Is Jesus God in Hebrews 1.8?

Is Jesus God in Hebrews 1.8? June 21, 2017

Traditionalist Bible scholars cite Hebrew 1.8-9 as one of their major texts to support their view that Jesus is God. It reads in the NASB, “But of the Son He says, ‘YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM. YOU HAVE LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS; THEREFORE GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED YOU WITH THE OIL OF GLADNESS ABOVE YOUR COMPANIONS.’” Full capitals the New Testament (NT) in the NASB signifies an Old Testament (OT) quotation.

In the Greek text of Hebrews 1.8-9, the author quotes Psalm 45.6-7 from the Septuagint (LXX), the 3rd century BCE Greek version of the Hebrew Bible rather than from the Masoretic Text (MT). He applies it to “the Son,” namely, Jesus. But both texts have grammatical problems that make it difficult to determine whether the author of Hebrews therein calls Jesus “God” or not. We need to first consider the meaning of Ps 45.6-7 and then Heb 1.8-9.

Psalm 45 is a wedding song, entitled “a song of love,” that is addressed to “the King” (v. 1). It may depict an ideal king, or it may have been composed for the royal marriage of some specific king, perhaps King Solomon, or both. The psalmist says to the king, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of joy above Your fellows.”

Scholars regard the first clause in Ps 45.6 as one of the most difficult texts to translate and interpret in the OT. Most English Bibles treat elohim (God) here in the MT as a vocative and thus translating it “Your throne, O God,” identifying the king as God. But some versions render it as an adjective, genitive, subject, or predicate, such as “your divine throne” or “your throne is (from) God,” which do not call the king “God.”

It is possible that the psalmist in Ps 45.6 applies the Hebrew word elohim (God) to the king as with Israel’s rulers in other psalms (“gods” in Psalm 58.1 and 82.6). The psalmist, being a monotheist, likely meant no more than the king as God’s vice-regent (cf. John 10.34). Many esteemed rabbis, as well as a Jewish Targum, interpreted Psalm 45 as messianic just as does the author of Hebrews.

The context of Psalm 45 favors elohim/ho theos in v. 6a not calling the king/Messiah “God.” That is, “God” is clearly distinguished from the king/Messiah in v. 2 (“God has blessed You”) and in v. 7 (“God, Your God, has anointed You”). This is further amplified in both verses by God being portrayed as acting upon the king/Messiah. To also call the king/Messiah “God” in such a context would introduce a most inexplicable ambiguity—God acting upon God, thus two Gods. Don Cupitt well explains, “No exegete would suggest that the Hebrew writers thought of either their present king or their ideal future king as literally and co-equally divine…. the meaning is rather that the king rules by divine right and is endued with the fullness of God’s power.”

So, the immediate contexts of Ps 45.6-7 and Heb 1.8-9 show that their authors did not intend to identify the one they were writing about as “God.” Rather, they distinguish God and the king/Messiah by saying, “God has blessed You” (Psalm 45.2), and “God” and “His Son” (Hebrews 1.1-2). It is unlikely they would have addressed the king/Jesus as “O God” and then contradict this by saying, “God, Your God, has anointed You.”

The larger context of the book of Hebrews reveals that its author does not intend to call Jesus “God.” First, he says in his prologue, in Heb 1.1-3, that the Son is “the exact representation” (image) of God’s “nature” (v. 3). A representation or an image is not the original. Second, since he does not say in his prologue, which serves as an outline, that Jesus is God, it is unlikely he does so in his text. Third, he spares no effort in trying to prove that the heavenly-exalted Jesus is superior to angels (vv. 5-14) and all other men. This includes Moses (3.1-19), all of Israel’s priests, and the esteemed Melchizedek (7.1-16), saying Jesus’ priesthood is greater than his (9.1-28). Establishing that Jesus is greater than angels and men is superfluous if the author of Hebrews says Jesus is God.

The book of Hebrews is written to Jews. They were monotheists, and so was this author. If he had called Jesus “God,” he would have been aware that such a provocative proclamation would have stirred up a hornets’ nest in the Jewish community to which he wrote. To not provide any reasons for such a bold assertion would have been a serious literary lapse. Instead, he did not intend to attribute any more status to Jesus than what the psalmist did about the king/Messiah.

What do NT scholars say about ho theos in Hebrews 1.8? The majority treat it as a vocative, thus calling Jesus “God.” But its context and that of Psalm 45.6 suggest that both authors did not intend to call the king/Messiah “God.”

Vincent Taylor insists that ho theos in Hebrews 1.8 should be treated as a nominative. Yet he argues that “nothing can be built upon this reference, for the author shares the reluctance of New Testament writers to speak explicitly of Christ as ‘God.’” Taylor contends that this verse “supplies no ground at all for the supposition that the author thought and spoke of Christ as God…. the writer frequently uses the name ‘the Son,’ and he does so in introducing this very quotation. He has no intention of suggesting that Jesus is God.”

William Barclay often does a good job in summarizing scholarly debates about whether or not specific NT texts call Jesus “God.” He says of Hebrews 1.8, “This is a passage in which no one would wish to be dogmatic. In both cases both translations are perfectly possible … But, whatever translation we accept, we once again see that the matter stands in such doubt that it would be very unsafe to base any firm argument upon it.”

Some Trinitarians claim the word “Lord” in Hebrews 1.10-12 refers to Jesus, so that the rest of the text affirms his preexistence as creator. It reads, “And, THOU, LORD, IN THE BEGINNING LAID THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH, AND THE HEAVENS ARE THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS; THEY WILL PERISH, BUT YOU REMAIN; AND THEY ALL WILL BECOME OLD LIKE A GARMENT, AND LIKE A MANTLE YOU WILL ROLL THEM UP; LIKE A GARMENT THEY WILL ALSO BE CHANGED. BUT YOU ARE THE SAME, AND YOUR YEARS WILL NOT COME TO AN END.”

Hebrews 1.10-12 is a quotation of Psalm 102.25-27 in the LXX. The psalmist relates his personal affliction in vv. 1-11. He presents it as a complaint to the “LORD” (YHWH in MT: Ps 102.1, 12, 16, 18-19, 21). He then affirms God’s eternal enthronement, saying he will rise up and deliver Zion at “the appointed time” (vv. 12-13). This theme continues through v. 23. So, six times the psalmist mentions Yahweh in the MT as his addressee.

This LXX quotation of Psalm 102.25-27 in Hebrews 1.10-12 fairly represents the MT. However, in Ps 102.25 the MT relects only “you,” referring to Yahweh, whereas the LXX has kurie, the vocative for “lord.” Scholars have disagreed on whether “Lord” in Hebrews 1.10 refers to Yahweh, as in the MT, or Jesus. It is more likely that the author of Hebrews refers to God, here, rather than Jesus.

First, Heb 1.10 is about creation. The OT repeatedly says Yahweh created the heavens and the earth. The first occurrence is in Gen 2.4-25. It mentions “the LORD God” (Heb. yhwh elohim) as Creator eleven times. Jesus is not Yahweh.

Second, mention of the creation of the earth and the heavens in Heb 1.10 should be compared with the beginning of this book. It reads in vv. 1-2, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 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.” Major English versions have the last word here and in Heb 11.3 “world(s)” (NASB, NRSV) or “universe” (NIV, ESV); but the Greek text in both cases has tous aionas, which means “the ages.”

Some Trinitarians claim the Greek word di (“through”) in Heb 1.2 and v. 10 means in both cases that Jesus created the universe, or the ages, thus requiring his preexistence. (This concept, with the word di, occurs in other NT texts, e.g., John 1.3, 10; 1 Cor 8.6.) On the contrary, it only means that when God created the heavens and the earth, or the ages, he had Jesus in mind to eventually make him the head of creation. Thus, God, not Jesus, created the universe.

For example, Paul distinguishes God and Christ and then states, “God, who created all things” (Eph 3.9). And John the Revelator relates his vision of the twenty-four elders of heaven who exclaim concerning the enthroned God, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Rev 4.11).

In NT Greek, the preposition di can be translated “through” or “by,” with “through” much more common. In Col 1.16b, Paul says of Jesus, “all things have been created through Him and for Him.” In this v. 16, Paul reveals that God creating all things “through” (Gr. di) Jesus means the same as “in” (Gr. en) Jesus at the beginning of the verse. Many versions wrongly translate that first en in the Greek text of Col 1.16 as “by” while inconsistently translating the second en as “in” in the clause, “in the heavens.”

Third, the idea in Ps 102.26 and Heb 1.11-12a of the cosmos wearing out like a garment and being changed is in two other OT texts (Isa 34.4; 51.6; cf. Rev 6.14). Both texts indicate it is “the LORD” (Heb. yhwh) who will accomplish it. It seems this action will not be initiated by Jesus since he said only God the Father knows the date of the end of the age when it will occur and Jesus will return (Mt 24.36; Mk 13.32; Ac 1.7).

Fourth, similar to Heb 1.12b (“BUT YOU ARE THE SAME, AND YOUR YEARS WILL NOT COME TO AN END”), the author of Hebrews says later, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13.8). All of this signifies immortality. But Paul reveals that immortality belonged solely to God, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Tim 1.17). Paul adds, “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality” (1 Tim 6.15-16). Thus, Jesus revealed that his imminent immortality would be derived from God and bestowed upon him by God raising him from the dead (John 5.26).

Fifth, Heb 1.5-13 is a catena containing OT quotations which scholars generally believe preexisted in the early (Jewish?) church. So, the author of Hebrews is merely using it here. Besides vv. 10-12, in all of these other quotations in the catena, God is the person who speaks. Thus, in the OT texts the prophet speaks on behalf of God or about God. So, as with these other quotations in this catena in Heb 1.5-13, it most likely is God who speaks in vv. 10-12, with “lord” referring to himself.

…………….

To see a list of titles of 130+ posts (2-3 pages) that are about Jesus not being God in the Bible, with a few about God not being a Trinity, at Kermit Zarley Blog click “Chistology” in the header bar. Most are condensations of my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ. See my website servetustheevangelical.com, which is all about this book,  with reviews, etc. Learn about my books and purchase them at kermitzarley.com. I was a Trinitarian for 22 years before reading myself out of it in the Bible.

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