The One “Through Whom He Made the Ages”: A Key Characterization of Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews?
Much of the Epistle to the Hebrews deals with Jesus the high priest, according to the order of Melchizedek (5:6-10; 6:20 and 7:1-17). He makes sacrifice for sin and enters behind the heavenly veil (9:11). Perhaps less scholarly attention has hitherto been given to the more celestial depiction of the Son in the Epistle’s exordium. Whilst God spoke in many parts and in many ways through the prophets, he has now spoken, in the last of these days, through a Son, whom he has appointed heir: the Son through whom he made the ages (1:2).
This paper will look at the significance, as the exordium unfolds, of the reference to the Son as God’s agent in creation. It will discuss the possible appearance of an ascent/descent motif at this juncture and how that may be connected to previous Wisdom traditions, such as those found in Wis 7:25-27; 18:15 and Prov 8:22-30. It will also examine the use of the term ἀπαύγασμα (1:3) and how Hebrews is potentially clothing the Son in the garb of Wisdom, in order to stress continuity between its claims and the revelation made to Israel in the past. The paper will investigate the significance of the depiction of the Son as “the one through whom he made the ages” (1:2).
The Son Who Became Son: Messiah, Exaltation, and Divine Christology in Hebrews
Hebrews’ use of “son” to describe Jesus poses a number of puzzles. On the one hand, “son” seems to be a designation Jesus acquired at his exaltation (1:4–5; 5:5). On the other, he is described as being “son” in the course of his life on earth (5:7–8). Further, “son” is clearly linked to messianic office (cf. Ps 2:7 and 2 Sam 7:14 in Heb 1:5). Yet in 1:2–3, 1:10–12 (cf. 1:8), and 3:1–6, Jesus’ identity as “son” is explicated in terms that arguably include him within the identity of God. Further, in 7:3, that Melchizedek is made like the “son of God” is an inference not only from his unending life, but from his having no “beginning of days.” This suggests that, for Hebrews, Jesus’ “sonship” extends from eternity to eternity. How then might we make sense of this paradoxically multifaceted use of “son” in Hebrews? This paper will argue that “son” is both a designation of divine identity and an office in which Jesus is instated at his exaltation. Jesus is one who both is “son” eternally and becomes “son” at the fulfillment of his saving mission. Further, I will argue that, in Hebrews’ vision, the messianic office which Jesus enters is not merely that of a highly exalted man, but one that only one who is divine can fulfil. In other words, even in its messianic sense, “son” is not merely a functional designation. Finally, drawing on recent studies by Scott Mackie, Sean McDonough, and Amy Peeler, I will suggest that Hebrews charts a conceptual fit between the son’s particular mode of divine existence and the messianic office he enacts in his saving mission. The divine son is uniquely suited to become the messianic son because of who he is by nature.
Intra-divine Discourse and the New Covenant in Hebrews
Few can deny the centrality of the “new covenant” discourse in Hebrews 8–10 for understanding this epistle. Beginning with a summary of the argument thus far (8.1–6) that transitions into an extended quotation of Greek Jeremiah 38.31–34 (Heb 8.7–13), Hebrews 9 then elucidates the ineffectiveness of the “old” covenant as well as its connections to the “new.” This culminates in the presentation of the “new” in its own right—its solution to the problem that the “blood of bulls and goats” is unable to “take away sins” (10.1–4). Even though this text receives frequent mention in scholarship on Hebrews, one neglected feature is the portrayal of intra-divine discourse that takes place in these chapters. This paper will offer a summary of Hebrews 8–10 with a particular focus on the words of Jewish Scripture spoken by Father, Son, and Spirit to demonstrate how this presentation of the new covenant “in conversation” is essential to the author’s characterization of these divine participants. First, Jeremiah 38.31–34 is not merely “cited,” but spoken. The author presents the words of God himself as he reveals his desire for a new covenant. Later, in Hebrews 10.5–7, the Son accepts the Father’s will and enters the world as the effective offering. Moreover, this conversation is then explicitly “testified to us” by the Holy Spirit in 10.15–17 with a repetition of Jeremiah 38.33–34. The Spirit’s speech offers a truncated version of the quotation that includes what appear to be the most salient points for the contemporary audience. Therefore, in this unit of text, the Father, Son, and Spirit speak, offering the readers of Hebrews a glimpse into the establishment of the new covenant from a divine perspective.
The Blood of Goats and Calves…and Bulls? An Allusion to Isa 1:11 LXX in Heb 10:4
Hebrews 9:12–10:4 describes the blood of the first covenant in four related yet distinct ways. The blood is first identified as the blood of “goats and calves” (9:12), then as the blood of “goats and bulls” (9:13), next as “calves [and goats]” (9:19), and finally, “bulls and goats” (10:4). Despite these transpositions and shifts from μόσχος to ταῦρος in 9:13 and 10:4, the changes usually elicit little comment from interpreters. When the changes are noted, the differences are often attributed to the author’s imprecision or dwindling concern for the actual practice of Yom Kippur, which in the (i.e. Rahlfs’) LXX depicts μόσχος and χίμαρος, not ταῦρος and τράγος, as the sacrificial animals used in Leviticus 16. The argument, however, is rarely brought into conversation with the various manuscripts of the Septuagint and other second temple Jewish sources. In my paper, I will interact with these sources and argue that these four phrases suggest a continued interest in the practice of Yom Kippur as well as a carefully crafted pattern that builds into a scriptural allusion to Isa 1:11 LXX in Heb 10:4. This allusion, while briefly considered by J. Cecil McCullough, has never been thoroughly defended, and appears to reinforce the author’s criticism of repetitive sacrifices (cf. Heb 9:25, 10:3, 10:8) and may build a new critique into the author’s argument, namely, that the priests and people of ancient Israel offered sacrifices while mired in injustice and hypocrisy.
The Cosmological Role of The Son in Heb. 1:3
Hebrews 1:1-4 culminates, by means of a chiastic structure, in the grand Christological assertions of v.3ab: ὃς ὤν ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ, φέρων τε τὰ πάντα τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ. Previous scholarship regarding the verse has frequently been concerned with the first of these clauses, attempting to decipher precisely what is meant when the Son is referred to as ‘the radiance of the glory of God, the imprint of his being.’ This paper attempts to engage with the somewhat overlooked second clause, concerned with the Son’s cosmological role, seeking to answer the four commonly ignored issues that this clause raises. First what is meant by τὰ πάντα? Second, how are we to understand the use of φέρω here? Third, to whom does the ‘word of power’ belong - Christ or God? And fourth what, if anything, is the significance of the use of ῥῆμα instead of λόγος?
Having done so, this paper asserts that the Son’s cosmological role in v. 3b is to provide the conditions necessary for the totality of both time and space to continue to exist, whilst simultaneously carrying creation forward towards the age that is yet to come. Significantly - and here the paper argues contrary to many exegetes on the issue - this paper seeks to demonstrate that the ‘word of power’ belongs primarily to God (ὁ θεός from v. 2), and not to the Son himself, who merely uses it as an instrument to fulfil his cosmological duties. This paper’s most important contribution to our understanding of Hebrews, then, is to recapture the cosmological dimension of the Christology of the text, and to question the prevalent assumption that Christ can be equated with ‘the word of God’ in 1:3b.
Does Hebrews contain Jewish Allegory?
Is the author of Hebrews a Jewish allegorist? Does this help explain its use of the Psalms and of Melchizedek, or of the alleged Platonic elements in the letter? The question has been answered with decisive rejections, wholehearted affirmations, and everything in between. The sheer variety of apparently “certain” answers to the question point to a problem inherent within it. The problem is the insecure definition of the term “allegorist” - what is allegory, and how does it relate to either Second Temple Judaism or early Christianity?
Work over the past decade by many scholars – particularly Susan Docherty in New Testament – and Peter T. Struck in Classics – has opened up the discussion. This paper will first seek to define “allegory” in a way self-defining ancient allegorists would have recognized – as a variety of methods of figural reading, often moving comfortably and instinctively between more and less “literal” interpretations. It will then dispute the common dichotomy made between “native” Jewish techniques of interpretation and “imported” Hellenistic ones, both on the basis of the impossibility of strict delineation and on the basis that it presupposes an opposition – instead it will argue that it was perfectly proper for a self-consciously faithful Jew to utilise both “native” and “Hellenizing” techniques – and for them not to see any distinction between the two.
The paper will conclude by returning to its start. It will argue that a new, holistic definition of the term “allegory”, combined with a recognition of the embeddedness of faithful Jews in their wider culture, allows us to better explain the more distinctive interpretive moves made by the author of Hebrews, and to offer some account for the apparent contradiction of semi-Platonic terminology being used for Jewish apocalyptic material in the Epistle.