Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews 978-0800660215

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Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

Table of contents :
The Epistle to the Hebrews
Foreword XI
Preface Xlll
Reference Codes XV
1. Sources and Abbreviations XV
2. Short Titles of Commentaries,
Studies, and Articles Often Cited XXlll
Editor's Note XXIX
1. Authorship 1
2. Date 6
3. Addressees 9
4. Literary Characteristics of
Hebrews 13
5. The Aim and Message of Hebrews 21
6. Hebrews, judaism, and Early
Christianity 28
7. The Text of Hebrews 31
Commentary 1:1-4 Exordium 35
1:5-14 A Catena of Scriptures: The Son and
the Angels 49
Excursus: Sonship in Hebrews 54
2:1-4 Paraenetic Interlude: The Danger of
Falling Away 63
2:5-9 The Subjection and Glorification of the
Son 69
2:10-18 High-Priestly Perfection through
Suffering 78
Excursus: The Christological Pattern of
2:10-18 79
Excursus: The Language of"Perfection" 83
Excursus: The Antecedents and
Development of the High-Priestly
Christology 97
3:1-6 The Fidelity of the Son 104
3:7-19 A Summons to Fidelity 113
4:1-11 A Summons to Fidelity (continued) 122
Excursus: The Image of Entry into Rest 126
4:12-13 A Rhapsody on God's Penetrating
Word 133
4:14-5:10 The Merciful Son and High Priest 137
Excursus: Priesthood and Sonship 146
5:11-6:3 Paraenesis: Move on to Perfection 155
6:4-12 Words of Warning and Hope 166
Excursus: The Impossibility of Repentance
for Apostates 168
6:13-20 God's Oath: A Confirmation of Hope 178
Excursus: The Veil and Its Symbolism 184
7:1-10 Melchizedek, Christ, and the Levitical
Priests 186
Excursus: Melchizedek 192
7:11-19 A New Priest and a New Order 198
Excursus: Hebrews, Paul, and the Law 204
7:20-28 The Eternal High Priest 206
8:1-6 The Sacrifice of the Heavenly High
Priest 216
Excursus: The Heavenly Temple and Its
Significance 222
8:7-13 The Promise of a New Covenant 225
9:1-10 The Cult of the Old Covenant 230
Excursus: The Anomalies of Hebrews 9:2-4
and Numbers 236
9:11-14 The Heavenly Cult of the New
Covenant 244
9:15-22 The Inaugural Sacrifice of the New
Covenant 253
9:23-28 The Heavenly Sacrifice of the New
Covenant 260
10:1-10 The Earthly Sacrifice of the New
Covenant 267
10:11-18 Summary: The Results of Christ's
Sacrifice 278
10:19-25 Transitional Paraenesis 283
10:26-31 A Warning Renewed 292
10:32-39 A Renewed Word of Hope 297
11:1-7 An Encomium on Faith 305
Excursus: Faith in Hebrews and
Contemporary Literature 311
11:8-12 The Faith of Abraham and Sarah 321
11:13-16 The Heavenly Homeland 328
11:17-22 Faith from Abraham to Joseph 333
11:23-31 The Faith of Moses and the Israelites 338
11:32-40 Faith in Persecution 346
12:1-3 The Endurance of Faith's Perfecter 353
12:4-13 Suffering as Discipline 359
12:14-17 A Renewed Warning 366
12:18-24 Sinai and Zion 371
12:25-29 A Final Warning 378
13:1-6 The Life of Peace and Sanctity 384
13:7-19 True Worship 390
Excursus: Strange Teachings and Foods 394
13:20-25 Benediction and Farewell 404
Bibliography 413
1. Commentaries 413
2. Studies 415
Indices 425
1. Passages 425
2. Greek Words 430
3. Subjects 432
4. Modern Authors 433
Designer's Notes 438

Citation preview


by Harold W. Attridge

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A Critical




on the


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Praise fo r Attridge's Hebrews "This commentary is comprehensive, well-written , exhibits balanced and carefully nuanced judgments throughout , and is genuinely enhanced by fourteen excurses . ... Its philological and literary rigor is matched by a sensitivity to theological issues; it will not easi ly be surpassed . It belongs in the library ot every serious student ot the New Testament." - David Aune, Journal of Biblical Literature "In short, this is a very full , comprehensive and illuminating commentary, which can on ly enhance the reputation ot the series ." -Robert Mel. Wilson, Scottish Journal of Theology "Dr Attridge ... displays a comprehensive acquaintance with the literature on Hebrews up to the time ot his writing the commenta ry, and has made a judicious evaluation o f it. His commentary is lull ot references to other commentaries and to articles in periodicals, but these refe rences are always relevant and informa t ive, and subservient to his own exposition .... The commentary maintains the high Hermeneia standard ." -F. f Bruce, Journal of Theological Studies "As a specialist in Greco-Roman philosophy, Hellenistic Judaism and Gnosticism, Attridge has been able to draw on a great fund ot relevant ancient literature. In the body ot the commentary all problems are considered with great fairness, with ample attention to opposing views . The re is no doubt that this book will be a major resource for all serious students of Hebrews for a long time to come ... Thus this great commentary provides a sure founda t ion tor furthe r studies . It is in every way a notable achievement. " -Barnabas Lindars, SSF. Biblica "The work is marked by enormous erudition, uncommonly balanced judgments on critical issues, and a sophisticated but economical, lucid, and engaging style ot writing ... No responsible student of Hebrews w ill ever be able to work with this text again without careful recourse to and interaction with Attridge's commentary. The NT 'guild' owes Attridge praise and thanks :· -Marion L. Soards, Catholic Biblical Quarterly "Attridge's research is impressively comprehensive ; his evaluations are succinct and clear; his disagreements with other scholars are expressed graciously and supported by reasoning. Attridge is adept in retaining what is good from views he does not accept, and so frequently he offers readers a broad, centrist interpretation, escaping idiosyncrasy. This is a commentary worthy of serious discussion-the best that exists in English . . " - Raymond E. Brown, S S., Theological Studies "This magnificent commentary is a major achievement, a worthy addition to the Hermeneia series. I hope hundreds ot copies end up in pastoral libraries . This most pastoral epistle has much to contribute to contemporary preaching in an age that often seems to lack strong , enduring commitment. Attridge will help one to grasp that contribution and use it." -Edgar Krentz, Currents in Theology and Mission


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GMIA£tv .vTp&.,.oi~ Kat .,.o>.vp.&pq,o1~ XPwp.£vov Tal~ p.ETaf3o>.al~ (what we perceive is characterized by) "changes manifold and multiform"; or Maxim us ofTyre Diss. 1.2b and 11.7a. Cf. also Philo Vit. Mos. 1.117. Cf. Demosthenes Third Philippic 110: .,.o>.>.wv, w ll.vlipt~ 'A8.,walo1, >.&ywv i''i'vop.£vwv, "Since, 0 men of Athens, there have been many discussions on this topic." Cf. also Dionysius of Halicarnassus De oratoribus antiquis 1.1; Sir 1: 1; and Luke 1: I. The construal of the terms as synonymous is found already in patristic treatments of the verse. Cf. Clement of Alexandria Strom. 1.4.27 ,1; and Chrysostom, PC 63.14: 1TOAvp.tpw~ Kat 1TOAvTp&.,.w~, TOVTECTTI llia.p&pw~.



The NEB translates "fragmentary," and the NAB "piecemeal." For the sense of the adjective, cf. Plutarch Def orac. 32 (427B): the dodecahedron is p.£y1crTov /i{ Kat .,.o>.vp.EpEcrTaTov, "the largest and most complicated" primary figure. Plutarch also uses the term in a comment on Homer's style. The poet's description ofThersites is .,.o>.vp.tpw~ Kat 1TEpiwliwp.£vw~, "detailed and circumstantial." The adjective 1TOAVTpo.,.o~ can describe the "versatility" of a figure like Odysseus in Homer Od. 1.1: ll.vlipa p.o1 ~VVE"lTE, Movcra, .,.o>.vTpo.,.ov; or of nature, whose works are manifold, in Philo Vit. Mos. 1.11 7.



24 25 26 27


Cf. Hos 12: 10, "I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables." On diversity in prophetic literature, cf. also Philo Vit. Mos. 2.188-91. This is the case especially with Moses. Cf. Exod 33:11; Num 7:89; 12:8; Deut 34: 10; and possibly Isa 6:1-3 . Cf., e.g., Gen 46:2; Deut 13:1; Ezek 1:1. The paradigm case is, of course, the Sinai theophany of Exod 19:17-25, alluded to in Heb 12:18-24. Cf. 1 Kgs 19:11-12. Diversity has decidedly positive connotations in such passages as Wis 7:22, where the spirit (1Tvtvp.a) in Wisdom is described as "manifold" (.,.o>.vp.Ept~); or in Josephus Ant. 10.8.3 § 142, where the nature of God (~ Tov 8tov .pvcr1~) is described as "varied and manifold" (1TOIK{A7J Tf (ern Kat 1TOAVTp01TO~). Thus the citizen's life, in contrast to the life of contemplation, is "many-sided" (.,.o>.vTpo.,.o~). according to Ebr. 86. The life of the body or of the senses is frequently described as complex. Cf. Plant. 44; Migr. Abr. 152-53; Sam. 2.10-14; Vit. Mos. 2.289. On the Philonic evaluation of diversity, see Dey, Intermediary World, 131-34; Grasser, "Hebrller 1,1-4," 73-74; and Williamson, Philo, 70-74.


exposition of the superiority of Christ's unique sacrifice to the multiple sacrifices under the old covenant. 29 While there is a clear contrast between the old and new, there is no sense that the two phases stand in contradiction to one another. 30 In each case it is the same God who speaks and the same message of salvation that he offers. This sense of continuity within contrast emerges at various points in the work. Thus those of old "were evangelized" just as "we" have been. 31 Furthermore, the often bold exegesis of the Old Testament suggests that what God says in the prophets has direct and special relevance for contemporary hearers of the word, because scripture contains warnings and exhortations that ought to be heeded by those living "at the end of days"; 32 because it offers promises fulfilled in Christ; 33 or because it provides a vehicle for understanding the nature and salvific work of Christ himself. 34 Interpretation of God's words recorded in scripture will thus form an integral part of the expository and hortatory 29 30 31 32 33 34







chapters that follow. The old word, as an ineffectual parable or shadow 35 of the new, has been surpassed and superseded by the new, but it had its proper place in the divine scheme. God's speech of old 36 was directed "to the fathers" (To'is 1raTpacnv), that is, to all the ancient people of God to whom the prophets spoke. 37 The unqualified expression "the fathers" is common 38 but may have been chosen here to enhance the alliterative effect. It says nothing about the jewish background of the author or his addressees, 39 since "the fathers" of the old covenant were regularly viewed as the spiritual ancestors of the new. 40 These "ancestors" will appear, especially in chaps. 3, 4, and 11, as positive and negative models of Christian obedience to God's word, but here they simply stand in contrast to "us" as recipients of that word. God's address of old came "through" (£v) 41 the prophets, agents with whom Hebrews is not, in fact, much concerned. 42 They are probably understood, in a broad

Cf. Heb9:12, 25-28; 10:1-13. The point is correctly stressed by Loader, Sohn, 6263. Cf. Heb 4:2 and II :40 for the intimate link between 40 the old and new recipients of God's word. Cf. 3:7-11 ; 4:7; 12:5-7. Cf. esp. 8:8-13 and the ensuing development based on the text of Jer 31:31-34. Cf. 1:5-13; 2:6-8, 12-13; 7:1-3; 10:5-8. There is 41 no·single, simple hermeneutical approach in Hebrews to the texts of the OT. Cf. 9:9 for the designation of the ancient tabernacle as a "parable" of the present time and 10:1 for the Law as a "shadow" of the present reality. Apart from the alliterative effect of the adverb 7rct.\a•, there may be some allusion to the notion that prophecy was a phenomenon of the remote past. Cf. 1 42 Mace 9:27;Josephus Ap. 1.8; and m. 'Abot. 1.1. See Grasser, "Hebraer 1,1-4," 74; and Loader, Sohn, 63. Thus the term "fathers" (1rarpaaw) is not restricted to the biblical patriarchs. For similar general references to "ancestors," cf. Acts 3:13, 25; 7:38-39,44-45, 51; I Cor 10: I; Matt 23 :32; and esp. Luke I :55, where similar, possibly traditional, phraseology appears. Cf. John 6:58 and 7:22. The similar absolute expression at Rom 9:5; 11 :28; and 15:8 may be more restrictive, applying primarily to the patriarchs. So properly Grasser, "Hebraer 1,1-4," 57; and Vanhoye, Situation, 58. Brooke Foss Westcott (The Epistle to the Hebrews (3d ed.; London: Macmillan, 1909] 6) takes the absence of a possessive fJp.wv, "our," to imply that the addressees were Gentile

Christians, but the inference is unwarranted. The pronoun, though it does appear in some witnesses, spoils the alliterative effect of the opening verse. Cf. esp. 1 Cor 10:1, where in referring to the exodus generation Paul speaks of "our fathers," although he is addressing a primarily Gentile community; or Rom 4: 11, where Abraham is described as "father of all those who believe." The preposition is instrumental, as at 9:22. Cf. BDF § 219. For an equivalent in the LXX, cf. 1 Kgdms 28:6. No special theory of prophetic inspiration such as Philo's (Vit. Mos. 2.191; Som. 1.2; Migr. Abr. 35; Rer. div. her. 259, 265; Spec. leg. 4.49) need be presupposed here. On Philo's general understanding of prophetic phenomena, see Emile Brehier, Les idees philosophiques et religieuses de Philon d'Alexandrie (Paris: Vrin, 1950) 180-205. Most of the scriptural citations in Hebrews are from the psalms. Only two explicitly prophetic texts, Isa 8:17-18 at 2:13, andjer 31:31-34 at 8:8-12 and 10: 16-17, are singled out for special attention. The prophets themselves merit a brief discussion in 11:32-38.

Hebrews 1:1-4

sense, to encompass all those, from the patriarchs through Moses, 43 Joshua, 44 David, 45 and the classical prophets, through whom God speaks. 46 • 2 The final and decisive address of God to humanity occurs not "of old" but, literally, "at the end of these days" (£7r' £axarov rwv ~fupwv rovrwv). The phrase is derived from a scriptural expression for the future, 47 which came to be used in an eschatological sense. 48 The lively sense that the author and his community live at the final point of God's dealings with humanity 49 is not, of course, unique, but is shared by Jewish apocalyptists and by many early Christians. 50 Although Hebrews will use language and motifs reflecting a spatial dualism, these will be constantly interwoven with the temporal eschatological perspective that will be particularly emphasized in the concluding chapters. 51 The eschatological framework will be important not only in the paraenetic sections of the text, but also in the interpretation of much of the material from the Old Testament in Hebrews, 5 2

although the text does not simply reproduce the sort of "pesher" interpretation found at Qumran. 53 God's final address comes not through prophets but "through 5 4 a Son" (£v vi). The expression, without a definite article, 5 5 does not imply that there are many sons whom God could have chosen as agents of revelation. Rather the term emphasizes the exalted status of that final agent. Westcott 56 usefully paraphrases "in one who is Son." As the following chapters will indicate, that Son, 57 seated at God's right hand, is superior to all other agents through whom God's word has come, particularly to the angels, 5 8 to Moses, 5 9 toJoshua, 60 and to Aaron. 61 God, moreover, speaks through this Son not only in word, but in deed, in the entirety of the Christ-event, providing for humanity atonement for sin and an enduring covenant relationship. The affirmation that God "made" (~81JK£v) 62 the Son


On Moses as prophet, a notion ultimately based on Deut 18:15, 18, cf. Philo Vit. Mos. 2.187-91; Decal. 33; Ebr. 33; Acts 3:22; and Heb 10:28; 12:21. For the tradition of Moses as a prophet, see Wayne A. Meeks, The Prophet-King: Moses Tradition and the Johannine Christology (NovTSup 14; Leiden: Brill, 1967); and David L. Tiede, The Charismatic Figure as Miracle Worker (SBLDS 1; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1972) 180-206. 44 On joshua as the prophetic successor to Moses, cf. Sir 46:1. The brief mention of joshua in Heb 4:8 says nothing about his prophetic role. 45 Cf. Philo Agric. 50, where David qua psalmist is described as a prophet. In Hebrews, God or the Holy Spirit speaks through the psalmist at 3:7; 4:7; 5:5-6. 46 The notion that God or the spirit spoke through the prophets is commonplace. Cf. Wis 7:27; Luke 11 :49; Acts7:51. 47 0'0'01 n•1nlo(:J , Gen 49:1; Num 24: 14; Deut 4:30 ;Jer 23:20. 48 Cf. !sa 2:2; Mic 4:1; Hos 3:5; Dan 10:14. On the use and development of the phrase, see W. Staerk, "Der Gebrauch der Wendung 0'0'01 n'1T11(:J im AT Kanon," ZAW 11 (1891) 247-83; I. Mussies, "In den letzten Tagen (Apg 2,17a)," BZ NF 5 (1961) 263-65; Vanhoye, Situation, 55; Gr:tsser, "Hebraer 1,1-4," 77. 49 In Hebrews, cf. esp. 9:6-10; 10:25. 50 The phrase is common at Qumran. Cf. lQpHab 2:5; 1QSa 1:1; and 4QFlor 1:12. Among early Christians, cf. Acts 2: 17; 2 Tim 3:1; 1 Pet 1:5 , 20; 2 Pet 3:3;Jas 5:3;Jude 18; Herm. Sim. 9 . 12.3; Barn. 4.9; 12.9; 16.5; Did. 16.2; 2 Clem. 14:2; Ignatius Eph. 11:1 . For

51 52 53


55 56 57

58 59 60 61 62

other expressions of the conviction, cf. Mark 13:30; Matt23:34; 1 Thess4:13-18; 1 Cor7:29; 10:11; Rom 13:11; Gal4:4. Cf. 10:25, 36-39; 12: 18-29; 13:14. Cf. 3:7-4:11;8:8-12. Schrt>ger (Verfasser) too readily identifies the exegetical method of our author with the "pesher" type of interpretation of Qumran. On the pesharim, see esp. Maurya P. Horgan, Pesharim: Qumran Interpretations of Biblical Books (CBQMS 8; Washington, DC: Catholic Biblical Association, 1979). The preposition (..wv EV Ta7Tnvocppouvvn Kal6p1/..wv, "Let no one condemn you, who takes pleasure in readiness to serve and in worship of angels." On this problematic verse, see Eduard Lohse, Colossians and Philemon (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971) 114-21. Among commentators on Hebrews who have found this parallel significant are Windisch, p. 17; Moffatt, p. 7; Thomas W. Manson, "The Problem of the Epistle to the Hebrews," BJRL 32 (1949) 1-17; and most recently Jewett, pp. 5-13. See esp. Fred 0. Francis, "Humility and Angelic Worship in Col2:18," StTh 16 (1963) 109-34 (reprinted in Fred 0. Francis and Wayne A. Meeks, eds., Conflict at Colossae: A Problem in the Interpretation


Congress Volume: Oxford 1959 (VTSup 7; Leiden: Brill, 1960) 318-45; and Carol A. Newsom,

The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice: A Critical Edition



(HSM 27; Atlanta: Scholars, 1985). The notion that the congregation participates in the liturgy of the angels is enshrined in the preface of the Roman Mass where the Sanctus is introduced by: "et ideo cum angelis et archangelis, cum thronis et dominationibus, cumque omni militia caelestis exercitus, hymnum gloriae tuae canimus, sine fine dicentes." See, e.g., Dey (Intermediary World, !54) and Ronald H. Nash ("The Notion of Mediation in Alexandrian judaism and the Epistle to the Hebrews," WTJ 40 [ 1977]89-115 ), who find here polemic against an assimilation of Christ to "intermediaries" such as Philo's Logos. A similar analysis of the christological problem confronted by Hebrews, although framed solely in terms of early Christian exaltation traditions, is found in Zimmermann, Bekenntnis.

of Early Christianity Illustrated by Selected Modem Studies


[SBLSBS 4; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1973]163-95). Cf. !sa 6:3; 1 Enoch 39.10-13;Jub. 2.2, 18; 15.27; 31.14; T . Levi 3.5; 1QSb 4:25-26; Asc. /sa. 7.37; 8.17; 9.28-33; 3 Enoch 1.12. For further evidence from Qumran, see John Strugnell, "The Angelic Liturgy at Qumran-4Q Serek Sirot 'Oiat Ha~-


perhaps in certain Old Testament texts. 27 Thus in Daniel, it is Michael the angel who does battle for the children of Israel. 28 More directly relevant is the evidence from Qumran, where Melchizedek appears as an eschatological, messianic, and possibly angelic figure with both royal and priestly functions. 29 Other Jewish speculation on angels and particularly on the figures of Michael and Melchizedek attributes to them a priestly function in the heavenly sanctuary. ~ 0 Such widespread Jewish traditions about priestly and (occasionally) messianic angels developed in a specific direction in Hellenized Jewish circles with their interest in intermediary figures such as Sophia or the Logos. Thus for Philo the figure of the Logos can often be described as an angel. Alternatively, biblical priests can stand as allegorical symbols of the Logos. This is particularly true of the High Priest and, importantly for Hebrews, of Melchizedek. ~ 1 There is also evidence that some Christian circles on into the second century developed or maintained a christology based on one or another of these Jewish models. ~ 2 The parallels between Hebrews and the various speculative angelological traditions, especially those of a 27 28



31 32


Hellenistic Jewish provenance, are striking, and it is probable that the picture of Christ drawn in this text owes a great deal to such sources. Nonetheless, the precise relationship between Hebrews and these or similar traditions remains unclear. While many scholars have suspected that Hebrews is trying to correct an angelological christology on the part of the community addressed,~~ the lack of any explicit polemic on the subject throughout the text makes this hypothesis, too, problematic. ~ 4 Another model for understanding the possible latent function of the demonstration of Christ's superiority to the angels is to see the author in dialogue with the bases of his own complex christological picture. ~ 5 By clearly stating at the outset Christ's superior status, he perhaps forestalls any possible objection to his christology that might arise among those familiar with the sources of his imagery of the heavenly High Priest. This alternative cannot be excluded, yet neither can it be definitely established. Two important factors need to be kept in mind in assessing the significance of this pericope. The first is that the image of Christ made superior to the angels was

Cf., e.g., Exod 23 :20 and Mal2:7 . Cf. Dan 12: I. It is possible that the image of the Son of Man in Dan 7: 13 was meant to be, at least in part, a symbol of such an angelic defender of Israel. See John J . Collins, The Apocalyptic Vision of the Book of Daniel (HSM 16; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1977) 144-46. On II QMelch and literature on the text, see most recently Paul]. Kobelski, Melchiudek and Melchire!a' (CBQMS I 0; Washington, DC: Catholic Biblical Association, 1981). For the relevant texts, see the excursus at 7:3 on Melchizedek. See Wilhelm Lueken, Michael: Eine Darstellung und Vergleichung der jildischen und morgenliindisch-christlichen Tradition vom Erungel Michael (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1898) 139-48. For Michael as the angelic priest, see esp. b. Chag. 12b. Another important witness to Jewish angelology possibly relevant to the sources of Hebrew's christology is the Prayer ofjoseph, on which see the excursus at 2:18. For the evidence, see the excursus on the sources of the High-Priestly christology, at 2:18. Cf.Justin Dial. 34.2; Herm. Sim. 8.3 .3; 9. 12.7-8; Ap. Const. 8. 12.7,23;Gos. Thorn. 13(34,34). Fordiscussion of these traditions, see Adolphine Bakker, "Christ an Angel?" ZNW 32 (1933) 255-65;Joseph




Barbel, Christos Angelos (Theophaneia 3; Bonn: Hanstein, 1941 ); Martin Werner, Die E-ntstehung des christlichen Dogmas (2d ed.; Bern: Haupt; To bingen: Katzmann, 1941) 302-21; and, minimizing the importance of an angel christology, Wilhelm Michaelis, Zur Engelschristologie im Urchristentum (A ThANT; Basel: Majer, 1942). More recently, see Alan Segal, Two Puwers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism (Leiden: Brill, 1977) xi; andJarl E. Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord: Samaritan and jewish Concepts of Intermediation and the Origin of Gnosticism (WUNT 36; Tobingen: Mohr (Siebeck], 1985). See, e.g., Michel, p. 105; Montefiore, p. 35; Dey, Intermediary World, 145-49; Vanhoye, Situation, 9899; and, with some hesitation, Bruce, p. 9; and Loader, Sohn, 21-29. So correctly Kasemann, Wandering People, I 00; Grlisser, "Hebrlier 1,1-4," 89-90; Otto Kuss, Der Brief an die Hebriier und die Katholischen Briefe (2d ed.; Regensburg NT 8,1; Regensburg: Pustet, 1966) 47; Stadelmann, "Zur Christologie," 174; Hofius, Christushymnus, 87-88; and Laub, Bekenntnis, 22, 52-53. See Schenke, "Erw:tgungen," 421-37, esp. 431.

Hebrews 1:5-14

a traditional part of the exaltation schema on which our author relies. 36 The second is that the catena clearly performs the function of establishing, on scriptural grounds, the most significant elements of that schema as they are stated in the exordium. 37 Thus it would appear that the "angels" here serve primarily a literary function linking the exordium to the first phase of the author's exposition. The author has expanded an affirmation traditional in depictions of Christ's exaltation to reinforce the sublimity of Christ's exalted status that guarantees his followers' salvation. He thereby prepares for the portrayal of Christ's humiliation, through which that salvation is achieved. Comment

• 5 The scriptural catena begins with a rhetorical ques-

In their original contexts, these verses reflect the ideology of kingship in Israel, according to which the monarch, upon his accession to the throne, entered into a special relationship with God, becoming his adopted son. 41 The first is one of the royal psalms, where the person of the king expresses his confidence in God's protection against his enemies, citing in the process the "Lord's decree" that elevated him to the kingship. The second passage comes from Nathan's prophecy of Yahweh's promise to David that he would be succeeded by his son and that his house would be established forever.42 Early Christians applied the first text, Ps 2:7, to Christ, alluding to it in the accounts of his baptism 43 and citing it explicitly in the context of his exaltation. 44 The latter of these applications was probably the most primitive ,45 and such an application was most likely the one

tion, "to which of the angels did he ever say," 38 which introduces the first two texts, Ps 2:7 and 2 Sam 7:14 (= 1 Chr 17:13), the first of which will reappear at 5:5. These two texts, which were already joined to serve as messianic proof texts at Qumran, 39 are linked by the adverb "again" ('rraA.tv) used frequently in the text to join scriptural citations. 40 36

37 38


Cf. Phil 2:9-1 0; Col I: 15-18; Eph I :21; and I Pet 3:22 . In the portrait of the exaltation of Enoch to become Metatron, the Prince of the divine presence, in 3 Enoch, it is emphasized that he is "more exalted than all the angels" (4.1, OTP 1.258). Moreover, the angels object to this glorification of a mere human being (6, OTP 1.261), but despite that objection Enoch/ Metatron is exalted to a position above theirs, close to the divine throne of glory. God then addresses him : "I have appointed Metatron my servant as a prince and a ruler over all the denizens of the heights . . .. Any angel and any prince who has anything to say in my presence should go before him and speak to him" (I 0.3-4, OTP 1.264). Although 3 Enoch is certainly later than Hebrews, it clearly stands in continuity with the exaltation traditions that underlie our text. See Grasser, "Hebraer I , 1-4," 71; and Loader, Sohn, 22 . Angels are in fact frequently called "sons of God." Cf. Gen 6:2; Ps 29: I; 89:7;Job I :6. While these are all references to angels in the plural, Philo's Logos, who can be called an angel (Mut. nom. 87), is also called Son (Conf ling. 63), as Braun (p. 35) notes. 2 Sam 7:11-14 is cited in 4QFlor 1.10-11 ; Ps 2:1-2 follows in 4QFlor 1.18-19. See John M. Allegro, "Fragments of a Qumran Scroll of Eschatological



42 43 44


Midrashim," JBL 77 ( 1958) 350-54. Philo uses 7r&A111 for the same purpose at R er. div. her. 2, 122; Conf ling. 167; Som. 1.166; 2. 19; Leg. all. 3.4; Sobr. 8; Plant. 171. Cf. also 1 Clem. I 0.4, 6 ; 14.5; 15.3; Barn. 6.2, 4. In Hebrews, cf. 2: 13; 4:5 , 7; I 0:30; and probably 1:6. Elsewhere in the New Testament, cf.John 19:37; Rom 15:10-12; I Cor 3:20. On the royal psalms and their ideology, see Gerald Cooke, "The Israelite King as Son of God," lAW 73 (1961) 202-25; Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, Volume I: Social Institutions (New York/ Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 1965) 111-13; Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel's Worship (Oxford: Oxford University, 1962); Ivan Engnell, Studies in the Divine Kingship in the Ancient N ear East (2d ed.; Oxford: Blackwell, 1967); Aubrey R. Johnson , Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel (Cardiff: University of Wales, 1967); J. H. Eaton, Kingship and the Psalms (SBT 2.32 ; London: SCM, 1976). Cf. Ps 59:4; 132:11-12. Matt 3: 16-17; Mark I : 10-11 ; Luke 3:21-22 . Acts 13:33-34. Note also the use of Ps 2:9 in connection with the Messiah's eschatological role in Rev 12:5 and 19:15. Cf. Rom I :4 where, in the traditional formula cited by Paul, the title Son of God may reflect the appli-


the exaltation in Hebrews, it is undermined by later passages that speak of Christ as the Son during his earthly life. 51 To deal with this problem, as well as with the tension between the exordium and the catena, those who argue for Christ's becoming Son at some point such as the exaltation have maintained that the term "Son" is properly applied at the point of exaltation, but proleptically in other contexts. Thus one could understand references to the pre-existent or incarnate Christ as Son to mean "he who will become son."52 Another attempt to reconcile the two christological perspectives while maintaining the primary focus on the exaltation is to see the proclamation of Christ as Son not as the creation of a new status but as the definitive recognition or revelation of what Christ is and has been. 5 ~ Alternatively, our author may be operating basically with the pre-existence christology of the exordium. In that case he would be using the language of Ps 2 ("today") in a metaphorical or allegorical sense, for the eternal generation of the Son. 54 Some commentators maintain that since no reconciliation is offered in the text between the alternative views we should not provide one. Two very different traditions have been taken over by the author and allowed to stand together unreconciled. 55 It is certainly clear that the author has used earlier

originally intended in the compilation of this catena. The latter text, 2 Sam 7: 14, also appears in early Christian sources, but applied to believers, not to Christ. 46 The texts provide a scriptural validation of the title "Son" used in the exordium, but the first quotation, both in terms of its literal sense ("today I have begotten you") and in terms of its traditional use in early Christianity, stands in obvious tension with the exordium's sapiential christology, implying the existence of the Son from all eternity. This tension raises in acute form the question of the coherence of the text's christology.

Excursus: Sonship in Hebrews

Various suggestions have been made about the author's understanding of the sonship of Christ and its expression in Ps 2. It may be that he took seriously the language of the psalm about Christ "becoming" Son and set this decisive moment either at the creation or some primordial event, 47 or at his incarnation, 48 his baptism, 49 or his exaltation. 50 While the last understanding accords well with what was probably the original function of the catena and with the focus on




49 50


cation of Ps 2 to the exaltation. On the general use of this psalm in early Christianity, see Lindars, Apologetic, 139-44; and Kistemaker, Psalm Citations, 75. On the rabbinic interpretation of the psalm, see Str.B. 3.675-76. Cf. 2 Cor 6:18 and Rev 21:7. Kistemaker (Psalm Citations, 20) also cites Luke 1:32-33 and john 7:42, although the parallels are more remote. So some patristic interpreters such as Origen In. Joh. 1.1, and Augustine In Ps. 2. 7, as well as moderns such as Eugene Menegoz, La Theologie de l'Epltre aux Hebreux (Paris: Fischbacher, 1894) 82; Kuss, p. 29; Montefiore, p. 44; Michel, p. 110. So most patristic commentators; Riggenbach, pp. 18-19, who also sees the baptism as a possibility; Windisch, p. 14; and Spicq 2.16. So Strathmann, p. 77. Most recent commentators favor this option. See Westcott, p. 21; Moffatt, p. 9; Alfred See berg, Der Brief an die Hebriier (Leipzig: Quelle & Meyer, 1912) 13; Hering, p. 3 (although he sees this compatible with an eternal begetting); Hughes, p. 54; Bruce, p . 13; Braun, pp. 32-33; Bi.ichsel , Die Christologie, 7; Kasemann, Wandering People, 97-98; Schierse, Verheissung, 95; Vanhoye, Situation, 139; Petersen, Perfection, 85; and Meier, "Symmetry and Theology," 505-6.

51 52



Cf. esp. 5:8, but also 2:11-13 . This reconciliation of Kiisemann (Wandering People, 99) finds numerous echoes in subsequent literature. See Grasser, "Hebriier 1, 1-4," 81; and Thompson, Beginnings, 1 31. See Bruce, p. 13; Aelred Cody, Heavenly Sanctuary and Liturgy in the Epistle to the Hebrews: The Achievement of Salvation in the Epistle's Perspectives (St. Meinrad, IN : Grail, 1960) 90-91; and Peterson, PeTftction, 85. A parallel is found in Philo, who often interprets temporal language about God as a reference to God's unchanging eternal being. Thus, e.g., commenting on Deut 4:4 in Fug. 57 he argues: u~JLfpovll' r Atlya ("flame of fire"), instead of 1rvp Aiyov. (The reading of a corrector to A, 1rvpl>r Aiya [sic) may be due to the influence of Hebrews.) This slight change may, as Kistemaker (Psalm Citations, 23) suggests, be due to the influence of liturgical language. Cf. Acts 7:30; 2 Thess 1:8; Rev 1: 14; 2:18; 19:12. The imagery of the psalm has a long prehistory, being remarkably similar to the Egyptian Hymn to Aten. Cf. ANET, 370-71. The Hebrew text (tm' l7N 1'J"',l71:l J"'1M1, 1':lN'I:l ;'1l7)1) is syntactically somewhat ambiguous; the LXX is not. The Qumran sectarians indicate that they construed the verse with the opposite relationship of angels and winds. Cf. 1QH 1:10-11: C~::l C;'1'j?1M' !1)1 J"'1M1,1 ;'1:ll1ll,, ;'1J"'(l:lJ"' CJ"''IN::Ill) ':l (l7,p) ':lN'I:l' CJ"'1';'1


ing the Hebrew so that the predication is reversed and angels are explicitly introduced, the translator of the LXX may have had in mind theophanies in which meteorological phenomena were taken to be transformed angels. 84 Hebrews does not at this point explain what the citation demonstrates about the relation of Christ to the angels. The remark that concludes the catena in vs 14 will contrast the subordinate function of angels, as servants of those who will inherit salvation, to the Son who brings it. Equally significant is the contrast between the transitory and mutable quality of these angelic servants, apparent in the images of wind and flame, and the abiding quality of the Son expressed through Ps 102 (101) in VSS 10-12. 85 • 8 The author next introduces two citations (vss 8-12), indicating that they are both addressed to 86 the Son. The first is from Ps 45(44):7-8, which was originally composed as a wedding song (epithalamium) for an


85 86





Israelite king, 87 wherein the monarch's majesty is praised in hyperbolic language. The original import of the first clause of this psalm is disputed. Although it may have involved an address to the king as god, 88 it is more likely to be construed as a predication, in parallelism with the following verse, to be rendered "your throne is (a throne) of God, eternal. "89 The LXX rendering is ambiguous, since the form used for "God" is nominative. It is, however, possible, even in classical Greek, to use the nominative for the vocative, 90 and in the LXX 91 and the New Testament 92 this usage is common. That jewish exegetes regularly understood the text as an address is clear, both from the Targum 9 g and from the revision of the LXX by Aquila. 94 The author of Hebrews stands in this exegetical tradition and takes the psalm as an address to the Son as God. 95 Although such explicit recognitions of the divinity of Christ are rare, they do appear in other early Christian writings. 96 The author's understanding of the

"Thou hast [appointed] all (their (sci/. the heavens') hosts] according to Thy will; the mighty winds according to their laws, before they became angels of holiness" (ET: Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English [London: Penguin, 1962]150). Cf. also 4 Ezra 8.21-22. Cf. Exod 3:2; 19: 16-18; Dan 7:10. On rabbinic exegesis of the verse, see Exod. Rab. 25(86a) and Tg. Onq. Ps. 104:4. See Kuss, p. 37; Michel, p. 117; and Thompson, Beginnings, 133. The second citation in vss 10-12 is clearly to be construed as an address. While the first displays some ambiguity, it too is best construed as an address. Hence, the most natural translation of the preposition 1rpos in the introductory phrase is "to." This becomes particularly clear in the address to the bride in Ps 45(44): I0-12a and in the description of her bridal accoutrements and escort in Ps 45(44): 12b-15. On the verses cited, see Leslie C. Allen, "Psalm 45 :7-8 (6-7) in Old and New Testament Settings," in Harold H . Rowden, ed., Christ the Lord (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1982) 22042 . Vanhoye (Situation, 180) sees in the address to the king as god a metaphorical use ofo•;,'?tt similar to that of Exod 4: 16; 7: I; Isa 9:5; Zech 12:8. See also Herman Gunkel, Die Psalmen (4th ed.; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1926) 190. Cf. RSV: "Your divine throne endures for ever and ever," or alternatively NEB: "Your throne is like God's throne, eternal." For yet another solution to

90 91






this exegetical crux, see Mitchell Dahood, Psalms 1:150 (AB 16; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965) 273, who vocalizes kisse'akli (a denominative pi'el) and translates "God has enthroned you." See further Schrager, Verfasser, 60-61. Cf. BDF § 147; and Zerwick, Biblical Greek,§ 33-34. Cf. Ps 2:8; 5:11; 7:2, 4, 7; 9:33; 12:4; 16:16; 17 : 29 ~ 21 :2, 3; 40:9 (cf. Heb 10:7). The vocative formed is used but rarely (Ps 3:8; 138: 17). Cf. Mark 15:34; Luke 18:11;John 20:28; Rev 4:11; 11 : 17; 16:7. The vocative BEE appears only at Matt 17:46. J'ti'?V •o'?v'? O"j? " 1""ii'' '1:1,1:!. A messianic interpretation of the verse is suggested by Gen. Rab. 99, on Gen 49: I 0 (ed. Albeck, p. 1280), where the staff (~:::11:1) of Genesis is taken to be symbolic of the "throne of the kingdom" (n1:l'?tl tt"l:l:l) mentioned in the psalm. Cf. Vanhoye, Situation, 178. Aquila (in jerome Ep. 65.13) translating o•;,'?lt as ed makes explicit the construal of the verse present in the LXX. This construal is recognized by most commentators. See Bruce, p. 19; Hughes, p. 64; Braun, pp. 38-39; Vanhoye, Situation, 176-77; and Meier, "Symmetry and Theology," 513-14. Some, such as Westcott (p. 25), argue that 6Eos is nominative in our author's construal. Buchanan (p. 20) construes 6Eos as vocative, but sees the whole citation addressed to God and not to Christ. This interpretation ignores the last half of the citation in vs 9, which is clearly an address to the Son. The earliest explicit designation of Christ as God is in

Hebrews 1:5-14

psalm may have been influenced by his high christology with its sapiential roots, since Philo can refer to the Logos, one of the divine "powers," as a "God. "97 For our author, then, Christ, as divine, is seen to have an eternal reign, unlike the transitory angels. The second stich of the psalm praises by metonomy the righteousness of the king's rule. Some witnesses to the text of Hebrews read here "the staff of his kingdom," instead of "your kingdom." This appears to be the more difficult reading and is thus favored by some commentators98 who find in the reading "your kingdom" a scribal correction to conform to the LXX text of the psalm. Nevertheless, the reading "your" is probably original, 99 and the variant reading "his" was probably occasioned by the ambiguity of the preposition used to introduce the citations and the failure to construe the whole citation as an address. 1 00 • 9 The theme of the monarch's justice is continued in the next stich of the psalm. 101 In the tradition on which the author probably depends, the royal messianic notion expressed in the psalm would have been particularly important and the related image of Christ as the eschatological judge is common. 1 02 Hebrews does not develop



this image extensively. Language relating to Christ's eschatological messianic role appears, but only by way of allusion. Thus Melchizedek, the biblical type of Christ, is a "king of justice" (7:2), a note that is quickly submerged in the discussion of the "eternal priesthood." Similarly, Christ inaugurates a kingdom, but this kingdom is not a new political entity. It is rather the unshakeable realm (12:28) of God's presence to which his followers have already gained access. The traditional messianic imagery of the scriptural catena cannot, therefore, be construed as the dominant element in the author's christology. 1 03 If the love of justice and hatred of iniquity are exemplified anywhere in Hebrews, it is in the sacrifice and death of Christ. 104 The psalm then congratulates the king whose love of justice has led to his anointing by God. Another syntactical ambiguity may here have been exploited by the author. The subject of the sentence may be construed as "God," to which "your God" stands in apposition. 105 Alternatively, the first reference to God may be taken as a vocative, as in vs 8, thus yielding, "0 God, your God." 106 The almost certain use of the vocative earlier in the same citation strongly favors the latter rendering

Rom 9:5, a verse that probably reflects a liturgical formula. Further attestations are from the late first or early second century. Cf. Tit 2: 13;John I: I; 20:28; 2 Pet I: I . Note the similar use by Justin (Dial . 56.14; 63.3-5) of the same psalm verse. On the tradition of apologetic use of the text, see T. F. Glasson, "Plurality of Divine Persons and the Quotations in Hebrews I ,6ff," NTS 12 (1965-66) 270-72 . Such apologetics are not explicitly involved here. Note esp. Som. 1.227-30, where Philo comments on Gen 31: 13 and affirms that scripture: KaAit a< e.hv TbV 7rp(w and uwr7Jp{a in the New Testament," TDNT7 (1971) 989-1012; Vanhoye, Situation, 239-41; Grasser, "Das Heil," 262. Particularly close to Hebrews is the usage of I Pet I :5, 9. Cf. esp. 9:28 and 10:25. Cf. 9:13-14, 26-28; 10:12. Cf. 4: 16; I 0:22. Cf. 8:7-12; 10:15-18. Cf. 3:1;4:3-10; 12:28. The collocation apx~v AafJ.fJav(IV appears in various Hellenistic authors, including Aelian Var. hist. 2.28;


50 51

12.53; Diogenes Laertius Vit. Phil. Proem. 3.4; Sextus Empiricus Adv. phys. I.366; Philo Vit. Mos. I.SI : The third miraculous portent demonstrating to Moses God's designs for him T~V apx~v TOV y..afJov €v 'Alyv"ITT'!', "took the start of its being in Egypt." For •vp&or, cf. also 7: I4; I3 :20. The other major christological titles are Xp1unlr (3:6; 5:5; 6: I; 9: II, I4, 24, 28; II :26); 'I71uovr (2:9; 3: I; 6 :20; 7:22; I 0: I9; I2:2, 24; 13: I2, 20) and 'l7Juoilr Xp1uror (IO:IO; I3:8, 2I). There is no rigid correlation between any specific title and a phase of Christ's salvific work, although when referring to the suffering humanity of the savior, Hebrews tends to use the name Jesus (2:9; I 0: I9; 12:2-4; 13: I2). Cf. Matt 4:I7; Mark l:I4; Luke 4:16-21 . Cf. Acts 26:23; and see Seeberg, p. I7; and Vanhoye, Situation, 243.

Hebrews 2:1-4

salvation "began to be spoken" thus cannot be sustained. Not only does Hebrews equally emphasize incarnation and exaltation, 5 2 but it is also unconcerned with such chronological precision here, as it is on the issue of the point at which Christ becomes Son and High Priest. In fact the language of this verse probably reflects a traditional summary of the spread of the gospel that started with a reference to Jesus. Such a summary is found on Peter's lips following the account of the conversion of Cornelius. 53 The possibility that this clause reflects a traditional summary of the preaching of the gospel is supported by the note that the message of salvation was "confirmed" (£{3£{3atclJ67J) by those who heard it. While this language continues the legal imagery of the passage, it also calls to mind Pauline language about the confirmation of the gospel in his communities. 54 It recalls as well the chains of tradition that appear in Paul's letters, 55 although the phrase as a whole contrasts sharply with what Paul says of his own gospel 5 6 and constitutes a major reason for rejecting Pauline authorship. Even closer to this formulation are the references in the later strata of early Christian literature to the apostolic tradition and its au then52 53


55 56 57 58


ticity. 57 Despite the similarities, there are significant differences. Hebrews is not searching for an authoritative apostolic foundation for a tradition. Yet neither is it polemicizing against such an "early catholic" appeal to apostolic tradition. 58 The emphasis throughout the formula is on the divine initiation and sustentation of the proclamation of the saving message. • 4 The legal language continues as Hebrews recounts that God "corroborated the testimony" (uvv£mf1-apTvpovvTos)59 of those who heard the Lord's message. But that confirmation took place not in legal terms nor by a simple verbal attestation. The three-part expression "signs, wonders, and powerful deeds" (u7Jfl-£lots n Kal. TEpautv Kal. 7TOLKIA.ats livvaf1-£1Ttv), based upon the usage of the Old Testament, 60 is widely used among early Christians. 61 The last two terms in the series, "powerful deeds" (or "miracles") 62 and "distributions of spirit" (7TVd!!J.aTOS aylov iJ.€PLIT!J.OtS ), 63 particularly echo Christian tradition. Emphasis on these divine corroborations of the message is a common, though not universal, 64 apologetic theme of early Christianity. 6 5 The reference to "holy spirit" in this verse is hardly evidence of Trinitarian speculation. 66 The syntax of the

Cf. Grasser, "Das Heil," 265-66; and Laub, Bekenntnis, 47 n. 140. In Acts I 0:36-39 Peter recounts the "word" (>.oyo~) that God sent to Israel through Jesus Christ the Lord (dp10~). "beginning from Galilee with the baptism which john preached." See Loader, Sohn, 92-93. For other possible examples of the scheme, see Andre Feuillet, "Le 'commencement' de l'economie chretienne d'apres He I1.3-4; Me 1.1 et Ac 1.1-2," NTS 24(1977-78) 163-74. Cf. I Cor I :6; Phil I :7; although in Paul Christ is regularly the content of the proclamation, not the proclaimer, as noted by Windisch (p. 19), Grasser (Glaube, 77), and Loader (Sohn, 84). Cf. I Cor II :23; I5:3. In the first passage the tradition begins with "the Lord." Cf. esp. Gal I: I, I7-20 , where Paul emphasizes his direct commissioning by the risen Christ. In addition to Peter's speech in Acts I 0 , cf. Jude I7; 2 Pet 3:2; Ignatius Phld. 5.1; Polycarp Phil. 6.3. For this suggestion, see Theissen (Untersuchungen, I 06) and Grasser ("Das Heil," 263). On the issue, see also Laub, Bekenntnis, 48-49. The term is not used in the LXX and appears only here in the NT, although related terms are used: f.7ttp.aprvp£w at I Pet 5:12 and uvp.p.aprvp£w at Rom 2: I5 ; 8: I6; 9: I. The technical legal usage appears in

60 6I

62 63


65 66

BGU 1.86.40, where the first of a list of witnesses attests uvp.p.aprtpw Kal uvvucj>paytw, "I corroborate and subscribe." As Hermann Strathmann ("p.ciprvs, etc.," TDNT4 (1967]474-514, esp. 508-10) notes, the basic technical meaning of uvp.p.aprvp£w and the like is not always present and the term can simply mean "confirm," as at Philo Vit. Mos. 2.123; Ep. Arist. I9I; and 1 Clem. 23.5. In this context, with its abundance of legal terminology, it is preferable to take the term in a quasi-technical sense. Cf. Deut 4:34; 6 :22 ; Ps I35:9;Jer 32:20-2I; Neh 9:10. Cf. also Philo Vit. Mos. 1.95. For the triple formula , "signs, wonders, and miracles," cf. Rom 15: I9; 2 Cor 12: I2; 2 Thess 2:9; Acts 2:22 . On ovvap.m, cf. Matt II: 10; 14:2; 15:38; Mark 6:4; I Cor I2: I 0 , 28; Gal 3:5. The term p...ovuav), a term common in apocalyptic and rabbinic tradition. 10 Hebrews refers to that eschatological consummation of the Son 's reign to which elements of the catena of chap. 1 had already pointed. 11 These eschatological elements will become explicit in his comments on Ps 8 and will appear at various points later in the text. l2



Hebrews mentions that world not only because an eschatological dimension is present in the texts cited and interpreted in the first two chapters but also in order to emphasize the reality of that new age. The addressees can be assured of that reality above all because the age to come has already been inaugurated in Christ's exaltation. This inauguration was attested in the "signs and wonders" that bear witness to the Lord's message of salvation.13 It will become clearer as the text progresses that our author, like many other early Christians, holds in tension the present and future elements in his eschatology.14 • 6-Ba The introduction begins on a rather solemn note, indicating that the speaker "bore testimony" (lJt(f.Laprvparo ). 15 The identity of the speaker remains indefinite, perhaps because, unlike some of the citations used in chap. 1, God cannot be construed as the speaker. Hebrews, in fact, rarely identifies the human author of a scriptural citation, 16 sometimes indicating that it is the Holy Spirit who speaks, 17 more regularly leaving it understood that God or Christ is involved. 18 The indefiniteness with which the citation is introduced is paralleled in Philo 19 and probably reflects a common homi-

and Zerwick, Biblical Greek,§ 473. That flexibility is particularly evident in Hebrews, where it serves as the most common conjunction. Most frequently it does introduce explanations of various sorts. It commonly functions causally, to give the reason or grounds for an assertion or to provide the basis for an exhortation (2:2 ; 3:7; 4: 15; 10:23, 36). It is also used more loosely to provide an explanation indirectly related to what precedes, and can best be translated as "now" or "you see." Cf., e.g., 2:8, 10, 11; 5: 13; 6:4, 7, 13, 16; 7:1 , 18, 26; 8:3, 7; 9:13, 16, 24; 11 :2, 14; 12: 18; 13:11 , 18. Note the usage in parenthetical remarks (2 : 16; 3:4, 14; 7:19, 20). At times the connection is quite loose and the yap is virtually equivalent to all(. Cf. , in addition to this passage, 4: 12; 5:1; 10:1 ; 12:18. On this usage see BAG 152b § 4. The particle is also used with questions (3: 16; 12:7) and on occasion inferentially (4: 10; 10: 14). It is also used with other particles (2: 16; 5: 12; I 0:34; 12:29; 13:22). For the governance of the world by angels, see Deut 32:8 (LXX); Sir 17: 17; Dan 10:13, 20; 1 Enoch 60.15-21; 89. 70-76;jub. 35.17; Herm. Vis. 3.4.1. There is certainly no indication that the angelic powers, whatever their present role, are in any way hostile, as at Eph 6:12. Several scholars rightly point out that Hebrews does not explicitly develop any

notion of angelic governance. See Dey, Intermediary World, 215; and Loader, Sohn, 27 .


11 12 13



16 17 18


Seen. 78 to 1:2. Hebrews will later (6:5) use the more precise equivalent of 1(.::101 c'71V, p.b.>..wv a1wv. Cf. Eph 1:21. Cf. the quotation of Ps 102( 101 ):27 -28 at 1:11 , 12. Cf. 6:5; 10: 15; 12:25-29; 13:14. At 6:5 it is precisely the llvvap.f&r or "powerful deeds" of the age to come that Christians have experienced. Cf. also 7TO&Kl>..a&llvvap.nr at 2:4. The reality of what Christ has already accomplished in inaugurating the new age is particularly stressed in the central expository section. Cf. 9:9-10, 14, 2628. The perspective is further in evidence at 10: 1920 and 12:28. The same solemn term , which continues the legal language of the preceding paraenetic interlude (2:4), also appears at 1 Tim 5:21; 2 Tim 2: 14; 4:1 . The exception is 4:7, where David is identified as the author of Ps 95. Cf. 3:7; I 0:15. God was the implied speaker of all the citations of chap. I. Texts from the OT are attributed to Christ at 2:12-13 and 10:5, 8. Ebr. 61, (hf yap 1rov r&r, of Sarah; Plant. 90, fi7Tf yap 1rov, of Jacob; Deus imm. 74, b vp.vwllor fht 1rov, of Ps 100(101): I. Cf. also I Clem. 15.2. Hebrews uses a

Hebrews 2:5-9

letic practice, whereby the expositor does not dwell on what is commonly known or presupposed. 20 The citation comes from Ps 8:4-6 (LXX 8:5-7). Between the MT and the LXX the only major difference is in the designation of the beings to whom the human being is subjected. The psalmist speaks of "gods," (C'i1'?~) 21 which the LXX translates as "angels" (a·yyEAov~) . a feature that makes the text particularly suitable for the current argument. Hebrews follows the LXX text closely with the omission of one clause, "You have set him over the works of your hands." That omission was probably made because the clause refers quite clearly to the mastery of humanity over the present world and would make more difficult the interpretation in terms of Christ, his temporary subjection, and his eschatological reign. 22 One other detail in the text of the psalm is altered in some witnesses, where the initial interrogative is not "what" (n') but "who" (rl~). found in some MSS of Hebrews, including ~ 46 and one important witness (A) to the LXX. Zuntz 23 attempts to construe the question in this form, arguing that lf.v8pw1ro~ ("a man") in the first clause is to be read as liv8pw1To~ ("the man") and that '1/ in

20 21



the next clause is to read not as a conjunction, Tf ("or"), but as an asseverative, ~("indeed") . The first part of the psalm would then read "Who is the man that you should remember him? Indeed, it is the Son of Man." The suggestion is ingenious but unconvincing, particularly because the clause at the end of the second stich is awkward to integrate into the "response." The variant is probably a scribal correction to bring the verse into conformity to the LXX text-type represented in A. The original psalm in both the Hebrew and Greek versions praises the power and majesty of God. The psalmist contrasts that majesty with the lowliness of humanity, asking "what is a human being" 24 that God should "remember" 25 or "watch over" 26 him . Nonetheless, the psalmist finds God's graciousness manifest in the divine treatment of this lowly creature. God has set him in a lofty position in the created world, a "little lower than the heavenly beings." This is a position of "honor and glory,"2 7 wherein humanity exercises dominion over the created world. 28 Jewish haggadists used the psalmist's question "what is man?" in various contexts, often on the lips of angels who

similarly indefinite introductory formula at 4:4. See Vanhoye, Situation, 262 . These beings were no doubt understood as the memhers of the heavenly court. For the Canaanite background, see Gerald Cooke, "The Sons of(the) God(s)," ZAW 76 (1964) 22-47; Frank M. Cross, Jr., "The Council of Yahweh in Second Isaiah," JNES 12 (1953) 274-77; and Dahood, Psalms 1.51. Cf. Pss 82:1; 86:8; and 89:6, 8. For explanations of the omission along these lines, see Zuntz, The Text, 172; Vanhoye, Situation, 264; and Laub, Bekenntnis, 64. Bruce (p. 31 n . 13) notes the explanation, but expresses some hesitancy on the grounds a similar difficulty could be posed by the following clause. Yet the exegetical comments in the rest of vs 8 will deal with the difficulties of the psalm text. An alternative, but unconvincing, explanation for the omission is suggested by Thomas ("Old Testament Citations," 306), who argues that the omitted clause ignores the role in creation attributed to Christ in the exordium . See Zuntz, The Text, 48. For a critique, seeR. V . G . Tasker, "The Text of the Corpus Paulinum," NTS 1 ( 1954-55) 180-91, although his assumption that a Son of Man christology is involved is also problematic. See also Schroger, Verfasser, 80 n. 1; and Loader, Sohn, 34-38, who offers a modified version






of Zuntz's suggestion, without resolving the problem of the second llTL clause. The first two stichs of the psalm citation stand in synonymous parallelism. Similar questions are posed at Ps 144:3 and job 7:17-18. For the positive connotation of this term (U,~l1'1 . p.1p.vriu•n),cf. Gen 8:1; 30:22; Neh 5: 19; 13:31; Ps 74:22 ; 89:51 ; 137:7. The verb (U,p!:ln, .uovv at Ezek 27:11; 3 Kgdms 7:22; 14:10; 2 Chron 8:16; 2 Esdr 16:3; Sir 50:19; Jdt 10:8. For TtAtlwu&~ as "completion," or "accomplishment," cf. Sir 34:8; Jdt 10:9. At 2 Mace 2:9, it is used in parallel with iyKa&VUTJL6~ of the temple and may mean "consecration,• although the normal sense of "completion" is probably operative. See Delling, "n'>.o~," 85; and Peterson, Perfection, 203 n . 55. The possible cultic usage of the verb and noun will be discussed

Old Testament's numerous injunctions to be "perfect" before God . 6 ~ Philo's extensive ;_.se of perfection terminology derives from common educational theory and involves a complex notion of the human ideal. 64 Perfection for him can take on an ethical, Stoic coloration in the reference to Moses, perfect in his lack of harmful emotion (a•rJta~ TO ytV1jTOV fJLau&v ivapyfi TOV aytv~TOV AaJLf3avn, "There is a mind more perfect and more

JLVUT~p&a JLV1j6tl~, 15ur&~ oi>K

thoroughly cleansed, which has undergone initiation into the great mysteries, a mind which gains the knowledge of the First Cause not from created things, as one may learn the substance from the shadow, but lifting its eyes above and beyond creation obtains a clear vision of the uncreated One." The mystery language is abundantly paralleled in Philo. Cf., e.g., Gig. 54-55; Vit. cont. 25; Conf. ling.

Hebrews 2:10-18

belief in God derived from anagogical reasoning is regularly described as inferior to belief derived from a direct perception provided by divine revelation, by "Light from Light." 71 Two uses of perfection language in Hellenistic Judaism deserve special comment because of their possible relationship to Hebrews. The LXX in several passages translates the technical terminology for the installation of Levitical priests, "to fill the hands" (1':1 N?I.J), as T..af3op:f1v) clearly does not mean "prefer." 4:28-31; Rom 4:1-25;John 8:33. On the Pauline Buchanan's appeal to non-attested variants hardly texts, see Brendan Byrne, 'Sons ofGod'-'Seed of supports the case. An allusion to Isa 41:8-9 and its Abraham': A Study of the Idea ofSonship of God of All reference to the CT7rf.p,.,.a 'Apf3aa,.,. is often detected here. See Moffatt, p. 37; Peterson, Perfection, 62; and Christians in Paul Against the Jewish Background (AnBib



Hebrews 2:10-18

Christ to be completely "likened" (bp.otw8fjvat) to them. The latter verb, which can mean "to make similar" or "to make completely alike," 182 raises issues analogous to those presented by the adverb "likewise" (7rapa7rATJulws) in vs 14. The emphatic "in all things" (Kara 1ravra) indicates that the likeness is not a superficial, quasi-docetic one. It will later be qualified only on the matter of Christ's sinlessness (4: 15). The purpose served by this likening explains to some extent the nature and end of the Son's "perfecting." The incarnation and suffering of Christ took place so that he might be a High Priest characterized by mercy and fidelity. The introduction of the title High Priest is abrupt, although the exordium (1 :3) had alluded to Christ's priestly act. This abruptness may indicate that the title was familiar to the addressees. 183 The title, in any case, announces explicitly for the first time the theme that will dominate the rest of Hebrews' christological exposition .184





The adjectives used of Christ as High Priest 185 also foreshadow important traits of his priestly office that will be further developed. As one who is "merciful" (£>..£~p.wv), 186 Christ will serve as the perpetual sympathetic intercessor before the throne of God. 18 7 This designation summarizes well the theme of solidarity developed in the preceding verses. The description of Christ as "faithful" (muros) like the priests of old 188 is more complex, mirroring the intricacy of the term "fidelity." As the heavenly intercessor, Christ is reliable and to be trusted. 189 Equally important is the notion that Christ in his life and death was faithful to God. He therefore will serve as the ultimate example of that fidelity to which all his followers are called. 190

83; Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1979). Hebrews' remark is not simply Pauline theology, pace Buchanan (p. 36) who wants to argue that the addressees must be literal sons of Abraham. Swetnam !Jesus and Isaac, 134-3 7) unconvincingly attempts to find an allusion to the Aqedah here. The motif of Abrahamic "sonship" may be, but is not necessarily, associated with the Aqedah and nothing else in this pericope specifically recalls that event. The inferential 158.auKop.at in the LXX had come to be used for "expiation" as well as propitiation. Cf. Lev 4:20, 26, 31 ; 5:10; 16:16, 33-34; and with ap.apTias as object, Sir 3:3, 30. The verb appears elsewhere in the NT only at Luke 18:13, with the meaning "to be merciful," another sense developed in the LXX. Cf. 4 Kgdms 5:18. In Hebrews, Christ's sacrifice is always directed at removing sin and its effects, not at propitiating God. Cf. 1:3; 9 :11-14; 10:23-28. In general, seeesp. Friedrich Biichsel, "l>.auKop.at," TDNT 3 ( 1965) 31417; and Stanislas Lyonnet and Leopold Sabourin, Sin, Redemption, and Sacrifice: A Biblical and Patristic Study (AnBib 48; Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1970) 120-48. As Loader (Sohn, 136) notes, Hebrews is using traditional language here, not developing a theology of atonement. 193 Stanislas Lyonnet ("Expiation et intercession. A propos d'une traduction de S.Jerome," Bib 40 [1959] 885-901) and Lyonnet a~d Sabourin (Sin, Redemption, 141-46) suggest that the verb is intimately associated with intercession and cite such texts as Zech 7:2; 8:22 ; Mal1 :9 . In these cases propitiation takes place through some form of intercession, but the meaning of the verb is not affected. Vanhoye



195 196

197 198

("De aspectu oblationis Christi secundum Epistolam ad Hebraeos," VD 37 [ 1959]32-38, and Situation, 380) as well as Geerhardus Vos ("The Priesthood of Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews," Princeton Theological Review 5 [1907]582) and Westcott (p. 58) maintain that expiation is a part of Christ's ongoing heavenly intercession. These two functions of Christ's priestly office are, however, kept distinct in Hebrews. Vanhoye's argument that the present tense ofl>.auK..ov rijs p.EyaA:'Is f3ov>..ijs, b.px•Ep(a u6v, "an angel (or messenger) of the great will , your high priest." On this passage see Roger Le Deaut, "Le titre Summus Sacerdos donne a Melchizedek est-il d 'origine juive?" RroScRel 50 (1962) 222-29. The high-priest title appears in 1 Clem. 61.3; 64.1 , but the text is certainly dependent on Hebrews. For later examples of the title, cf. Tertullian Adv. Marc. 3.7.6; and Clement of Alexandria Prot. 12; Paed. 2.8. See Hahn, Hoheitstitel, 233; and Loader, Sohn, 205. See Cullmann, Christology, 87-89; and Williamson, Philo, 154. See Olaf Moe, "Der Gedanke des allgemeinen Priestertums im Hebrlierbrief," ThZ 5 ( 1949) 161-69; Gerhard Friedrich, "Beobachtungen zur messianischen Hohenpriestererwartung in den Synoptikern," ZThK 53 (1956) 265-311; and for a critique,Jean Coppens, "Le messianisme sacerdotal dans les ecrits du Nouveau Testament," RechBib 6 (1962) 101-12. See esp. Ceslas Spicq, "L'origine Johannique de Ia conception du Christ-Pretre dans I'Epitre aux Hebreux," in Aux sources de Ia tradition chretienne: Melanges offerts a Maurice Goguel (Neuchatel: Delachaux et Niestle, 1950) 258-69; and Angus J. B. Higgins, "The Priestly Messiah," NTS 13 (1966-67) 211-39. See esp.James R. Schaefer, "The Relationship

Hebrews 2:10-18

servant texts, or in motifs possibly derived from them, is the servant explicitly described as a priest. Hebrews' understanding of Christ's death as a priestly act is rooted in the widespread Christian understanding of that death to which the Servant Songs are made to bear witness; yet the traditional high-priest title and the image of the priest as heavenly intercessor are not drawn from the servant complex. Further indications of the sources of Hebrews' christology have been detected in various explorations of traditional blocks of materials incorporated in Hebrews, 271 but while some traditional elements have been isolated, the priestly christology has not. between Priestly and Servant Messianism in the Epistle to the Hebrews," CBQ 30 (1968) 359-85; and Sabourin, Priesthood, 209, 214. 269 Cf. Matt 8: 17; Acts 8:32-33; I Pet 2:21-25 for explicit citations. Allusions may be found elsewhere, but many are dubious. In general, see Morna D. Hooker,jesus and the Servant (London: SPCK, 1959). 270 Cf. Heb 9:28.

In summary, then, the understanding of Christ as High Priest is probably based on Jewish notions of priestly angels and was already a part of the Christian liturgical or exegetical tradition on which our author draws, but that tradition hardly explains the way in which the motif is developed in the text.

271 See the discussion of5:7-IO; 7:1-3, 26-28; 8:49:9; 10:2-10.


Hebrews 3:1-6


The Fidelity of the Son Wherefore, holy brothers and sisters, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the apostle and high priest of our confession, Jesus, 2/ faithful to the one who appointed him, as was Moses, in his house. 1 3/ For he has been deemed worthy of a greater glory than Moses, to the extent that the one who fashions a house has greater honor than the house.- 4/ For every house is built by someone, and the one who fashions all things is God.- 5/ And "Moses is faithful in his whole house" as a "servant," to bear testimony to the things which will be spoken. 6/ But Christ is as a son over his house, which 2 house we are, if3 we hold on 4 to our boldness and hopeful boast.

Many witnesses (N A C D 'i' ~ lat sy) read li>..~ T~ avrov, "his whole house." Others, including the oldest papyri (c.J3 1M 6vid B co Cyril Ambrose), omit the adjective. The omission may have been accidental, due to homoioteleuton, although it seems more likely that the wording of the verse was made to conform to the text of Num 12:7 cited in vs 5. Modern opinion varies. Many commentators retain the adjective. It is retained with doubts in NestleAland (26th ed.). See also Metzger, Textual Commentary, 664. For the deletion of the word, see Braun, p. 80, and the scholars cited there. The reading lir o1Kor, "which house," is found in c.J3 46 orK~



and several later witnesses (D* 0121 b 1739 pc lat [syP]). The variant o~ o1Kor, "whose house," (c.J3" N A B C D 2 I 'i' v co Jerome) is an easier reading, probably produced by making the relative conform to ai>Tov. See Zuntz, The Text, 92-93; and Braun, p. 81. Some witnesses (c.J3 46 N2 A C D 2 'i' ~ vgm•) have a strengthened form of the conjunction, Mv,•p, "if indeed," while others (c.J3" B D* P 0121 b 33 81 pc lat) have the simple Mv, "if." The longer form was probably introduced to harmonize the verse with vs 14. N* reads Kctv, probably a simple visual error for £av. "



A new section begins where the last ended, with Jesus, the faithful High Priest. Hebrews contrasts this faithful agent of God's will with another whom scripture attests as faithful, Moses. Thus this new segment of the text begins, as did the first, with a synkrisis or comparison. The first comparison between the Son and the angels eventually developed into an elaborate reflection on the significance of Christ's suffering and death. Similarly, this comparison between the two faithful ones will lay the foundation for the following expositional and hortatory pericope (3 :7-4:11 ). The initial contrast quickly fades into the background while the importance of fidelity is stressed as the way to attain the goal of divine "rest." The argument in this introductory pericope involves two phases. The first (vss 2-3) is a general illustrative analogy. Jesus contrasts with Moses as the maker of a house contrasts with the house itself. The second phase 104

Some witnesses (N A C D 'i' 0121 b ~ latt sy

bo) add p.EXPI riAovr fJ•fJalav, "firm until the end," another harmonization with vs 14, not found in c.J3U.46 B sa.

(vss 5-6) provides an exegetical foundation for the analogy. Moses is faithful as a servant in God's house while Jesus, as chap. 1 already emphasized, is the Son and as Son he is set over God's house. Between these two phases of the argument vs 4 is best understood as a parenthetical extension of the analogy-Jesus: Moses:: maker: house :: God: universe. Although this remark does not contribute directly to the argument, it serves to evoke the Son's association with God that ultimately renders him superior to any other intermediary between God and humanity. As in the preceding pericope, the author again evidences the delight of the rhetorician and midrashist in the subtle and playful use of language, most apparent in the way he exploits the various metaphorical values of the term "house." The comparison between Christ and Moses raises questions similar to those posed by the comparison

Hebrews 3:1-6

between Christ and the angels and various rationales for the comparison have been proposed. That Hebrews was attempting to refute an explicit Moses christology, such as that found in later Ebionite sources, 5 is highly unlikely, since polemic on the subject, as in the case of the angels, is singularly absent. 6 Moreover, the christological traditions which the author assumes and tries to revivify are incompatible with such a low christology. The comparison between Christ and Moses serves rhetorical, not polemical, purposes. As in encomia generally, the comparison serves not so much to denigrate the comparable figure as to exalt the subject of the discourse. In considering the comparison between Christ and the angels we noted significant parallels between the image of heavenly, angelic priests and the christological portrait of Hebrews, and we argued that our text is indebted to traditional Jewish speculation. Similar observations can be made about Moses, who, according to the scriptural accounts of his lineage, was a Levite. 7 While the Pentateuch does not dwell on this priestly connection, later Jewish sources would do so.8 Moreover, Moses was a priest especially favored by God, because he alone was called into the divine presence, where he spoke to God 5


7 8



"face to face. "9 This tradition of Moses' intimate encounter with God underwent further development in Hellenized Jewish circles 10 and among the rabbis. 11 In these various traditions Moses becomes the intermediary par excellence between God and humanity, the sort of claim made for Jesus in Hebrews. Whether our author was influenced by such traditions in developing his portrait of Christ is impossible to determine. 12 That he was at least aware of them is likely. Hence, his contrast between Christ and Moses derives at least part of its force from the high regard in which Moses was held in the first centuryY1 That our author is here attempting to forestall a potential misunderstanding of his High-Priestly christology is possible, but the rationale for this pericope is probably more simple. Comparisons between Moses and Christ were, like the notion that the exalted Christ is superior to the angels, commonplace in early Christianity. 14 Hebrews develops this traditional comparison by focusing on a scripturally attested quality of Moses, his fidelity, which provides the basis for the exhortation that follows.

See E. L. Allen , "jesus and Moses in the New Testament," ExpTim 67 (1955-56) 104-6. For Ebionite christology, cf. Ps.-Clem. R ec. 4.5; Ps.-Clem. H om. 3.47 ; 8.5-7 ; and see Bruce, p . 58 n. 17. For attempts to uncover a polemic thrust, see Spicq 2.62 ; Buchanan, pp. 54, 255 ; Kosmala, H ebriier, 44. For doubts about such polemic, see Grasser, Glaube, 19; Schierse, Verheissung, 199; Schrager, Verfasser, 95 ; Hofius, Katapausis, 222 n. 936; and Loader, Sohn, 19, 76. Cf. Exod 2:1. Cf. Sir 45:4 and Philo Vit. Mos. 2.166-86. On Moses 11 traditions in general, see Wayne Meeks, The ProphetKing: M oses Traditions and the johannine Christology 12 (NovTSup 14; Leiden: Brill, 1967); David L. Tiede, The Charismatic Figure as Miracle Worker (SBLDS 1; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1972) 101-240; and Carl H . 13 Holladay, Theios Aner: A Critique of the Use ofThis Category in New Testament Christology (SBLDS 40; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1977). Cf. Num 12:8 ; Exod 33:11; Deut 34:1 0; Sir 45 :5. These passages stand in tension with Exod 33 :23, 14 which affirms that Moses did not so see God. On this tension and exegetical attempts to deal with it, see Mary Rose D' Angelo, Moses in the Letter to the Hebrews (SBLDS 42; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1979). In Philo, cf. Vit. Mos. 1. 158: wvop.auii1J yap 8A.ov roii

E'8vovs 8Ehs ~eai f3a