HEBREWS 1 KJV
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:
4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?
6 And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.
7 And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.
8 But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.
9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:
11 They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;
12 And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.
13 But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?
14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?
The supposition of most scholars is that the community addressed in this letter has been led astray towards the worship of angels. There is no specific evidence for this; and in a time when various kinds of angelology are again being punted, we could understand the opening of Hebrews as an attack on a culturally fashionable tendency among believers. In any case the angel issue provides the author with a jumping off point for a series of meditations on Jesus as Son of God, Pioneer and High Priest of humanity; and on the meaning of faith in God through him. We have no knowledge of who the author was, or where he lived or exactly when he wrote, although most scholars assign the writing to the last decades of the first century CE.
The astonishing first sentence in Greek is the most carefully articulated in the New Testament, well represented by the equally structured sentence of the KJV, but not at all by most other translations. OK, perhaps this kind of sentence is rare in modern writing, although it us hardly unknown, but surely a translator’s job is to show somehow the effect of the original words?
The KJV sundry translates Greek polumeros = composed of many different bits, and is precisely accurate whereas many modern versions give us “many”. I don’t know how I could do better than “sundry” although it is now out of date. “Divers manners” translates Greek polutropos = composed of many different manners. The author wants to emphasise the occasional and varied nature of God’s communication with Israel through the speech of the prophets.
This is contrasted with God’s speech “in these last days” a expression which designates the end time of the present world and the beginning of a new world, a time indeed to which the prophets looked forward. God’s has now spoken through his son who
1) succeeds Israel as the recipient of all God’s promises (he is the heir);
2) shared with God in the creation of the worlds (literally “aeons”);
3) radiates the splendour of God ( I prefer the active meaning of the Greek apaugasma = radiance (active) or reflection(passive));
4) is the express image of God, like that of a metal seal on clay (The Greek word is “character” which originally meant that sort of impress);
5) maintains the order of the universe by his powerful command (this identifies Jesus the Son with the commands of Genesis 1, such as “Let there be light!”)
6) has “made a cleansing from sin” (the KJV says purged our sins, which rightly means that Jesus’ life and death and resurrection washed away human sin rather than merely the guilt of sin);
7) shares in the rule of God over the universe
The first sentence ends by defining the superiority of Jesus to the angels by his status as Son of God, his “name“. Jesus taught about his relationship with God as that of son to father; this letter depicts the father as bestowing that name on Jesus. The list of quotations from the book of Psalms, some of which may already have been applied in Jewish speculation to the coming Messiah provide very bold descriptions of one who shares divine nature:
Jesus is “begotten” son of God, who epitomises the relationship of Israel to God as child to father. He is God’s firstborn whom the angels are commanded to worship (as Jewish legend says they were commanded to worship Adam); unlike the angels who are servants in God’s court, Jesus the Son rules forever as one who loves justice and goodness, anointed as victorious ruler by God himself.
The quotation which begins “And Thou Lord has laid etc.” is the boldest of all for it uses words clearly intended for God, for Jesus, who is said to have created the universe and to live eternally. Even God’s judgement on the powers of the world is said to be done with Jesus in mind: it will humble his enemies.
The author concludes that there is no comparison between Jesus the Lord and the angels who exist to minister to God’s people.
The chapter is a powerful argument for the uniqueness of Jesus defined as a unique relationship with God. Yes, he has a vital relationship to humanity – he washed away our sins- but he did so as the sharer of God’s rule, as the Son who lives forever. We can say that in this theology Jesus cannot be known apart from God, but it is also clear that for this author God cannot be known apart from Jesus.
It is perhaps important to note a major similarity between the opening line of Hebrews and the opening line of Homer’s Odyssey. There, Odysseus is described as polutropon – a man of many devices. Note the same word used as an adverb in Hebrews is an adjective in the Odyssey. I can’t help but think that the author wanted to start his discourse in a way that called attention in the same way Homer announced the unique attraction of Odysseus at the outset of his epic poem. I believe he had Homer in mind.
I have read bits of the Odyssey in Greek and should have remembered this special word. Thanks.