The Book of Hebrews Challenges anyone that tries to water down the divinity of Christ

Over the next few weeks I am going to start to also blog about the book of Hebrews. I wrote this as a hobby over a period of time. I meditated on the Greek scriptures Turkish and English. I hope it blesses people and brings them closer to the Light of the World, Our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Hebrews

This commentary is aimed at the Turkish speaking Christian community. Obviously in the English speaking world there are many commentaries on the book of Hebrews. Yet I think that when doing any piece of academic work it is easy to forget the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of the various speakers of languages.

At the next level it will be aimed towards pastors who take care of the church. The Turkish church in its theological mindset from my perspective, is that it is only in its infancy. Commentaries are needed to deal with issues that concern the believers today. Yet, a commentary needs to go further and deal with the ‘unseen’ issues of the text. Although the ‘plain meaning of the text’ as Luther have us believe is not always as clear as we would like it. Pastors have a need to have access to the original languages.

From a social angle I would also like it to be read by the Muslim community. Yes, this is a work within the bounds of Christendom but I would like to think that our Muslim neighbours would think of us as neighbours in terms of the ‘golden rule’. Both Muslim and Christian communities begin with God as the Creator. We both also seek to ‘submit’ to the will of God in various ways. At the level of ‘Muslim’ the word can be appropriated towards the Christian as much as to the Muslim.

In the Koran the word Allah is also related to the word Elohim which is the plural form. Although please note that even the singular form Eloah is found in the book of Job which is the earliest book of the Bible.

So then, what is the hub that separates Christians from Muslims. Let us not go to secondary issues such as the nature of revelation, let us go to the central question:

Who is Jesus?

Muslims say that Jesus was one of the greatest prophets and that at the last day the Day of the Lord he will return.

For Christians the answer is different, Jesus is fully God and fully man.

Obviously this is a shocking statement for the Muslim. The book of Hebrews was written to the early Christians before the time of the Koran here on earth, it challenges the notion that Jesus was just a prophet.

If you are a Muslim, you read this book at your own risk because it will challenge a lot of your assumptions and you may become a Christian, a real Muslim in the line of the promises that were given to Abraham. However one thing I promise to the Muslim in this writing is that even though I don’t agree with his/her position the utmost respect is given to him/her and his/her beliefs. No animosity is intended. I will go a stage further and say that at places Muslim theologians have a lot to teach us within the bounds of Christendom. As saint Paul said we see through a glass dimly. Even with the scriptures we are not perfected until we are taken into heaven itself. Humility on both sides is a pre-requisite for learning. This commentary is not a polemical work, it is an educational work that is a challenge for both Muslims and Christians. From the Christian point of view on the person of Jesus ‘no compromise will be given’. I hope that the Muslim reader will respect this and take the challenge. If all that is accomplished is more tolerance then this is a stage forward.

Chapter 1

The opening verses of Hebrews gives us the theme and agenda for the whole book. ‘That in these last days God has spoken to us in His Son’. Throughout this book the speech of God is unfolded. From this point of view the commentary sets out on an incredible journey of discovery to find out the meaning of this holy scripture. We must begin and say that Hebrews is couched in the culture and language of Hebraic and Hellenic rhetoric. It seems so far removed from the modern world yet for the follower of Christ it is a jewel of spiritual inspiration. We don’t even know who the writer was (although I personally think Apollos wrote it).

In verses 1-4 we do not find any full stop until the end of verse 4. This is a significant point because it shows a single argument. It is trying to explain to some Jewish Christians that they should stay faithful to Christ. Serious assumptions are made in these four verses in which the readers are expected to agree with. Whatever the case might be, the writer to the Hebrews knows his OT inside out and the Greek in these verses also reflect a training in some Hellenic school of thought (Alexandria).

The first assumption he makes in verse one is that God spoke to the Jewish nation through the prophets to the leaders. The second verse works this out. Yet it goes a stage further and explains that in the ‘Son’ God has spoken his final and ultimate word. This is backed up with the statement that all things exist because of and through the Son.

Obviously this is no small claim because it is a statement that goes to the heart of a central motif, namely the motif of Kingship that is found in the Royal Psalms.

Verse 1. At the end of this claim we find out the reason for the existence of all things is because of the Son. The Son is a title of Royal kingship and the original readers of the OT would have understood it as such. The relation of Jesus to God the Father must always be understood in terms of the OT and especially that of the Messianic Psalms such as Ps110/1, “YHWH says to Adonay sit at my right hand…” Or in the LXX no difference is made between Kurios and Kurios!

To the Jewish Christians who read this letter, they would have known the Greek version rather than the Hebrew version. Both versions carry equal authority. In sum the source of the Trinitarian theology is found here in the OT.

Verse 3. So then, royal Kingship is the contextual understanding for the identity of the Son. It is only in this context that we start to comprehend verse three. Here the writer is trying to explain the relation of the Father to the Son. On reflection the main reason I think that the writer is struggling to explain the uniqueness of the Son in relation to the Father is because we have crossed the boundary of our natural and physical understanding to the realm of the meta-physical.

Chapter 1 A summary of our findings.

Although there are scholars who would choose to water down the divinity of Christ in this book we are not of that school. They are mistaken. The writer starts from the side of the infinite ‘heaven’. Jesus is fully God and that is the only way that the introduction can be interpreted. The writer does not speak of the angels being the ‘radiance of God’s glory’. Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory. The whole argument in chapters 1 and 2 proves that Jesus is greater than the angels. In the order of creation angels were placed in the presence of God… Yet Jesus is greater than the angels. Jesus is no ordinary prophet. It was the Father’s good pleasure to create the universe through and for the Son (Heb1/2- Jn1/3)So then the mystery:

‘Jesus is fully God’.

The movement of thought in this epistle is in terms of who Jesus was starts from an infinite category.

Verse 3. Jesus is not ‘compared’ to the Majesty on High but is given the seat of Honour.1 Jesus is referred to as sitting ‘on the right hand’. There is no language of comparison only symbolism of power and authority. God’s goodness to the universe is channelled through the son not angels.

The next movement of thought is Jesus being moved into the infinite categories.

Verse4 sets the agenda for the rest of the chappter. Jesus has ‘inherited’ a more excellent name than the angels. The word inheritance conveys the idea of ‘rightful ownership’. The angels could not be spoken of in terms of ‘inheritance’. Angels could only be servants.

Verse 5. There are two quotations in this verse and they are both Messianic (that is they relate to the king of Israel). Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7.14. Both of the quotations point towards the relationship of the father and the Son within the Godhead.

Some scholars have suggested that these quotations were taken in some sort of haphazard way… This is not the case…………….

Verse 6. Here is a quotation from verse from Psalm 97.7. I assume he is using the LXX that the angels are expected to worship Jesus! If the Writer was to use the Masoretic text the meaning would be even sharper than angels!! That the ‘gods’ are expected to worship Jesus. The Hebrew word here is Elohim. Although Elohim can be translated as angels, it may not always be the situation. You need to realize that some of these writings go back into almost pre-history in which El was used in the sense of the ‘titular head of the gods’. Clay tablets have been found which show this to be the case. Thus I would argue for the reading of ‘gods’ rather than angels.

Verses 7-13. The writer in these verses is pushing the point home that was found in verse 6. The bottom line is that Jesus is God the angels are only servants. The writer does not compromise on this belief.

Verses 7 8. Make sure you don’t miss the contrast here;

verse 7 ‘and of the angel he says’. Then the quotation (according to Barclay in ancient Jewish tradition angels could become pure etheral creatures). More importantly angels are still only ‘servants’.

Verse 8 The quotation about the Son is very strong, ‘But of the son he says thy throne O God…’ According to this reading Jesus is called both ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ (Ellingworth commentary page 122).

Verses 9-12 The evidence of Jesus as ‘God’ grows as the writer heaps up the ‘and’ words. See the beginning of verse 10 (kai=and at the beginning of the sentence. The beginning of verse 12 is the same another ‘and’). If one reads especially Psalm 102 verses 125 and 126 one can see the divinity status of the king.

Verse 13 This forms the ‘inclusion of his argument in which sarcastically the writer says But to which of the angels… relating Psalm 110 to Jesus and not the angels…

Verse 14 The writer at this point has proven that Jesus is God and is then able in verse 14 to say that the angels are only ‘servants’.

This summarises his findings. The point has been made that Jesus is greater than the angels. You can see that these verses were not chosen by accident. All these verses point to the messiah.

Excursus: A question to the philosophers of kalam.

When looking at the truth of religion, the categories of the infinite and finite must always be taken seriously. The categories of the eternal and that of the contingent, religionists would argue that revelation takes place when the eternal and finite touch, which allows the ‘moment’ of touching to take a most profound meaning for our human lives, making it possible for us to have life in the presence of Allah/ Eloah/ Elohim/ Elgibor. The eternal taking on physical formis an aspect that touches most religion.

In Hinduism the divine resides in the murti. The Koran is also seen as coming from heaven and taking on physical form.

The charge has been made that Christians have commited shirk… (the unpardonable sin). The unpardonable sin is allowing an earthly category to touch the divine. But is it not also the case that the Koran from heaven takes on physical form in this world and the same charge can be placed on Muslims?

The answer of course is that Muslims have not committed shirk and neither have the Christians!

I am not interested in winning a polemical argument because using logical categories it is so easy to put down someone elses point of view. All I am asking is that we meet on the ground of piety and show respect for each others beliefs (even if we don’t agree).

This is not a negation of our beliefs because in the domain of public conversation we are talking about our future destiny which takes us either into God’s presence or away from God’s presence. We are talking about fellowship with God which is the most serious issue in the universe.

In the context which the writer to the Hebrews was writing, it is possible that some of these Jewish Christians were involved in angel worship. It was very important that the writer pointed the readers to the Son, true God of true God, true light from true light.

For Christians as with Muslims, belief in the one true God is of primary importance. The paths separate only at the point when we try to understand this Unity. Thus Aquinas and al Ghazali could believe and agree on the ninety nine names of God. The problem came at the place of understanding this Unity. For Christians there are eternal relations within the unity. For Islamic theology there is only unity.

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