Friday, March 18, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 6

To start with the first lesson in the series, click here.

Better than the Angels (continued)

Here, again, is the next verse that the Writer quotes:

And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, "And let all the angels of God worship Him." (Hebrews 1:6, NASB 95)

Now here is where this quotation is interesting. Many of our Bible translations say that the Writer here quotes from Psalm 97:7:

Let all those be ashamed who serve graven images, Who boast themselves of idols; Worship Him, all you gods. (Psalm 97:7)

How does one get from "worship Him, all you gods" to "let all the angels of God worship Him?" The context of Psalm 97:7 is idolatry and the fact that what ever beings are behind the idols should themselves worship God. The word for "gods" is elohim which means "gods." Even application of the rabbinic interpretive modes makes the connection between Hebrews 1:6 and Psalm 97:7 hard to swallow.

Fortunately, there is a better candidate. Here is Deuteronomy 32:43:

Rejoice, O nations, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And will render vengeance on His adversaries, And will atone for His land and His people. (Deuteronomy 32:43)

And how, you might be saying, is this better? The answer is this. Our Old Testament translations rely most on the Masoretic text--and that is what is translated above. However, the Writer of Hebrews, and the other New Testament authors, used the Septuagint. The Septuagint adds a phrase to the above verse such that it would read like this:

Rejoice, O nations, with His people; and let all the angels worship him; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And will render vengeance on His adversaries, And will atone for His land and His people. (Deuteronomy 32:43)

Now you can see the phrase that the Writer quotes. It is worth noting that the Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts also have this reading. For me this is more likely to be the source for Hebrews 1:6. You can see the roles of the Son in this passage and they match up well with Jesus ministry:

  • He will avenge the blood of his servants. See Revelation 6:10.
  • He will render vengeance to his adversaries
  • He will atone for his people.

The origins of this Old Testament quote raise an interesting issue. Here we have a case of a New Testament author quoting an Old Testament passage using a translation based on a different manuscript than that used by our common Old Testament translations. The Writer of Hebrews quotes from the Septuagint, an early Jewish translation of the Old Testament into Hebrew. This is interesting in and of itself--and for those who are comfortable with the work of textual criticism to derive modern Greek and Hebrew manuscripts it is no big deal. But I would submit that it should properly challenge those who hold to the doctrine of the "received text" by which God supernaturally worked to preserve just the manuscript of the Bible that He wanted and this special manuscript culminated in the King James Translation of the Bible in 1611. Those who hold to the received text consider revisions to the text of subsequent King James translations to the heretical--and the text used by modern translations are from the pit of hell. To see a balanced treatment of this subject visitThe Majority Text and the Original Text: Are They Identical? and for an over the top unbalanced treatment see The New International Perversion Most of the issues raised in the second reference are based on manuscript differences between the 1611 King James Version and the text used by good modern translations. In any case, here in Hebrews 1:6, the issue comes into focus. The Writer quotes from other than the "received text."

There are several conclusions that I can draw from this. First, the New Testament authorizes the use of translations to disseminate the Scriptures. This seems obvious today, but it was not obvious in the past--in 1536 William Tyndale was strangled and then his body burned for translating the Scriptures into English. The Septuagint, in fact, was a key element to the spread of the gospel, because the message of the Old Testament was readily available to the Greek speaking world of that day. Second, the biblical texts that we have today have undergone some small alteration through the centuries. Rather than strke fear in our hearts that they are, therefore, unrelible, the proliferation of alternate readings is an encouragement--precisely because the percentage of variant readings is so small. We have a record of fatihful tranmission of the scriptures. Third, a study of the variant readings is the key to deriving a text that is very close to the original.

Tomorrow, I will continue working through these scriptures that proclaim the Son as better than the angels

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

Don Curtis


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10:33 PM  

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