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

Thursday, March 17, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 5

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

Better than the Angels (continued)

The Writer is presenting scriptural evidence that the Son is superior to the angels. By "angels" the Writer means all persons, ways, and means by which God has communicated with His people before communicating in His Son. The Writer has begun this section by writing:

For to which of the angels did He ever say, "You are My Son, Today I have begotten You"? And again, "I will be a Father to Him And He shall be a Son to Me"? (Hebrews 1:5, NASB95)

As I noted yesterday, the Writer quotes from Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel. I also gave evidence that the 2 Samuel passage and possibly Psalm 2 were not direct prophecies, but rather hints about the coming of the Son. Another way to put this is these are not predictive prophecies as much as that they are descriptive. In still other words, no one could read 2 Samuel 7:14 and predict that the coming Messiah would be God's Son--the prediction is prevented by God's saying, "when he sins" and it cannot be said that the future Son sinned. However, 2 Samuel 7:14 passage derives its descriptive legitimacy from the following event:

Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" But Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." (Matthew 3:13-17)

Historically the Father did what the Writer of Hebrews claims: He named Jesus as His Son. Once this was done and the identification made, the associations between 2 Samuel 7:14 and Jesus become too strong to ignore. It becomes impossible to read 2 Samuel 7:14 and not think about Solomon and Jesus. And so we see that for the Son:

  • He is a descendant of David
  • God will establish His kingdom.
  • The Son will build a house for God's Name.
  • The throne of His Kingdom will endure forever.

It is worth noting that the Writer will amplify each of these themes in the coming chapters.

Here is the Writer's next comparison between the Son and the angels:

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

This Old Testament quotation also has a interesting spin to it. This I will address tomorrow.

Test Everything. Cling to what is good.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 4

To start with the first lesson, click here.

Greater Than the Angels

The Writer has finished his resume of the Son by whom in these last days God has spoken. Please note that the Son has not yet been identified with Jesus--that does not come until chapter 3. Either the Writer assumes his readers already know or he is trying to make a case without pushing an emotional button. In other words, for those who do not yet know about whom he refers, the Writer is providing information and is working to create curiosity and interest--before becoming controversial. Those who know hardly notice that the name is missing. Alternatively, this Son has inherited a more excellent name than the angels and, thus, associating Him with His human-side name, Jesus, is premature--the Writer is promoting the wonders of the Son.

God has now spoken in a Son. In case you did not catch it, this Son is superior than all the various ways and people that have spoken before. These "angels' or messengers have been men and women, dreams, visions, and angels proper. We must understand that the Son is far better. For those who need Biblical support of this concept, the Writer turns to the Old Testament to make his case:

For to which of the angels did He ever say, "You are My Son, Today I have begotten You"? And again, "I will be a Father to Him And He shall be a Son to Me"? (Hebrews 1:5, NASB95)

The Writer begins by claiming that the Old Testament reveals that God has a Son. He quotes from Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel. It is worth looking at the references in context.

First Psalm 2:

Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, "Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!"

He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, "But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain."

I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, "You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware."

Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence And rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Psalm 2:1-12)

Now 2 Samuel 7:

Now therefore, thus you shall say to My servant David, "Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make you a great name, like the names of the great men who are on the earth. I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly, even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. The Lord also declares to you that the Lord will make a house for you. When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever." In accordance with all these words and all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David. (2 Samuel 7:8-17)

The Psalm 2 passage has clear references to a future Messiah and we can be comfortable that the Psalm intends to speak of the coming Jesus. This is not universally held--I have read some who say that the ancient Israelites referred to their kings as "God's son." The 2 Samuel passage, however, presents us with some problems. Contextually, it is hard not to understand that the Lord here refers to David's son, Solomon, rather than some future king. This is underscored by the phrase, "when he commits iniquity, I will correct him." It is impossible to connect this statement with the Son through whom God made the world. What gives? In fact, since 2 Samuel connects the king with God's son, should we not also go back to Psalm 2 and down-grade its messianic significance? Yet, the Writer of Hebrews is using these verses to make his point, so is his point even valid? Surely he knows the broader context and we can certainly assume that anyone who disagreed with his conclusions would expose him at this point. Why has the book carried forward its message?

The answer is that Jewish rabbis through the centuries have recognized that a passage of scripture can carry multiple levels of meaning. So even if 2 Samuel 7 and possibly Psalm 2 speak principally of earthly kings who have lived and died, it may also hint at a future son of God who is truly God's son. When that layer of meaning is discerned, you are then free to view other elements of the text in this greater light. Thus when the Lord through Nathan says, "I will raise up your descendant after you ... and I will establish his throne forever" we are told something remarkable about Jesus the Messiah and His kingdom. So when you read 2 Samuel and understand it initially to refer to Solomon, you are taking its simple sense. The rabbis refer to this as the P'SHAT sense. When you see beyond the primary sense and see the future Son, you recognize that the text hints at this truth. The rabbis refer to this as a REMEZ or hint. I strongly recommend that you read my complete study of rabbinic interpretive modes before continuing on with this study of Hebrews. You will not be able to fully appreciate the Writer's use of scripture without this foundation. The paper is called Hints, Allegories, and Mysteries: The New Testament Quotes the Old and is found on the Biblical Studies Foundation web site.

More tomorrow.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

Monday, March 14, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 3

To start at the beginning, click here.

So God has spoken to us though His Son. Hebrew's author now provides his resume:

in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. (Hebrews 1:2-4, NASB 95)

Behold the Son:

  • Appointed heir of all things:Because of His obedience to the Father in coming to planet earth and offering Himself as an offering for sin, all the stars, galaxies, people, things, and authority belong to Him. In effect, He is now in charge.
  • The constructor of the universe: The Writer tells us that God made the world through Him. Thus the Father had the plan and the Son implemented the plan. The creation moments all begin with "And God said..." The action of the Son is all wrapped up in the word "said." That is why John later tells us, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (John 1:1-3)" Note that if the world was made through the Son, it means that the Son is eternal: outside of time and space.
  • Seeing the Son is seeing the Father: This is why a study of the gospels is crucial to understanding the rest of the Bible, in my opinion. We need to get to know Jesus and how He reacts to events and situations and use that knowledge to properly color our understanding of events and situations in the Old Testament and in the rest of the New Testament.
  • He maintatins the creation: This verse blows deism away. Deism is that view of God by which He created the universe and let it run off on its own. If Jesus "upholds all things by the word of His power," then the universe needs constant attention. The concept also connects, in concept, with Genesis's "God said" and John's, "in the beginning was the Word." That is the universe is maintained through command.
  • He made purification of sins: It follows that if the Son is responsible for maintaining the universe, that He would be part of the solution to the "sin" that arose on earth. He made purification for it and by doing so brought great esteem for Himself. Hebrews has much to say about this.
  • He sits at the Father's right hand: This seems to be saying that this is a new postion that He earned by making puriifcation of sins. I think that it may be more correct to say that He resumed His place at the right hand of the Father.
  • He has inherited a name far better than the angels: "Angels" is a broad term. It includes the prophets, the burning bushes, and the angels that appeared and spoke to men. These are all the past messengers. By saying that Jesus has inherited a "better name" the Writer affirms, yet again, that the message is clearer and more potent and from a superior source than any that came before. Indeed, there is not likely to be a better messenger in the future. The Son is the last word.

The last point in the Writer's resume of the Son transitions the book to its first Biblical defense of the Writer's points. This topic, I will pick up tomorrow.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.