Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
“The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews.” This title is wholly without authority. The original title if there was one at all, probably ran simply “to the Hebrews” as in א, A, B, K, and as in the days of Origen. In various MSS. the Epistle is found in different portions. In D, K, L, it stands as here. In א, A, B, C, it is placed after 2 Thess. (See for fuller information Bleek Hebraerbrief, p. 45.)
Ch. 1. Finality and transcendence of God’s final revelation in Christ (1–4). Illustrations of Christ’s pre-eminence above Angels (5–14)
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,1–4. Thesis of the Epistle
1. God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake] It is hardly possible in a translation to preserve the majesty and balance of this remarkable opening sentence of the Epistle. It must be regarded as one of the most pregnant and noble passages of Scripture. The author does not begin, as St Paul invariably does, with a greeting which is almost invariably followed by a thanksgiving; but at once, and without preface, he strikes the key-note, by stating the thesis which he intends to prove. His object is to secure his Hebrew readers against the peril of an apostasy to which they were tempted by the delay of Christ’s personal return, by the persecutions to which they were subjected, and by the splendid memories and exalted claims of the religion in which they had been trained. He wishes therefore, not only to warn and exhort them, but also to prove that Christianity is a Covenant indefinitely superior to the Covenant of Judaism, alike in its Agents and its Results. The words “How much more,” “A better covenant,” “a more excellent name,” might be regarded as the keynotes of the Epistle (Hebrews 3:3, Hebrews 7:19-20; Hebrews 7:22, Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 9:23, Hebrews 10:34, Hebrews 11:40, Hebrews 12:24, &c.). In many respects, it is not so much a letter as an address. Into these opening verses he has compressed a world of meaning, and has also strongly brought out the conceptions of the contrast between the Old and New Dispensations—a contrast which involves the vast superiority of the latter. Literally, the sentence may be rendered, “In many portions and in many ways, God having of old spoken to the fathers in the prophets, at the end of these days spake to us in a Son.” It was God who spoke in both dispensations; of old and in the present epoch: to the fathers and to us; to them in the Prophets, to us in a Son; to them “in many portions” and therefore “fragmentarily,” but—as the whole Epistle is meant to shew—to us with a full and complete revelation; to them “in many ways,” “multifariously,” but to us in one way—namely by revealing Himself in human nature, and becoming “a Man with men.”
God] In this one word, which admits the divine origin of Mosaism, the writer makes an immense concession to the Jews. Such expressions as St Paul had used in the fervour of controversy—when for instance he spoke of “the Law” as consisting of “weak and beggarly elements”—tended to alienate the Jews by utterly shocking their prejudices; and in very early ages, as we see from the “Epistle of Barnabas” some Christians had developed a tendency to speak of Judaism with an extreme disparagement, which culminated in the Gnostic attribution of the Old Testament to an inferior and even malignant Deity, whom they called “the Demiurge.” The author shared no such feelings. In all his sympathies he shews himself a Hebrew of the Hebrews, and at the very outset he speaks of the Old Dispensation as coming from God.
who] There is no relative in the Greek. Instead of “who … spake … hath spoken …” the force of the original would be better conveyed by “having spoken … spake.”
at sundry times] In the Greek, one word polumerôs “in many parts.” The nearest English representative of the word is “fragmentarily,” which is not meant as a term of absolute but only of relative disparagement. It has never been God’s method to reveal all His relations to mankind at once. He revealed Himself “in many portions.” He lifted the veil fold by fold. First came the Adamic dispensation; then the Noahic; then the Abrahamic; then the Mosaic; then that widening and deepening system of truth of which the Prophets were ministers; then the yet more advanced and elaborate scheme which dates from Ezra;—the final revelation, the “fulness” of revealed truth came with the Gospel. Each of these systems was indeed fragmentary, and therefore (so far) imperfect, and yet it was the best possible system with reference to the end in view, which was the education of the human race in the love and knowledge of God. The first great truth which God prominently revealed was His Unity; then came the earliest germ of the Messianic hope; then came the Moral Law; then the development of Messianism and the belief in Immortality. Isaiah and Ezekiel, Zechariah and Malachi, the son of Sirach and John the Baptist, had each his several “portion” and element of truth to reveal. But all the sevenfold rays were united in the pure and perfect light when God had given us His Son; and when, by the inbreathing of the Spirit, He had made us partakers of Himself, the last era of revelation had arrived. To this final revelation there can be no further addition, though it may be granted to age after age more and more fully to comprehend it. Complete in itself, it yet works as the leaven, and grows as the grain of mustard seed, and brightens and broadens as the Dawn. Yet even the Christian Revelation is itself but “a part;” “we know in part and prophesy,” says St Paul, “in part.” Man, being finite, is only capable of partial knowledge.
in divers manners] The “sundry” and “divers” of our A. V. are only due to the professed fondness for variety which King James’s translators regarded as a merit. The “many manners” of the older revelation were Law and Prophecy, Type and Allegory, Promise and Threatening; the diverse individuality of many of the Prophets, Seers, Warriors, Kings, who were agents of the revelation; the method of various sacrifices; the messages which came by Urim, by dreams, by waking visions, and “face to face” (see Numbers 12:6; Psalm 89:19; Hosea 12:10; 2 Peter 1:21). The mouthpiece of the revelation was now a Gentile sorcerer, now a royal sufferer, now a rough ascetic, now a polished priest, now a gatherer of sycomore fruit. Thus the separate revelations were not complete but partial; and the methods not simple but complex.
spake] This verb (lalein) is often used, especially in this Epistle, of Divine revelations (Hebrews 2:2-3, Hebrews 3:5, Hebrews 7:14, &c.).
in time past] Malachi the last Prophet of the Old Covenant had died more than four centuries before Christ.
unto the fathers] That is to the Jews of old. The writer, a Jew in all his sympathies, leaves unnoticed throughout this Epistle the very existence of the Gentiles. As a friend and follower of St Paul he of course recognised the call of the Gentiles to equal privileges, but the demonstration of their prerogatives had already been furnished by St Paul with a force and fulness to which nothing could be added. This writer, addressing Jews, is not in any way thinking of the Gentiles. To him “the people” means exclusively “the people of God” in the old sense, namely Israel after the flesh. It is hardly conceivable that St Paul, who was the Apostle to the Gentiles, and whose writings were mainly addressed to them, and written to secure their Gospel privileges, should, even in a single letter, have so completely left them out of sight as this author does. On the other hand he always tries to shew his “Hebrew” readers that their conversion does not involve any sudden discontinuity in the religious history of their race.
by the prophets] Rather, “in the Prophets.” It is true that the “by” may be only a Hebraism, representing the Hebrew בְּ in 1 Samuel 28:6; 2 Samuel 23:2. We find ἐν “in” used of agents in Matthew 9:34, “In the Prince of the demons casteth He out demons,” and in Acts 17:31. But, on the other hand, the writer may have meant the preposition to be taken in its proper sense, to imply that the Prophets were only the organs of the revelation; so that it is more emphatic than διὰ “by means of.” The same thought may be in his mind as in that of Philo when he says that “the Prophet is an interpreter, while God from within whispers what he should utter.” “The Prophets,” says St Thomas Aquinas, “did not speak of themselves, but God spoke in them.” Comp. 2 Corinthians 13:3. The word Prophets is here taken in that larger sense which includes Abraham, Moses, &c.
Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;2. Hath … spoken] Rather, “spake.” The whole revelation is ideally summed up in the one supreme moment of the Incarnation. This aoristic mode of speaking of God’s dealings, and of the Christian life, as single acts, is common throughout the New Testament, and especially in St Paul, and conveys the thought that
“Are, and were, and will be are but is
And all creation is one act at once.”
The word “spoke” is here used in its fullest and deepest meaning of Him whose very name is “the Word of God.” It is true that this author, unlike St John, does not actually apply the Alexandrian term “Logos” (“Word”) to Christ, but it always seems to be in his thoughts, and, so to speak, to be trembling on his lips. The essential and ideal Unity which dominated over the “many parts” and “many modes” of the older revelation is implied in the most striking way by the fact that it was the same God who spake to the Fathers in the Prophets and to us in a Son.
in these last days] The better reading (א, A, B, D, E, &c.) is “at the end of these days.” The phrase represents the technical Hebrew expression be-acharîth ha-yâmîm (Numbers 24:14). The Jews divided the religious history of the world into “this age” (Olam hazzeh) and “the future age” (Olam habba). The “future age” was the one which was to begin at the coming of the Messiah, whose days were spoken of by the Rabbis as “the last days.” But, as Christians believed that the Messiah had now come, to them the former period had ended. They were practically living in the age to which their Jewish contemporaries alluded as the “age to come” (Hebrews 2:5, Hebrews 6:5). They spoke of this epoch as “the fulness of the times” (Galatians 4:4); “the last days” (James 5:3); “the last hour” (1 John 2:18); “the crisis of rectification” (Hebrews 9:10); “the close of the ages” (Hebrews 9:26). And yet, even to Christians, there was one aspect in which the new Messianic dispensation was still to be followed by “a future age,” because the kingdom of God had not yet come either completely or in its final development, which depended on the Second Advent. Hence “the last crisis,” “the later crises” (1 Peter 1:5; 1 Timothy 4:1) are still in the future, though they thought that it would be a near future; after which would follow the “rest,” the “Sabbatism” (Hebrews 4:4; Hebrews 4:10-11; Hebrews 11:40; Hebrews 12:28) which still awaits the people of God. The indistinctness of separation between “this age” and “the future age” arises from different views as to the period in which the actual “days of the Messiah” are to be reckoned. The Rabbis also sometimes include them in the former, sometimes in the latter. But the writer regarded the end as being at hand (Hebrews 10:13; Hebrews 10:25; Hebrews 10:37). He felt that the former dispensation was annulled and outworn, and anticipated rightly that it could not have many years to run.
by his Son] Rather, “in a Son.” The contrast is here the Relation rather than the Person of Christ, “in Him who was a Son.” The preposition “in” is here most applicable in its strict meaning, because “in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” “The Father, that dwelleth in me, He doeth the works” (John 14:10). The contrast of the New and Old is expressed by St John (John 1:17), “The Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” In Christ all the fragments of previous revelation were completed; all the methods of it concentrated; and all its apparent perplexities and contradictions solved and rendered intelligible.
he hath appointed] Rather, “He appointed.” The question as to the special act of God thus alluded to, is hardly applicable. Our temporal expressions may involve an inherent absurdity when applied to. Him whose life is the timeless Now of Eternity and in Whom there is neither before nor after, nor variableness, nor shadow cast by turning, but Who is always in the Meridian of an unconditioned Plenitude (Pleroma). See James 1:17.
heir of all things] Sonship naturally suggests heirship (Galatians 4:7) and in Christ was fulfilled the immense promise to Abraham that his seed should be heir of the world. The allusion, so far as we can enter into these high mysteries of Godhead, is to Christ’s mediatorial kingdom. We only darken counsel by the multitude of words without knowledge when we attempt to define and explain the relations of the Persons of the Trinity towards each other. The doctrine of the περιχώρησις, circuminsessio or communicatio idiomatum as it was technically called—that is the relation of Divinity and Humanity as effected within the Divine Nature itself by the Incarnation—is wholly beyond the limit of our comprehension. We may in part see this from the fact that the Son Himself is (in Hebrews 1:3) represented as doing what in this verse the Father does. But that the Mediatorial Kingdom is given to the Son by the Father is distinctly stated in John 3:35; Matthew 28:18 (comp. Hebrews 2:6-8 and Psalm 2:8).
by whom] i.e. “by whose means;” “by whom, as His agent.” Comp. “All things were made by Him” (i.e. by the Word) (John 1:3). “By Him were all things created” (Colossians 1:16). “By Whom are all things” (1 Corinthians 8:6). What the Alexandrian theosophy attributed to the Logos, had been attributed to “Wisdom” (see Proverbs 8:22-31) in what was called the Chokhmah or the Sapiential literature of the Jews. Christians were therefore familiar with the doctrine that Creation was the work of the Pnæ-existent Christ; which helps to explain Hebrews 1:10-12. We find in Philo, “You will discover that the cause of it (the world) is God … and the Instrument the Word of God, by whom it was equipped (kateskeuasthç)” De Cherub. (Opp. i. 162); and again “But the shadow of God is His Word, whom He used as an Instrument in making the World,” De Leg. Alleg. (Opp. i. 106).
also] He who was the heir of all things was also the agent in their creation.
he made the worlds] Literally, “the aeons” or “ages.” This word “aeon” was used by the later Gnostics to describe the various “emanations” by which they tried at once to widen and to bridge over the chasm between the Human and the Divine. Over that imaginary chasm St John had thrown the one wide arch of the Incarnation when he wrote “the Word became flesh.” In the N.T. the word “aeons” never has this Gnostic meaning. In the singular the word means “an age;” in the plural it sometimes means “ages” like the Hebrew olamim. Here it is used in its Rabbinic and post-biblical sense of “the world” as in Hebrews 11:3, Wis 13:9, and as in 1 Timothy 1:17 where God is called “the king of the world” (comp. Tob 13:6). The word kosmos (Hebrews 10:5) means “the material world” in its order and beauty; the word aiones means the world as reflected in the mind of man and in the stream of his spiritual history; oikoumene (Hebrews 1:6) means “the inhabited world.”
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;3. the brightness] The substitution of “effulgence” for “brightness” in the Revised Version is not, as it has been contemptuously called, “a piece of finery,” but is a rendering at once more accurate and more suggestive. It means “efflux of light”—“Light of (i.e. from) Light” (“effulgentia” not “repercussus”) Grotius. It implies not only resemblance—which is all that is involved in the vague and misleading word “brightness,” which might apply to a mere reflexion:—but also “origin” and “independent existence.” The glory of Christ is the glory of the Father just as the sun is only revealed by the rays which stream forth from it. So the “Wisdom of Solomon” (Hebrews 7:26)—which offers many resemblances to the Epistle to the Hebrews, and which some have even conjectured to be by the same author—speaks of wisdom as “the effulgence of the everlasting light.” The word is also found in Philo where it is applied to man. This passage, like many others in the Epistle, is quoted by St Clement of Rome (ad Cor. 36).
of his glory] God was believed in the Old Dispensation to reveal Himself by a cloud of glory called “the Shechinah,” and the Alexandrian Jews, in their anxious avoidance of all anthropomorphism and anthropopathy—i.e. of all expressions which attribute the human form and human passions to God—often substituted “the Glory” for the name of God. Similarly in 2 Peter 1:17 the Voice from God the Father is a Voice “from the magnificent glory.” Comp. Acts 7:55; Luke 2:9. St John says “God is Light,” and the indestructible purity and impalpable essence of Light make it the best of all created things to furnish an analogy for the supersensuous light and spiritual splendour of the Being of God. Hence St John also says of the Word “we beheld His glory” (John 1:14); and our Lord said to Philip “he who hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). Comp. Luke 9:29.
the express image] Rather, “the stamp” (charactçr). The R. V. renders this word by “very image” (after Tyndale), and in the margin by “impress.” I prefer the word “stamp” because the Greek “charactçr” like the English word “stamp,” may, according to its derivation, be used either for the impress or for the stamping-tool itself. This Epistle has so many resemblances to Philo that the word may have been suggested by a passage (Opp. i. 332) in which Philo compares man to a coin which has been stamped by the Logos with the being and type of God; and in that passage the word seems to bear this unusual sense of a “stamping-tool,” for it impresses a man with the mark of God. Similarly St Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians (Colossians 1:15)—which most resembles this Epistle in its Christology—called Christ “the image (eikôn) of the invisible God;” and Philo says, “But the word is the image (eikôn) of God, by Whom the whole world was created,” De Monarch, (Opp. ii. 225).
of his person] Rather, “of His substance” or “essence.” The word hypostasis, substantia (literally that which “stands under”) is, in philosophical accuracy, the imaginary substratum which remains when a thing is regarded apart from all its accidents. The word “person” of our A. V. is rather the equivalent to prosôpon. Hypostasis only came to be used in this sense some centuries later. Perhaps “Being” or “Essence,” though it corresponds more strictly to the Greek ousia, is the nearest representative which we can find to hypostasis, now that “substance,” once the most abstract and philosophical of words, has come (in ordinary language) to mean what is solid and concrete. It is only too possible that the word “substance” conveys to many minds the very opposite conception to that which was intended and which alone corresponds to the truth. Athanasius says, “Hypostasis is essence” (οὐσία); and the Nicene Council seems to draw no real distinction between the two words. In fact the Western Church admitted that, in the Eastern sense, we might speak of three hypostaseis of the Trinity; and in the Western sense, of one hypostasis, because in this sense the word meant Essence. For the use of the word in the LXX. see Ps. 38:6, 88:48. It is curiously applied in Wis 16:21. In the technical language of theology these two clauses represent the Son as co-eternal and co-substantial with the Father.
upholding all things] He is not only the Creative Word, but the Sustaining Providence. He is, as Philo says, “the chain-band of all things,” but He is also their guiding force. “In Him all things subsist” (Colossians 1:17). Philo calls the Logos “the pilot and steersman of everything.”
by the word of his power] Rather, “by the utterance (rhemati) of His power.” It is better to keep “word” for Logos, and “utterance” for rhema. We find “strength” (κράτος) and “force” (ἰσχύς) attributed to Christ in Ephesians 6:10, as “power” (δύναμις) here.
when he had by himself purged our sins] Rather, “after making purification of sins.” The “by Himself” is omitted by some of the best MSS. (א, A, B), and the “our” by many. But the notion of Christ’s independent action (Php 2:7) is involved in the middle voice of the verb. On the purification of our sins by Christ (in which there is perhaps a slight reference to the “Day of Atonement,” called in the LXX. “the Day of Purification,” Exodus 29:36), see Hebrews 9:12, Hebrews 10:12; 1 Peter 2:24; 2 Peter 1:9 (comp. Job 7:21, LXX.).
sat down] His glorification was directly consequent on His voluntary humiliation (see Hebrews 8:1, Hebrews 10:12, Hebrews 12:2; Psalm 109:1), and here the whole description is brought to its destined climax.
on the right hand] As the place of honour comp. Hebrews 8:1; Psalm 110:1; Ephesians 1:20. The controversy as to whether “the right hand of God” means “everywhere”—which was called the “Ubiquitarian controversy”—is wholly destitute of meaning, and has long fallen into deserved oblivion.
of the Majesty] In Hebrews 10:12 he says “at the right hand of God.” But he was evidently fond of sonorous amplifications, which belong to the dignity of his style; and also fond of Alexandrian modes of expression. The LXX. sometimes went so far as to substitute for “God” the phrase “the place” where God stood (see Exodus 24:10, LXX.).
on high] Literally, “in high places;” like “Glory to God in the highest,” Luke 2:14 (comp. Job 16:19); and “in heavenly places,” Ephesians 1:20 (comp. Psalm 93:4; Psalm 112:5). The description of Christ in these verses differed from the current Messianic conception of the Jews in two respects. 1. He was divine and omnipotent. 2. He was to die for our sins.
Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.4. being made] Rather, “becoming,” or “proving himself to be.” The allusion is to the Redemptive Kingdom of Christ, and the word merely qualifies the “better name.” Christ, regarded as the Agent or Minister of the scheme of Redemption, became mediatorially superior to the Angel-ministrants of the Old Dispensation, as He always was superior to them in dignity and essence.
so much] The familiar classical ὄσῳ … τοσούτῳ (involving the comparison and contrast which runs throughout this Epistle, Hebrews 3:3, Hebrews 7:20, Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 9:27, Hebrews 10:25) is not found once in St Paul.
better] This word, common as it is, is only thrice used by St Paul (and then somewhat differently), but occurs 13 times in this Epistle alone (Hebrews 6:9, Hebrews 7:7; Hebrews 7:19; Hebrews 7:22, Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 9:23, Hebrews 10:34, Hebrews 11:16; Hebrews 11:35; Hebrews 11:40, Hebrews 12:24).
so much better than the angels] The writer’s object in entering upon the proof of this fact is not to check the tendency of incipient Gnostics to worship Angels. Of this there is no trace here, though St Paul in his letter to the Colossians, raised a warning voice against it. Here the object is to shew that the common Jewish boast that “they had received the law by the disposition of Angels” involved no disparagement to the Gospel which had been ministered by One who was “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:21). Many Jews held, with Philo, that the Decalogue alone had been uttered by God, and that all the rest of the Law had been spoken by Angels. The extreme development of Jewish Angelology at this period may be seen in the Book of Enoch. They are there called “the stars,” “the white ones,” “the sleepless ones.” St Clement of Rome found it necessary to reproduce this argument in writing to the Corinthians, and the 4th Book of Esdras illustrates the tendency of mind which it was desirable to counteract.
hath by inheritance obtained] Rather, “hath inherited.” Comp. Luke 1:32; Luke 1:35. “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name” (Php 2:9). He does not here seem to be speaking of the eternal generation. Christ inherits His more excellent name, not as the Eternal Son, but as the God-Man. Possibly too the writer uses the word “inherited” with tacit reference to the prophetic promises.
a more excellent name than they] Not here the name of “the only-begotten Son of God” (John 3:18), which is in its fulness “a name which no one knoweth save Himself” (Revelation 19:12). The “name” in Scripture often indeed implies the inmost essence of a thing. If, then, with some commentators we suppose the allusion to be to this Eternal and Essential name of Christ we must understand the word “inheritance” as merely phenomenal, the manifestation to our race of a præexistent fact. In that view the glory indicated by the name belonged essentially to Christ, and His work on earth only manifested the name by which it was known. This is perhaps better than to follow St Chrysostom in explaining “inherited” to mean “always possessed as His own.” Comp. Luke 1:32, “He shall be called the Son of the Highest.”
more excellent … than] This construction (παρὰ after a comparative) is not found once in St Paul’s Epistles, but several times in this Epistle (Hebrews 1:4, Hebrews 2:9, Hebrews 3:3, Hebrews 9:23, Hebrews 11:4, Hebrews 12:24). It should be observed, as bearing on the authorship of the Epistle, that in these four verses alone there are no less than six expressions and nine constructions which find no—or no exact—parallel in St Paul’s Epistles.
For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?5–14. Illustrations from Scripture of the superiority of Christ to Angels
5. For] The following paragraphs prove “the more excellent name.” By His work on earth the God-man Christ Jesus obtained that superiority of place in the order and hierarchy of salvation which made Him better than the Angels, not only in intrinsic dignity but in relation to the redemption of man. In other words the universal heirship of Christ is here set forth “not as a metaphysical but as a dispensational prerogative.” That it should be necessary for the writer to enter upon a proof of this may well seem strange to us; but that it was necessary is proved by the earnestness with which he devotes himself to the task. To us the difficulty lies in the mode of proof, not in the result arrived at; but his readers were unconvinced of the result, while they would have freely admitted the validity of this method of reasoning. The line of proof has been thoroughly studied by Dr W. Robertson Smith, in some papers published in the Expositor for 1881, to which I am indebted for several suggestions. “There is nothing added,” he says, “to the intrinsic superiority of Christ’s being, but He occupies towards us a position higher than the angels ever held. The whole argument turns, not on personal dignity, but on dignity of function in the administration of the economy of salvation.” It may be due to this Epistle that we find in later Jewish books (like the Jalkut Shimeoni) such sentences as “The King Messiah shall be exalted above Abraham, Moses, and the Ministering Angels” (see Schöttgen, p. 905).
For unto which of the angels said he at any time] The “He” is God. This indirect mode of reference to God is common in the Rabbinic writings. The argument here is from the silence of Scripture, as in Hebrews 1:13, Hebrews 2:16, Hebrews 7:13-14.
Thou art my Son …] The quotation is from Psalm 2:7 (comp. Psalm 89:20; Psalm 89:26-27). The author does not need to pause in order to prove that this, and the other passages which he quotes, apply to the Christ; still less to prove that Christ is the Son of God. All Christians held the second point; the first point would have been at once conceded by every Jewish reader. Many of the Jews adopted the common view of the Rabbis that everything in the Old Testament prophecies might be applied to the Messiah. St Peter, in Acts 13:33, also applies this verse to Christ, and the great Rabbis, Kimchi and Rashi, admit that the Psalm was accepted in a Messianic sense in ancient days. The Divinity of Christ was a truth which the writer might assume in addressing Christians.
It must therefore be observed that these passages are not advanced as proofs that Jesus was the Son of God—which, as Christians, the readers in no wise disputed—but as arguments ad hominem and ex concessis. In other words they were arguments to those whom the writer had immediately in view, and who had no doubt as to the premisses on which he based his reasoning. He had to confirm a vacillating and unprogressive faith (Hebrews 6:12, Hebrews 12:25), not to convince those who disputed the central truths of Christianity.
Our own conviction on these subjects rests primarily upon historical and spiritual grounds, and only depends in a very subordinate degree on indirect Scriptural applications. Yet even as regards these we cannot but see that, while the more sober-minded interpreters have always admitted that there was a primary historic meaning in the passages quoted, and that they were addressed in the first instance to David, Solomon, &c., yet (1) there is a “pre-established harmony” between the language used and its fulfilment in Christ; (2) the language is often so far beyond the scope of its immediate application that it points to an ideal and distant fulfilment; (3) it was interpreted for many centuries before Christ in a Messianic sense; (4) that Messianic sense has been amply justified by the slow progress of history. There is surely some medium between regarding these passages as soothsaying vaticinations, definitely and consciously recognised as such by their writers, and setting them aside as though they contained no prophetic element at all. In point of fact the Jews themselves rightly looked on them as mingling the present and the future, the kingly-theocratic and the Messianic. No one will enter into their real meaning who does not see that all the best Jewish literature was in the highest sense prophetic. It centred in that magnificent Messianic hope which arose immediately from the connexion of the Jews with their covenant God, and which elevated them above all other nations. The divine character of this confident hope was justified, and more than justified, by the grandeur of its fulfilment. Genuine, simple, historical exegesis still leaves room in the Old Testament for a glorious and demonstrable Christology. Although the old aphorism—Novum Testamentum in Vetere latet, Vetus in Novo patet—has often been extravagantly abused by allegoric interpreters, every instructed Christian will admit its fundamental truth. The germ of a highly-developed Messianic prophecy was involved from the first in the very idea of a theocracy and a separated people.
this day have I begotten thee] St Paul says (Romans 1:4) that Jesus was “determined” or “constituted” (ὁρισθέντος) Son of God, with power, by resurrection from the dead. The aorist in that passage points to a definite time—the Resurrection (comp. Acts 13:33). In other senses the expression “to-day” might be applied to the Incarnation (Luke 1:31), or to the Ascension, or to the Eternal Generation. The latter explanation however,—which explains “to-day” of “God’s eternal now” the nunc stans of eternity—though adopted by Origen (who finely says that in God’s “to-day” there is neither morning nor evening) and by St Augustine—is probably one of the “afterthoughts of theology.” Calvin stigmatises it as a “frivola Augustini argutia,” but the strongest argument in its favour is that Philo has a somewhat similar conception. The words, however, originally applied to the day of David’s complete inauguration as king upon Mount Sion. No one time can apply to the Eternal Generation, and the adoption of Philo’s notion that “to-day” means “for ever,” and that “all Eternity” is God’s to-day would here be out of place. Possibly the “to-day” is only, so to speak, an accidental part of the quotation: in other words it may belong rather to the literal and primary prophecy than to its Messianic application. The Church shews that she understood the word “to-day” to apply to the Resurrection by appointing the second psalm as one of the special psalms for Easter-day.
I will be to him a Father] 2 Samuel 7:14 (LXX.). The words were primarily applicable to Solomon, but the quotation would not, without further argument, have helped forward the writer’s end if he had not been able to assume with confidence that none of his readers would dispute his typological method of exegesis. It is probable that the promise to David here quoted is directly connected with the passage just adduced from Psalms 2.
he shall be to me a Son] The quotation (comp. Philo De Leg. Allegor. iii. 8) though primarily applied to Solomon, has the wider sense of prophesying the advent of some perfect theocratic king. The “Angels” it might be objected are called “Sons of God” in Genesis 6:2; Job 1:6; Job 2:1; Job 38:7; Daniel 3:25. In these passages, however, the Alexandrian manuscript of the LXX. which this author seems to have used (whereas St Paul seems to quote from another type of manuscript—the Vatican), has “angels” and not “sons.” If it be further urged that in Psalm 29:1; Psalm 89:7, even the Alexandrian MS. also has “sons” we must suppose either that the writer means to distinguish (1) between the higher and lower senses of the word “son;” or (2) between “Sons of Elohim” and “Sons of Jehovah,” since Elohim is so much lower and vaguer a name for God than Jehovah, that not only Angels but even human beings are called Elohim; or (3) that he did not regard the name “sons” as in any way characteristic of angels. He shews so intimate a knowledge of the Psalms that—on this ground alone, not to dwell on others—the supposition that he forgot or overlooked these passages is hardly admissible.
And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.6. And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world] The older and literal rendering is as in the R. V., “and when he, again, shall have brought in …” The A. V. takes the word “again” (palin) as merely introducing a new quotation, as in Hebrews 1:5, and in Hebrews 2:13, Hebrews 4:5, &c. The word “again,” says Bp. Wordsworth, serves the purpose of inverted commas (see Romans 15:10-12). In that case it is displaced by an accidental hyperbaton or trajection, as this transmission of a word into another clause is called. If however the “again” belongs to the verb it can only be explained of Christ’s second coming to judge the world (Matthew 25:31) unless the writer, assuming the point of view of the ancient prophet, alludes to the Resurrection. But since the mere displacement of the palin is certainly possible, it is better to accept this simple explanation than either to adopt these latter theories or to suppose that there had been some previous and premundane presentation of the Son to all created beings. Hypotheses non fingo is a rule even more necessary for the theologian than for the scientist.
bringeth in] The Greek verb is in the aorist subjunctive (εἰσαγαγῇ), and means “shall have brought in,” exactly as in Exodus 13:5; Exodus 13:11 (where the same word occurs in the LXX.) and as in Luke 17:10, “when ye shall have done all that is commanded you” (ποιήσητε).
the firstbegotten] Rather, “first-born.” This title (see Psalm 89:27) was always applied in a Messianic sense to Christ as “the first-born of all creation” (Colossians 1:15; and the first-born of many brethren (Hebrews 2:10-11).
into the world] The Greek word here used is not kosmos the material world, but oikoumene “the habitable world.”
he saith] The language of the Scriptures is regarded as a permanent, continuous, and living utterance (Hebrews 3:7, Hebrews 5:6, Hebrews 8:8-10, Hebrews 10:5, &c.).
And let all the angels of God worship him] It is doubtful whether the quotation is from Psalm 97:7 “worship Him all ye gods (Elohim)”—where the word Elohim is rendered “angels” in the LXX. as in Psalm 8:5—or rather from Deuteronomy 32:43, where there is an “and,” and where the LXX. either added these words or found them in the Hebrew text. The Messianic application of the word is natural in the latter passage, for there Jehovah is the speaker, and if the “him” is applied to the ideal Israel, the ideal Israel was the Jasher or “upright man,” and was the type of the Messiah. The Apostles and Evangelists always describe Christ as returning “with the Holy Angels” (Matthew 25:31; Mark 8:38), and describe “all Angels and authorities” as “subject unto Him” (1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 5:11-13).
And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.7. And of the angels he saith] Rather, “And, with reference to the Angels, He saith.” He has shewn that the title of “Son” is too special and too super-eminent to be ever addressed to Angels; he proceeds to shew that the Angels are but subordinate ministers, and that often God clothes them with “the changing garment of natural phenomena” transforming them, as it were, into winds and flames.
Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire] Rather, “who maketh His Angels winds,” for the Angels are already “spirits” (Hebrews 1:14). This must be the meaning here, though the words might also be rendered “Who maketh winds His messengers, and fiery flame His ministers.” This latter rendering, though grammatically difficult, accords best with the context of Psalm 104:4 where, however, the Targum has “Who maketh His messengers swift as winds, His ministers strong as flaming fire.” The Rabbis often refer to the fact that God makes His Angels assume any form He pleases, whether men (Genesis 18:2) or women (Zechariah 5:9) or wind or flame (Exodus 3:2; 2 Kings 6:17). Thus Milton says:
“For spirits as they please
Can either sex assume, or both; so soft
And uncompounded is their essence pure;
Not tied or manacled with joint or limb
Nor founded on the brittle strength of bones,
Like cumbrous flesh; but in what shape they choose
Dilated or condensed, bright or obscure,
Can execute their aery purposes.”
But that mutable and fleeting form of existence which is the glory of the Angels would be an inferiority in the Son. He could not be clothed, as they are at God’s will, in the fleeting robes of varying material phenomena. Calvin, therefore, is much too rash and hasty when he says that the writer here draws his citation into a sense which does not belong to it, and that nothing is more certain than that the original passage has nothing to do with angels. With a wider knowledge of the views of Philo, and other Rabbis, he would have paused before pronouncing a conclusion so sweepingly dogmatic. The “Hebrew” readers of the Epistle, like the writer, were evidently familiar with Alexandrian conceptions. Now in Philo there is no sharp distinction between the Logos (who is a sort of non-incarnate Messiah) and the Logoi who are sometimes regarded as Angels just as the Logos Himself is sometimes regarded as an Archangel (see Siegfried’s Philo, p. 22). The Rabbis too explained the “us” of Genesis 1:26 (“Let us make man”) as shewing that the Angels had a share in creation, see Sanhedrin, p. 38, 2. Such a passage as Revelation 19:10 may help to shew the reader that the proof of Christ’s exaltation above the Angels was necessary.
But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.8. But unto the Son he saith] Rather “But of (lit., with reference to) the Son.” The Psalm (45) from which the quotation is taken, is called in the LXX. “A song for the beloved,” and has been Messianically interpreted by Jewish as well as Christian expositors. Hence it is chosen as one of the special Psalms for Christmas Day.
Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever] The quotation is from Psalm 45:6-7 (LXX.) which in its primary and historic sense is a splendid epithalamium to Solomon, or Joram, or some theocratic king of David’s house. But in the idealism and hyperbole of its expression it pointed forward to “the King in His beauty.” “Thy throne, O Elohim,” is the rendering which seems most natural, and this at once evidences the mystic and ideal character of the language; for though judges and rulers are sometimes collectively and indirectly called Elohim (Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8; Psalms 73; John 10:34-36) yet nothing which approaches a title so exalted is ever given to a human person, except in this typical sense (as in Isaiah 9:6). The original, however, has been understood by some to mean “Thy divine throne;” and this verse maybe rendered “God is Thy throne for ever and ever.” Philo had spoken of the Logos as “the eldest Angel,” “an Archangel of many names” (De Conf. Ling. 28), and it was most necessary for the writer to shew that the Mediator of the New Covenant was not merely an Angel like the ministers of the Old, or even an Archangel, but the Divine Præ-existent Son whose dispensation therefore supersedes that which had been administered by inferior beings. The Targum on this Psalm (45:3) renders it “Thy beauty, O King Messiah, is greater than the sons of men,” and Aben Ezra says it refers not so much to David as to his son Messiah.
a sceptre of righteousness] Rather, “the sceptre of rectitude.” The Greek word is euthutçtos not dikaiosunçs, which is the word used in the next verse. “Euthutçs” occurs here only in the N.T.
of thy kingdom] The two oldest MSS. (א, B) read “of His kingdom.”
Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.9. Thou hast loved] Rather, “Thou lovedst”—idealising the whole reign to one point. Comp. Isaiah 32:1, “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness;” and Jeremiah 23:5, “I will raise unto David a righteous Branch.”
iniquity] Lit., “lawlessness.”
therefore] Comp. Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 2:16-17, Hebrews 5:7-8, Hebrews 12:2.
God, even thy God] The first word might be a vocative “Oh God,” and it is so rendered even by the Jewish translator Symmachus. But this is contrary to the usage of the 2nd Book of Psalms. Where the word “God” is taken up and repeated with the suffix, there is no other instance in which the first is a vocative.
even thy God] Comp. John 20:17, “I ascend to … my God and your God.”
the oil of gladness] Rather, “of exultation.” The word means the joy of perfect triumph, Hebrews 12:2. For the “anointing” of Christ by the Spirit see Luke 1:35; Matthew 3:16; Acts 10:38; Isaiah 61:1; but the anointing in this verse, alludes to His glorification in Heaven.
above thy fellows] In the original Psalm this refers to all contemporary princes; in its present application it means above all the angel-dwellers on Mount Sion (Hebrews 12:22) and above all men who have fellowship with God (Hebrews 3:14) only in Christ (Hebrews 2:11; 1 John 1:3).
And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:10. Thou, Lord, in the beginning] The quotation is from Psalm 102:25-27. The word “Lord” is not in the original, but it is in the LXX.; and the Hebrew Christians who already believed that it was by Christ that “God made the world” (see note on Hebrews 1:2) would not dispute the Messianic application of these words to Him. They are a prayer of the afflicted written at some late period of the exile. Calvin (on Ephesians 4:8) goes so far as to say of such passages that the Apostle “by a pious diversion of their meaning (piâ deflectione) accommodates them to the Person of Christ.” The remark illustrates the courageous honesty and stern good sense of the great Reformer; but no Jewish-Christian exegete would have thought that he was practising a mere pious misapplication of the sacred words, or have admitted the objection of Cardinal Cajetan that “in a matter of such importance it was unbecoming to use such an argument.” The writer’s object is not proof—which was for his readers unnecessary; he wished to illustrate acknowledged truths by admitted principles.
in the beginning] Heb. לְפָנִים, “face-wards,” i.e. of old.
They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;11. They shall perish] Isaiah 34:4, &c.; 2 Peter 3:12; Revelation 21:1. remainest] The verb means “abidest through all times.”
as doth a garment] A common Scripture metaphor. Isaiah 50:9, &c.
And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.12. shalt thou fold them up] Lit., “Thou shalt roll them up.” This reading (ἑλίξελς) is found in most MSS. and is perhaps an unconscious reminiscence of Isaiah 34:4 (comp. Revelation 6:14); but א, D read “thou shalt change them” (ἀλλάξεις), as in the original, and in the LXX. (Cod. Alex.). On this final consummation, and the destruction of the material universe, see Matthew 24:35; 2 Peter 3:7; Revelation 21:1.
thou art the same] In the Hebrew (literally) “Thou art He.”
thy years shall not fail] i.e. they shall never come to an end (Hebrews 13:8; Revelation 1:8).
But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?13. until I make thine enemies thy footstool] This same passage from Psalm 110:1 had been quoted by our Lord, in its Messianic sense, to the Scribes and Pharisees, without any attempt on their part to challenge His application of it (Matthew 22:41-44). It is also referred to by St Peter in Acts 2:34 and by St Paul (1 Corinthians 15:25). The Greek expression for “till” implies entire indefiniteness of time. The reference is to the oriental custom of putting the feet on the necks of conquered kings (Joshua 10:24).
Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?14. ministering spirits, sent forth to minister] Here as elsewhere the A. V. obliterates distinctions, which it so often arbitrarily creates out of mere love for variety in other places. The word “ministering” (leitourgika) implies sacred (“liturgic”) service (Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 9:21); the word “ministry” (diakonian) implies service to God on behalf of men. It should be rendered “ministrant spirits sent forth for service.”
“How oft do they their silver bowers leave
And come to succour us who succour want,
How oft do they with golden pinions cleave
The flitting skies like flying pursuivant,
Against foul fiends to aid us militant!
They for us fight, they watch and duly ward
And their bright squadrons round about us plant,
And all for love and nothing for reward.
Oh! why should heavenly God for men have such regard.”
for them who shall be heirs of salvation] Literally, “for the sake of those who are about to inherit salvation.” The salvation is both the state of salvation here, and its full fruition hereafter. When we are “justified by God’s grace” we are “made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). Spenser widens the mission of the Angels when he speaks of
“Highest God, who loves His creatures so
That blessed Angels He sends to and fro
To serve to wicked men—to serve His deadliest foe.”
For Scriptural instances of the service of Angels “to them that fear God” see Psalm 34:7; Psalm 91:11; Genesis 19:15; Daniel 6:22; Acts 12:7.
sent forth] Lit., “being sent forth.” The ministry of Angels is regarded as still continuing.
heirs of salvation] The writer recurs to this great word “salvation” in Hebrews 2:3; Hebrews 2:10.