, only to the descendants of David {Cf. 2 Chron. 13:8; Ps. 89: 28-37}. For this reason no angel ever was or could be called to this position.

V. 14 – Here the author states that all angels are servant spirits sent forth on behalf of those who will inherit salvation. Since those who will inherit salvation are humans, this means that the son, who is the pioneer of that salvation {Cf. 2:10-11}, is also a human, one who is superior in status to these servant spirits.

I will now touch briefly on some relevant portions of chapter two to show that the son is considered by the author to be one from the human family.

The author of Hebrews is still, in chapter 2, starting at v. 5, showing a comparison between the son and angels, specifically that the son has a greater role in God’s plan than do angels. From what the author says in this chapter though, it can be inferred that some of the recipients of the letter may have come to view Jesus as an angel who had taken human form, but the author will have none of it.  Chapter 2 specifically seems to be combatting this idea. He starts off stating that God has not subjected the world to come to angels.  He then quotes from Ps. 8:4-6, which speaks of how God has given dominion over his creation to man. This seems to imply that the son, to whom all authority is given in the age to come, must be a man and cannot therefore be an angel. This identifies Jesus with humanity, not with the heavenly beings.  In v. 9 he says that Jesus was for a little while made lower than the angels.” This is what Ps. 8:5 says about man, thus again equating Jesus with humanity. In v. 10 he says that it was fitting for God to perfect the founder or pioneer of Israel’s salvation by the suffering of death. The point being made is not that a divine being had to become human so that he could die, but that it was fitting that this divinely appointed king should first suffer death on behalf of his people before being crowned with the glory and honor that was his due as the firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth” {Ps. 89:27}. 

It was necessary that the founder of their salvation should die on their behalf, which an angel could not do {see Lk. 20:36}. It had to be a human being just like them. The author states plainly in v. 11 that the founder of salvation is of the same family as those he saves, once again asserting his full-fledged humanity. After quoting three passages of Scripture in vv. 12-13, in which the Messiah is identifying himself with the people of Israel, as being one of them, he says:

14 Therefore, because the children have shared in flesh and blood, he (i.e. the founder of their salvation) also, in the same way, shared in the same, so that by death he might destroy him who holds the power of death . . . 16 For certainly nowhere (in scripture) is he laying claim to angels (as his family), but Abraham’s seed he lays claim to (as his family). 17 On account of this (i.e. what Scripture says) it was necessary for him (i.e. the founder of their salvation) to be like his brothers in every way . . .  

The Greek of verse 16 reads like this: “Ou (not) gar (for) de (certainly) pou (somewhere) angelon (angels) epilambanetai  (he lays hold of), alla (but) spermatos (seed) Abraam (of Abraham)  epilambanetai (he lays hold of).”
If you check most English versions you will see that they have nothing in their translations of this verse that corresponds to the word pou.  The only version I found that does is the Douay-Rheims, which reads: “For no where does he take hold of angels . . .” It is as if the translators didn’t know what to do with this word in this context, so they left it untranslated. But the word is key to rightly understanding the author’s point. The word pou is used two other times in Hebrews to denote somewhere in Scripture, at 2:6 and 4:4. The author had just quoted three passages from OT Scripture in vv. 12-13 to show the son’s identification with the people of Israel. His point in v. 16 is that nowhere in scripture is the Messiah identified with angels, but only with Abraham’s seed. As for the meaning of epilambanetai = to lay hold of, to take to oneself, the author could be using it in the figurative sense of identification, i.e. in OT Scripture the Messiah is depicted as claiming for himself the Israelite people as his people and never claiming for himself angels as his ontological identification. But it is also possible to take it in this sense: “For surely nowhere (in scripture) is he (depicted as) laying hold of angels (i.e. to deliver them from death) . . .”  The meaning would be the same – the founder of salvation had to be of the same family as those he saves, hence he must be of the human family not the angelic family.

The word homoioo in v. 17 can simply mean to be like and not necessarily to be made like. There is nothing in this passage that demands the reader understand Jesus to have been a divine being who then became a human being; there is no incarnation in this passage. The focus from v. 10 to v. 17 is not the supposed eternal Son, who had to become human to save us, but the founder of salvation {v.10}. Whoever this founder of salvation would be, he had to be a member of the human race and in particular of the seed of Abraham. The author’s point is that the Messiah, i.e. the founder of salvation, had to be one from the same family as those he saves, thus eliminating the possibility of the son being an angel or even God himself.

Please feel free to comment, whether you agree or disagree with this post.

An Interpretive Key To Hebrews Chapter 1 (Part 1)

The first chapter of the book of Hebrews is often employed by modern day Christian apologists in their effort to defend the orthodox doctrines of the Trinity and the deity of Christ. In their minds, this chapter offers convincing proofs of these doctrines and so is often appealed to as evidence of the same. What I will present in this article is an alternative interpretation to this chapter, which will show the tenuousness of the traditional interpretation. Much of what I will present here has been presented in a few other articles on this blog. Here, I want to bring together what I had previously written with additional material into a single place for easier reference.

Background

Before we look at specific verses I want to give a brief overview of the background of Hebrews. The author of the letter is clearly a Jewish follower of Messiah, but is unnamed. There is plenty of conjecture as to who he was, such as Paul, Barnabas, Apollos, Luke, etc. Since the precise identification of the author is not important to this study I will not go there. He is writing to a specific community of Hebrew believers in Jesus with whom he is personally acquainted, probably living outside of Israel. That both the author and the recipients are Jews is established in v. 1, in which the author states,  “God spoke to the fathers … .” Had he said “my fathers”, that would have designated him a Jew, but not necessarily his readers. Had he said “your fathers”, that would have designated the recipients as Jews, but not necessarily the author. By saying “the fathers” and not giving any further indication, the most natural way to understand it is “our fathers”, and it is so translated in the NIV, ESV, ISV, and the NET. “Fathers” here means ancestors and “the” denotes some specific ancestors. If the ancestors he spoke of were not those of the author or recipients, it seems reasonable to suppose he would have designated them as the “ancestors of the Jews” since God spoke long ago to the ancestors by means of the prophets,” can only be referring to the Israelites, to whom the prophets of old were sent. Since the letter was written in Greek and relies upon the Greek version of the OT, it is likely that the recipients were Jews of the dispersion i.e. living outside of the land of Israel.

Now these Hebrew believers were under great pressure to abandon their faith in Jesus, partly because of persecution (probably from their fellow Jews), partly because of a demotion in their minds of the role of Messiah in the purpose of God for Israel (probably from persuasion by some Jewish sect) and partly because of the delay in the return of Jesus to bring in the manifestation of the kingdom of God. The authors purpose is to encourage them to remain faithful to Jesus, to endure until he returns. His method is to show the superiority of Messiah’s mission and role in God’s plan as compared to the mediatorial role of angels, the role of Moses and the Law,  and the role of the Aaronic priesthood and the sacrifices offered in that system.

Two Interpretive Options

In this passage the author speaks of one who he refers to as ‘the son’ in relation to God. The question before us is this: What does the author mean when he uses this appellation? We have two main options in the interpretation of the designation ‘son of God’ in Hebrews chapter 1 – the Greek metaphysical view and the Hebraic view. Now I know that I harp on this often, but it just is a fact that if we have the wrong presupposition when we approach a text, we will draw the wrong conclusions from the text. Every popular, evangelical commentary that I checked, approaches this text from the presupposition of the metaphysical Christology of the conciliar creeds. These commentaries are rather flagrant in their back-reading into this text the ‘son of God’ set forth in the creeds of the 4th and 5th centuries. These creeds present a metaphysical conception of the son of God and of his relationship to the God whose son he is, based on philosophical categories of ontology and essence. The Gentile church fathers leading up to that time had consciously abandoned the Hebraic foundations of the faith and recast the whole Jesus event in terms of Platonic and Gnostic ideologies, which were then pervasive. These speculative  philosophies produced the ‘son of God’ of the creeds. And so the whole of Christiandom today is heir to this unbiblical, non-Hebraic concept of the Christ, the son of God.

So-called ‘early church fathers’ (ECFs), from the late second century on, began to move increasingly away from the Hebraic roots of the faith and to view the Christ event more and more through the lens of Greek metaphysics. These ECFs had imbibed the spirit of the different Greek philosophical schools in which they had formerly been educated. Having become Christians it was only natural for them to interpret their newfound faith through these systems of thought, which were so ingrained in their minds. The nature of the ‘son of God’ and his relationship to God became the focal point of much philosophical speculation, producing conflicting schools of thought (e.g. Logos, Arian and gnostic christologies), which led eventually to the son of God of the conciliar creeds. These developments were clearly a deviation from the earlier Hebraic understanding of the first generation of Jewish and Greek believers.

One way that the difference between the Hebraic and the Greek mindsest can be seen is in the categories of thought in which the relationship between God and the son of God might be delineated. The Greek metaphysically trained mind thought in categories of essence and nature, while the Hebrew mind thought in categories of status and function. So the ECFs, trained in Greek metaphysics, naturally came to view the relationship between God and his son as one of ontological equivalence, a oneness of substance and essence. Greek metaphysics had already postulated a God who emanates out of his divine substance other divine beings who thus share in his divinity. The earlier Jewish believers understood the relationship to be one of status and function, where the appellation ‘son’ was taken as an analogy. The Greek mind reasoned that if God begets a son then the son must be of the same nature as God i.e the Father to son relationship is literal. But the Jewish mind perceived the Father to son relationship as a metaphor. This is seen in the fact that the nation of Israel itself was designated to be God’s son {Ex. 422-23; Is. 1:2; Deut. 32:6; Mal. 1:6; 2:10}. This father/son relationship was not based on nature or substance but on the fact that the nation was created i.e. brought into existence by God, hence by analogy, God gave birth to the nation. Even individual Israelites could be designated ‘sons of God’ {Hosea 1:10} as well as believers in Jesus in the NT {Gal. 3:26}. Also, in the Hebrew scriptures, other created non-human beings (typically called angels) could be called sons of God {Job 1:6; 38:6-7; Ps. 89:5-7}. In all of these cases there is no connotation of a metaphysical relationship. In fact, there is not any use of the appellation ‘son of God’ in the OT that has a metaphysical association to it. But even more pertinent to Hebrews 1 is another individual in the Hebrew Bible, who is designated to be God’s son – the Davidic king, Yahweh’s anointed one.

The Interpretive Key

The aforementioned early church fathers, so-called, brought their education in Greek metaphysics to bear on the NT scriptures, and simply read into them the categories of substance and nature. This was particularly true of Hebrews chapter 1. It is understandable how they were so easily able to see these Greek concepts in certain passages, since they were, for the most part, ignorant of the Hebraic perspective, and the Greek perspective just was what they were familiar with. But what I am proposing in this article is that the Hebraic perspective should be presumed when reading the NT. We should presume that the authors of the NT, all being Jews who were highly familiar with the Hebrew scriptures and all being, most likely, unappreciative of Greek metaphysics, would have been setting forth the relationship between God and his son in the same categories of status and function as we saw in the Hebrew Bible’s use of the appellation ‘son of God’. This would mean that the author of Hebrews speaks of the ‘son’ in a metaphorical sense, rather than a literal sense. Why should it be presumed that this Hebrew author was using categories of Greek metaphysics? Well we know why it has been and still is presumed – because that is how the ECFs understood it, and these ECFs have been endowed with a sort of sacrosanct status. But the reason these ECFs understood it the way they did had more to do with their former education in the Greek philosophical schools than it did with their proficiency in biblical exegesis. But what if we take off the glasses of the ECFs metaphysical model and read this passage from the Hebraic viewpoint? Does the passage cohere in this case? I believe it does and even better than the traditional interpretation.

The interpretive key that I am proposing for this passage is that we should understand the appellation ‘son’ as a status which is bestowed upon a person, specifically a descendant of David, to function as the ruler over God’s kingdom on God’s behalf, according to the OT precedent.

Son of God = Son of David

The main thrust of Hebrews 1 is that this one who is designated as son is superior in rank and assumed function than any angel1. The author shows this by presenting a series of OT passages where the status of this son is shown to be greater than that of angels. He also notes what scripture does not say with regard to angels. Before I do a verse by verse exegesis of the passage I want to show how the OT passages the author uses to establish his point, in their original context, all refer to Yahwheh’s anointed one, the Davidic king. The passages are Ps. 2:7 and 1 Chron. 17:13 (quoted in v. 5); Ps. 45:6-7 (quoted in vv. 8-9) and Ps 110:1 (quoted in v. 13). Also in v. 6 there is an allusion to Ps. 89:27.

Psalm 2:7

“I will proclaim the decree of Yahweh: He said to me, ‘You are my son, today I have brought you forth.’

This is an oft quoted passage by the ECFs, who saw in it the Greek metaphysical concept of emanation. They applied this verse to their theory that the son was generated or emanated out from the Father’s substance before the worlds were made, despite the fact that the verse says nothing of the sort. Let’s see what some orthodox trinitarian sources say about this passage. First, in the introductory comments to Ps. 2 and in the comment on v. 7, the 1985 NIV Study Bible says:

A royal psalm, it was originally composed for the coronation of Davidic kings, in light of God’s covenant with David.

2:7 Son . . . Father. In the ancient Near East the relationship between a great king and one of his subject kings, who ruled by his authority and owed him allegiance, was expressed not only by the words “lord” and “servant” but also by “father’ and “son.” The Davidic king was the Lord’s “servant” and his “son” (2 Sa 7:5, 14)

NIV Study Bible

Here is another reputable source:

You are My Son. A parent-child relationship between the gods and the king was common imagery in the ancient world. Such imagery supported the authority of the king and portrayed his role as mediator between the divine realm and the world in which he was to maintain order . . . Kings in David’s genealogical line also held their kingship by divine adoption, celebrated on the coronation day in Ps. 2. The adoption metaphor in Israel was rooted in the special covenant relationship between Yahweh and the Davidic kings . . . [I]n other ancient Near East treaties . . . [t]he great king was designated as “father,” and the vassal king was his “son.” In this way of thinking, the Davidic king was the “son” of the great King, Yahweh, who was the “father”. . .

Zondervan’s Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
Comment on Ps. 2:7

And still another:

Jahve has declared to Him: בּני אתּה, and that on the definite day on which He has begotten or born him into this relationship of son. The verb ילד unites in itself, like γεννᾶν, the ideas of begetting and bearing; what is intended is an operation of divine power exalted above both, and indeed, since it refers to a setting up (נסך) in the kingship, the begetting into a royal existence, which takes place in and by the act of anointing (משׁח). Whether it be David, or a son of David, or the other David, that is intended, in any case 2 Samuel 7 is to be accounted as the first and oldest proclamation of this decree; for there David, with reference to his own anointing, and at the same time with the promise of everlasting dominion, receives the witness of the eternal sonship to which Jahve has appointed the seed of David in relation to Himself as Father, so that David and his seed can say to Jahve: אבי אתּה, Thou art my Father, Psalm 89:27, as Jahve can to him: בּני אתּה, Thou art My son.

Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary on Ps. 2:7


The psalm refers to this son in three ways: as the son in vv. 7 and 12; as Yahweh’s anointed one, a common designation for the king in the OT, in v. 2; and as Yahweh’s king in v. 6. From this we can deduce that these titles are interchangeable – the king was the anointed one (Heb. mashiach = messiah) and the son. This relationship was established by God in his covenant promise to David and brings us to the second passage which the author of Hebrews uses to establish his point.

1 Chron. 17:13 (2 Sam. 7:14)

“I will be his father and he will be my son.”

In the context of this passage God sends the prophet Nathan to king David to declare to him the Lord’s promise to establish David’s line to be the only line from which kings would be chosen to rule, in Jerusalem, over God’s kingdom. He promises David that he will raise up from David’s own seed a king to succeed him, which was initially fulfilled in Solomon. It is then that God gives the decree mentioned in Ps. 2, “I will be his father and he will be my son.” We know that Solomon was the first to fulfill the promise based on 1 Chron. 22:9-10 and 28:5-7. These verses clearly mark out Solomon as God’s son, once he is anointed and takes the throne. Let’s see what one of our Trinitarian commentators has to say about this passage.


his father . . . my son. This familial language expresses the relationship God promises to maintain with the descendant(s) of David whom he will establish on David’s throne. It marks him as the one God has chosen and enthroned to rule in his name as the official representative of God’s rule over his people.

1985 NIV Study Bible comment on 2 Sam. 7:14


Now let’s go to the next passage quoted by the author of Hebrews.

Psalm 45:6-7

“Your throne, O God , is forever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. 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.”

That this psalm is addressed to the king is firmly established in vv. 1-2 which read, “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king . . . You are the most excellent of men . . . “ The title to the psalm refers to it as “a wedding song,” and indeed vv. 10-14 describe the bride. This psalm was probably used on more than one royal wedding occasion. In the psalm, in vv. 2-7, the psalmist paints an idealized portrait of the Davidic king in his majesty. The king, as God’s ultimate representative, is addressed as “God,” but it must be understood as an honorific given to the king in light of his exalted position and not as a statement of the kings ontological nature. This would be similar to when God said to Moses, “See, I have appointed you god (Heb. elohim)to Pharaoh.” There Yahweh designated Moses as elohim in relation to Pharaoh, for Moses was representing God. Therefore, it cannot be objected that the Davidic king could be so designated in relation to the people over whom he reigned as God’s representative. We have a similar case in Ps. 82:6, where human kings2 are designated as elohim“I said, ‘You are gods, you are sons of the Most High.'” Here is what the 1985 NIV Study Bible says about Ps. 45:6:

O God. Possibly the king’s throne is called God’s throne because he is God’s appointed regent. But it is also possible that the king himself is addressed as “god.” The Davidic king, because of his special relationship with God,was called at his enthronement the “son” of God. In this psalm, which praises the king and especially his “splendor and majesty” (v.3), it is not unthinkable that he was called “god” as a title of honor.

Comment on Ps. 45:6


The final passage quoted by the author of Hebrews is Ps. 110:1.

Psalm 110:1

“The declaration of Yahweh to my lord (the king), ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.'”

This is another coronation psalm, which would have been spoken over the newly anointed king. It is the utterance of Yahweh himself (Heb. neum) in which the newly appointed king is invited to share Yahweh’s rule over his kingdom, Israel. To ‘sit at the right hand’ of a great king signified to rule on behalf of that king, so here the Davidic king is given authority to rule on Yahweh’s behalf, with Yahweh’s full support. This was tantamount to the king sharing God’s own throne over His kingdom {see 1 Chron. 29:23}. This language is also seen in Ps. 80:17: “Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have secured for yourself.” Here is what one reputable ‘orthodox’ source says:

1The Lord said unto my Lord] Jehovah’s oracle unto [or touching] my lord! The rendering said (R.V. saith) does not represent the full force of the word ne’um, which is commonly used of solemn Divine utterances (Genesis 2:16, and frequently in the prophets . . .). The Psalmist speaks with the authority of a prophet who is conscious of having received a message from God . . . The message is addressed through the Psalmist to the king, and the king is the subject of it. Strictly speaking the ‘oracle’ is the remainder of the verse ‘sit thou … footstool,’ Psalm 110:2-3 being the Psalmist’s expansion of it; but the whole Psalm is a Divine message of encouragement for the king.

my Lord] The R.V. has rightly dropped the capital letter, as being of the nature of an interpretation. ‘My lord’ (adônî) is the title of respect and reverence used in the O.T. in addressing or speaking of a person of rank and dignity, especially a king.

sit thou at my right hand] The seat at the king’s right hand was the place of honour . . .  But more than mere honour is implied here. This king is to share Jehovah’s throne, to be next to Him in dignity, to be supported by all the force of His authority and power. The idea corresponds to the recognition of the king as Jehovah’s son in Psalm 2:7. Somewhat similarly the king was said to ‘sit on the throne of Jehovah’ (1 Chron. 29:23 . . . )

Cambridge Bible commentary on Ps. 110:1


Finally, let’s look at the allusion to Ps. 89:27 in v. 6.

“I will appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.”

The reference here is to King David, as vv. 19-20 show, but also to David’s descendants, as vv. 28-36 establish, whom Yahweh has appointed as his firstborn son, i.e. the heir of his kingdom.

So we have seen that the passages quoted by the author of Hebrews all point to the ‘son’ being equivalent to the Davidic king. He does bring up one more passage, Ps. 102:25-27, in vv. 10-13, but I do not believe this passage is meant to say anything about the ‘son’ but about the angels, as I will show in my exegesis of the chapter.

Exegesis of Hebrews 1

We come now to the interpretation of Hebrews 1. Based on the information that we saw above, where in seeking to establish for his readers that the son is superior to angels, the author points to four passages directly and one indirectly which all focus on the status and function of the Davidic king. I will be using this as my hermeneutic for this chapter. It must also be noted that these OT passages cited by our author are, in their original context, not specifically or exclusively about the man Jesus. In other words, they are not prophecies about the coming Messiah, but rather are idealized depictions of Yahweh’s anointed one, the Davidic king. So we might say that the man Jesus, being the final and ultimate anointed son of David, who will rule over the kingdom of God forever {see Lk. 1:32-33}, is the only one to fulfill the ideal. I will show how this understanding of Hebrews 1 is completely consistent with a purely human Messiah, i.e. that nothing that the author says about the son in this chapter necessitates that he be divine.

V. 1 – As I stated above in the Background section, this verse establishes for us that both the author and the recipients of the letter were Jews. The adverb polumeros seems to mean many portions, which may refer to time, hence “at various times,” or the like, found in numerous versions. The adverb polutropos means many or various ways and probably refers to the various ways in which God communicated his word, e.g. legal code for religious and civil matters, historical narrative, prophetic utterance, psalms and wisdom literature.

V.2 – Most translations have “His Son” but there is no ‘His’ in the Greek, so this is incorrect. There is also no definite article, so “the Son” would not be correct either. The ISV, NET, and YLT are correct in rendering the Greek as “a son.” Knowing the authors mindset, based on the foregoing analysis, it would be appropriate to think “a chosen son of David,” for as we saw, son of David is equivalent to son of God {ref. Is. 9:6-7}. So the author is saying that in the past God spoke to their forefathers by the prophets but that in these last days he has spoken to them by a chosen son of David. This was ,of course, what the Jews had been waiting and longing for, the messianic hope, that God would raise up from the seed of David a redeemer {see Lk. 1:63-75; Acts 13:22-23}.

This son of David/ son of God has been “appointed heir of all things.” Just as the firstborn son of a family in ancient Israel was the heir to the fathers estate, so the reigning Davidic king was God’s heir to the kingdom. {Ps. 2:8; 89:27; Matt. 21:37-39} The “all things” here refers not to the entire universe but all things that pertain to the kingdom of God. That this son has been “appointed” heir shows that his heirship is not by natural birth, for a natural born son does not need to be appointed heir of his fathers estate, he just is the heir. This shows that his sonship is also by appointment {ref. Ps. 89:27}. This is in keeping with what the author is about to show in citing those four OT passages.

” . . .  through whom He constituted the ages … ” – Most translations say “through whom he made the world” or even “through whom he created the universe.” These are then used to bolster the claim that the ‘son’ was the creator of the material universe. But these translations are unwarranted. There is no reason why the Greek word aion should not be translated, according to the normal usage of the word, as ‘ages.’ The word denotes time not material substance. The word appears 14 other times in Hebrews and always denotes a period of time or ongoing time, with one ambiguous use at 11:3 where ‘ages’ is still probably the best translation. Also the ‘He‘ in this verse refers to God not the ‘son.’ So the verse is not saying that the son created the universe, but that God, through the son, constituted or ordained or established the ages (of time).

Another misconception is that the Father created the universe through the agency (Gr. dia) of the son, which would be more in line with ancient Gnosticism than with biblical theology. Trinitarian apologists are quick to point out that the use of dia  (through) with the genitive pronoun (whom) denotes agency, i.e. it reflects an instrumental connotation. Thus ‘the son’ would be pictured here as the instrument or agent through whom God made the ages, which would imply this son’s existence at the time of the said action. But is this the only way dia used with a genitive can be understood? The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament lists five senses in which we can understand the use of dia with a genitive: spatial, temporal, modal, instrumental and causal. The causal sense denotes the reason why or for which something is done. With this causal sense, possible substitutions for “through” would be ‘in consequence of,’  ‘on account of,’  ‘on the basis of,’  ‘in view of,’ and ‘for the sake of.’  Now what reason would we have to take Heb. 1:2 in a causal, rather than an instrumental sense? Or the better question might be “Why should the instrumental sense be preferred over the causal sense?” Well, the evident reason why a trinitarian or modalist or arian would prefer the instrumental sense is that they already hold as a presupposition that Jesus was a divine person who existed before the creation. But since the author is speaking of a son who is a son of David and therefore purely human and so could not have existed before the creation, but had his beginning in the womb of his mother, we should not assume this son to have personally been an agent in the creation of the world. Therefore, the causal sense makes more sense to me.

The final point pertains to the word “made” or as some versions say “created.” The word is poieo and has a wide semantic range: make, produce, construct, create, prepare, appoint, ordain, to do, accomplish, perform, institute. Now if the trinitarian wants to insist that the word should be taken in the sense of create or make then I will point them to Heb. 3:2, which says, “He (Jesus) was faithful to the one who poiesanti him.” Do they want to say that the word here means made or created? I don’t think so. Some versions translate it here as appointed. Possible renderings for our verse could be appointed, established, ordained, arranged, set up or constituted.

With this understanding the verse could be translated in the following ways:

  • “for whose sake he (God) established the ages”
  • “on account of whom he (God) arranged the ages”
  • “because of whom he (God) set up the ages.”

The idea would be that God, in view of his plan to bring the Messiah (the son) into the world, so arranged the ages of time to best accommodate that plan. This would make Messiah the central focus of history.

V.3 – The author here is not speaking of the eternally begotten Son of the creeds, simply because he is speaking of the ‘son’ as a status or a position, based on the understanding of ‘son of God’ in the Hebrew Bible. This verse then is describing the function which this ‘son’ has in relation to God and God’s people. This status of ‘son’ entails a representative function. The ‘son’, a descendent of David, sitting on the throne of Yahweh {1 Chron. 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8}, given authority to rule over the kingdom of Yahweh {1 Chron. 28:5-6; 2 Chron. 13:5, 8}, is, in effect, the visible representation of Yahweh’s invisible rule. Yahweh is the true King of Israel {Ps.24:7-10; 48:1-3; Is.33:22; 41:21; 43:15; 44:6; Zeph.3:15} and as such stands in a unique relationship to Israel, that is, Israel is God’s kingdom. The descriptions of God in the Hebrew Scriptures are not ontological or metaphysical or abstract, but concrete and functional. Yahweh is Israel’s King, their Rock, their Fortress, their Redeemer, their Father, their Lord, their Strength, their Shepherd, their Savior, their Mighty One, their Judge, their Comfort, etc. All of these (and more) are descriptions of God’s covenant functions in relation to his people. The ‘son’, who is the visible representation of Yahweh to His people, will also carry out many of these same functions. It is, in fact, God carrying out these functions through His human agent, the son of David.

Now I realize that this interpretation is probably different than anything you have heard, but stay with me as I work through it.

” . . . the one who is the radiance of His (Yahweh’s) majesty . . .” – The Greek for radiance is apaugasma which literally means ‘a shining out from’, that which radiates from a source, e.g. the rays of light from the sun. This is the only occurrence of this word in the NT. The mistake of the ECFs was to take this literally. Some scholars propose that the author of Hebrews is drawing on the personified wisdom motif of the Wisdom of Solomon (WOS) 7:26, where Wisdom is said to be the “apaugasma of eternal light.” They deduce from this that our author is setting forth the ‘son’ in terms of ‘wisdom christology’. But the mere occurrence of the same word is a rather weak argument for deducing a connection of thought. Now it could be that the author was familiar with the verse from WOS and lifted the word apaugasma to use it, but in a completely different context. In the WOS it relates to God’s attribute of wisdom, whereas in Hebrews it relates to the Davidic ‘son’. Now the glory and majesty of the Davidic king, Yahweh’s human agent, is only a shining out from the original source, Yahweh’s majesty as Israel’s king; the glory and majesty of the Davidic king is derivative {ref. Ps. 21:5 and Ps. 96:6}.

” . . . and the representation [or guarantee] of His (Yahweh’s) reality (as Israel’s King) . . . ” – The Greek for representation is charakter which referred to the impression made in clay or wax or metal by a stamping tool, e.g. the image impressed on a coin or a wax seal; hence an image, likeness or representation. Another way we can understand this word is in reference to the signet ring of a king, which bore his mark or signature, as it were. The king would press the engraving on the ring into wax or clay to make his mark on it, thus sealing a document of some type and thus guaranteeing whatever the document says. The ‘son’ i.e. the Davidic king, would be God’s signet ring, the guarantee of His covenantal support of His people {see Haggai 2:23}. This is the only occurrence of this word also in the NT. That this phrase, used of the son, need not entail that the son shares divinity with God, is evident by the use of charakter in a similar way in 1 Clement 33, where it is stated that man is the “express likeness ( Gr. charakter) of his (i.e. God’s) own image.”

The Greek for reality is hupostasis  which has as its primary meaning ‘a standing under, a foundation or base, a support.’ But this word does have a varied semantic range. It is used 19 times in the LXX with various meanings, such as foundation, pillars (support), solid ground, building design (blueprints), and hope (ground for confidence). Hupostasis appears two other times in Hebrews, at 3:14 and 11:1, translated as ‘assurance‘ or ‘confidence’. In Heb. 11:1 it is set in synonymous parallelism to elegchos which denotes a ‘firm conviction’ of unseen realities. It appears twice in 2 Corinthians, at 9:4 and 11:17, where it seems to mean ‘a ground for boasting.’ The word did have among the classic Greek philosophers the meaning of ‘substance’ or ‘existence’ or ‘reality’, but I reiterate that I do not believe the author to be speaking of God in Greek metaphysical terms but rather, in Hebraic fashion, in terms of how God functions in relation to His people.

One idea behind hupostasis seems to be that of a confidence or assurance that one has from standing on a firm and sure foundation, hence it was used to denote a promise or guarantee which engendered such confidence. In this sense God’s hupostasis would be his covenant. It was also used as the title on ancient documents which showed ownership of property. Such a document gave the one whose name it bore assurance that they could take possession of the property, i.e. it was the owner’s ground of assurance and confidence, and his guarantee.

If we were to take hupostasis in the sense of reality it would denote the unseen reality that stands under (and hence supports) that which is seen. In the context of Hebrews 1 it would be speaking of the fact that Yahweh is the reality that stands underneath the Davidic throne. Yahweh is the ultimate King of his kingdom, though unseen, while the ‘son’ is the visible representation of Yahweh’s rule.

With all of the foregoing in mind I offer the following possible interpretive translations of the first part of v. 3:

1.” . . . who is the radiance of Yahweh’s majesty, the imprint of Yahweh’s guaranteed support . . .”

In this sense, the son i.e. the Davidic king, is Yahweh’s signature, as it were, guaranteeing his covenant support of his people

2.” . . . who is the radiance of Yahweh’s majesty, the guarantee of Yahweh’s covenant promises . . .”

This would give the same sense as the first one – the son is the guarantee that Yahweh will fulfill his covenant functions toward his people {see Rom. 15:8}.

3.” . . . who is the radiance of Yahweh’s majesty, the (visible) representation of the (unseen) reality of Yahweh (as Israel’s true King).

In this sense, the son , sitting on the throne of David, is the visible representation of the rule of Yahweh as Israel’s ultimate King. Yahweh ‘stands under’ the Davidic throne as it’s strength and support.


I think the author uses the concepts of God’s ‘majesty’  and His ‘covenant support’ because these ideas epitomize or sum up the many things said in the OT about God’s relationship to Israel. His ‘majesty’ speaks of His righteousness, justice and salvation in connection with His kingship, as in Isaiah 5:16; 30:18; 33:5; 44:23; 46:13; Psalm 89:14-18; 97:1-6. His ‘support‘ sums up many aspects of God’s covenant responsibilities as Israel’ King, such as to be their Rock, Protector, and Defender; their Fortress, Shield, and Refuge. It also speaks of God as Israel’s hope and confidence. Biblical passages which portray God in these terms are too numerous to list, but a few examples are Deut. 33:29; Psalm 18:1-3,16-18,30-36,46-50; 20:1-2; 28:7-9; 46:7; 48:1-3; 115:9; Jer. 14:8; 17:13.

So Yahweh is the true King of Israel and as such performs all these various functions on their behalf. But how does He do this? Through his anointed one, the son of David, the one chosen to rule on His behalf over His kingdom. But this should not be a surprise. All throughout Israel’s history God has performed these functions through his human agents {see Judges 2:16-18; Acts 7:35}. Once God established the line of David to rule over his kingdom it was primarily through the reigning king, this one He called his ‘son‘, that He manifested His theocratic rule over, as well as His protection and care for, His people.

So what the author of Hebrews is telling his readers in this verse is that the ‘son‘ i.e. the one in the line of David, chosen to rule forever over God’s kingdom, is the visible representation of God’s theocratic rule and the agent through whom God performs His covenant responsibilities toward His people.

” . . . bearing the burden of all things by the word of His power . . . ” – The traditional translation of “upholding all things” and the consequent interpretation of the Son holding the material universe together by his word is entirely unwarranted. The Greek word is phero, of which the primary meaning is ‘to carry or bear’ . The idea of ‘upholding’ as in ‘holding together’ does not fit any of the 66 occurrences of this word. I believe the idea here is of the ‘son’ bearing the responsibility laid upon him by God as His representative. This concept is seen in the following passages:

“All things have been committed to me by my Father.”  Matt. 11:27

“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.”  Isaiah 9:6

“The Father . . . has entrusted all judgment to the son.”  John 5:22

“The Father loves the son and has given all things into his hand.”  John 3:35

The “all things” that the son is bearing refers to all that God has committed to him to carry out, all that He has laid on his shoulders. The orthodox commentators imagine here, based on the orthodox creeds, that the ‘son’ is holding all of the created order together, sustaining and preserving it. This is sheer nonsense and not in accord with the OT portrait of the ‘son.’ The son  carries out his assigned task by the word of God’s power, not his own.

” . . .  having made purification for sin . . . ” – One of the responsibilities laid upon this ‘son’; a burden he gladly bore on our behalf. This purification was made by the sacrifice of himself to God {see Heb. 10:10-14}.

” . . .  he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” – Having become obedient to God even unto death, he was highly exalted and given authority to rule on God’s behalf over His kingdom. This is what it means for this ‘son’ to sit at the right hand of God. This is plain from the use of the expression in the OT:

“Let your hand (of power) be upon the man at your right hand, the son of man whom you have strengthened for yourself.”  Psalm 80:17

“Yahweh says to my lord (the king), ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. Yahweh will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; rule in the midst of your enemies.”  Psalm 110:1-2

To sit at God’s right hand is equal to sitting on God’s throne, as said of Solomon in 1 Chron. 29:23 and 2 Chron. 9:8. Jesus himself said that he sat down with [his] Father on his throne,” {Rev.3:21}.These are metaphors, not a literal location where Jesus literally sits. These metaphors express the truth that the ‘son’ was given all authority to rule over God’s kingdom with and on behalf of God. Of course this implies the son’s subordination to the one who gave him that authority {see 1 Cor. 15:27}.

V.4 – Here we are told that this ‘son’, this offspring of David chosen to rule for God, became  (could also be translated was made) so much better than the angels . . . “ Now if the ‘son’ was the ‘eternally begotten Son’, co-equal with the Father and creator of the angels, would he not have always been, by nature, better than the angels. Yet the text says that he became such which surely implies there was a time when he was not such.  This is explained further at 2:9 where the author says ” … Jesus, who was made for a little while inferior to angels … “ But if Jesus was eternal Deity walking around in human flesh could he have ever been inferior to angels? The man Jesus, the final and ideal son of David, the one chosen to rule over God’s kingdom forever, was for a time inferior to the angels in that he was mortal, whereas angels are immortal. But after he suffered death for the human race he was crowned with glory and honor and exalted “above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given.” {Eph. 1:21}

Why does the author feel the need to tell his readers that this ‘son’ is better than the angels? Perhaps it is because they had diminished the role of the Davidic ruler in God’s plan and were giving angelic mediators more prominence. Or perhaps they were even thinking of Jesus not as a real man, but as an incarnate angel. The author does lay much stress on the humanity of Jesus in chapter two. If it were the case, as we are made to believe, that all Christians from the very beginning understood Jesus to be God in human flesh, so that the author and recipients of this letter would have held that to be true, why would our author have to tell his readers these things? Would not they have already believed he was greater than angels by virtue of his being God? The whole argument of the author here shows the fallacy of that position. It only makes sense if the author and recipients believe the son to be simply a man. In that case the author might have to convince some of his readers that the son is now been made superior to angels.

The ‘son’ has inherited or obtained a more superior name when compared to the angels. I used to think that the ‘name‘ here was that of ‘son’, but I don’t think that is right. Even angels, in the Hebrew Scriptures, are called ‘sons of God.‘ I have come to see ‘name’ here as signifying fame, renown, or reputation based on one’s rank or authority. As the author says at 3:3Jesus has been accounted worthy of greater honor than Moses . . . ,” so here he is basically saying that Jesus has been accounted worthy of greater distinction than any angel. This reveals one of the errors that the author is writing to combat – that the mediatorial role of angels was more significant than that of the Messiah. If this is true, it shows that these early believers did not hold the belief that Jesus was God incarnate, for if they did they could never have regarded him as inferior in status to angels.

V.5 – Here the author begins his series of OT citations, all focusing on the role and function of the Davidic king, as we saw above. For this reason I categorically reject the interpretation of ECFs who saw in these passages some sort of metaphysical relationship between God and the son. The father/son relationship pictured in these statements is not ontological, i.e. by an actual birth of the son from the Father, nor metaphysical i.e. by an emanation of the son out of the Father’s substance. This relationship is symbolic, i.e. the son of David has the status of sonship bestowed upon him by God, because he is chosen to rule on behalf of God. This privilege was never given to any angel.

This ends part 1; please come back for part 2.

Endnotes

  1. Though the Greek word angelos can refer to either human or non-human supernatural agents, I think it is clear that the author of Hebrews is referring to non-human agents in Chapters 1 and 2 of the book.
  2. Here is an article that presents the case for the ‘gods’ of Ps. 82 being human kings.