Getting Tense With Hebrews 1

In the past, I argued against the liberal (or Kenotic Arian) view of Scripture by looking at what the writer to the Hebrews thought about Scripture. I could have argued from Paul, Peter, John and Christ but I was co-opting some of my studies on Hebrews to make the point. Anyway, there was a fundamental thread that should be seen throughout the entire post easily summarized as follows: the writer to the Hebrews sees God speaking the Gospel right now perfectly through others via the entirety of Scripture written in the past to affect change in the present to save from the future shaking. In fact, if I want a scripture summary, I’d probably just quote Isaiah 40 and what the voice of one crying out in the wilderness was to cry: Good News—God is here!

With that understanding I think it’s easier to see why the writer to the Hebrews uses the passages he does and the way he does even if it still generates a whole mess of questions. For instance, a reading of Hebrews 1:1-5 generates five questions in my mind. First a quick overview:

  • Heb 1:1 God spoke via Prophets
  • Heb 1:2 God spoke these days via his Son
  • Heb 1:3 God’s Son is the radiance of His glory; exact representation of his nature; upholds all things by the word of his power; made purification for sins; sat down at the right hand of the majesty on High
  • Heb 1:4 God’s Son became much better than the angels by receiving a more excellent name
  • Heb 1:5 Angels never called Son

Now mind, most of the far context has been dealt with in far more detail by David Gooding in his book(amazon) The Unshakeable Kingdom (read online) and DA Carson in a message both drawing heavily from FF Bruce’s commentary so you can look at all of those for some of the more technical questions but here are mine:

  • Question 1: What does this all (including the citations of 2 Sam 7 and Psalm 2) have to do with Gospel anyway?
  • Question 2: If the Son is the brightness of God’s glory, an exact representation of God’s nature and upholds all things by the word of His power—something only God does—then why does the author downgrade (as it were) his argument by appealing to the fact that He is called “Son”?
  • Question 3: what does that argument (being called Son) have to do with the prior point (Brightness of God’s glory, etc) anyway?
  • Question 4: Angels have been called Son (you know Genesis 6 and Job 1—which includes Satan); what gives?
  • Question 5: Why quote Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7 to prove this at all?

Gooding, Carson and Bruce pull out several points from the use of the passages but I particularly wanted to focus on one matter of tense.

In 2 Samuel 7, God makes David a covenant of a future descendant sitting on David’s throne and reigning in David’s Kingdom. God says that the future descendant would build God’s house but if this descendant sins, God will punish him. We know this winds up happening with Solomon (and not with Christ) but God states that David’s throne will endure forever which looks beyond Solomon who winds up being punished for his own iniquities and eventually dies.

What God says in 2 Samuel 7 is, essentially David’s Real Son (not some other human or even a non-human)  will do what God wants (build God’s house) when God wants and he will be called God’s Son as a title—but (in time) Solomon isn’t the perpetual continuation of David’s promise. Each Davidic King is called God’s Son (“I will be a father to him and he will be my Son”) and this pattern will either continue into eternity or there would eventually come a human son of David who retains the God given title of “Son” eternally.

Shorthand: the promise of God’s naming is made in the future tense, even when considering Solomon.

But that changes in Psalm 2. The Psalm is about the Lord’s Anointed already seated in the mountain of the Lord while the nations already rail against him and the Lord (David was given rest and the Lord promised a future rest to him and his people in 2 Samuel 7). The Lord currently laughs and then the Lord’s anointed speaks in the past tense saying “He said unto my ‘I am your father and you are my son’.” He then proceeds to tell the nations to fear the Son (a Kingly role) and to Worship God (a priestly role).

Anyway, the Anointed One is recalling when God said this to him but in 2 Samuel 7, the one who is called “My Son” isn’t even around yet to receive the title.

Now, I’m not saying that the Psalm is definitely Christ speaking in the past tense but, in light of what I previously wrote about how the writer to the Hebrews reads Scripture, when we hear the tense we should be hearing Christ speaking in that portion. At least the early Christians in Acts read the text that way when they cited the words of the Psalm as part of their prayer.

  • Question 5: The writer has to quote 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 2 because it makes a bridge between God Doing and David’s Family Doing (something that the prophets expand on, especially when you read Ezekiel 34 – 37) that the promise of the bestowed title of Son is bestowed on a man, a son of David, who has both kingly (rule the people) and priestly (build God’s house and direct worship to God) roles.
  • Question 4: Although Angels have been called sons (Job 1) it is only in the sense where they are displaying part of God’s qualities. I wrote about functional sonship before but I think it can be easily summarized as God is both spirit and a consuming fire who ministers to others and angels are ministering spirits and flames. None of them reign or hold dominion. That was something that was explicitly given to the human race (Genesis 1).
  • Question 3: The point has much to do with the previous point because the writer displays Christ as doing everything God does—even down to his nature. God creates…so did Christ. God upholds with his power…so did Christ. John 5 makes this point pretty nicely.
  • Question 2: The writer makes the connection that the one who perfectly expresses God is the one who has come near as a man. It’s pretty much the whole basis of the argument in Chapter 2 through 5 so as to eventually show that he has suffered, he understands our weaknesses, he went on before us and he has conquered and has completed his work. That’s powerful stuff to have a person (Christ) who represents God perfectly also be the very one who can rule and represent men perfectly.
  • Question 1: Well, it pretty much is the Gospel, isn’t it?

As a side point, I think it’s interesting that in a book which is often used to prove the most inane things about what Christ’s humanity necessarily entailed (vomiting, believing error, almost dying from sickness, liking brunette little people) that this point that the one who perfectly represents God (created the world, upholds all things by his word of power, brightness of God’s glory, express image of God) is relegated to his post-resurrection ministry when Isaiah looks forward to this Son being born and finally the Father Himself from Heaven declares, in the start of Christ’s ministry “This is my beloved Son—hear Him!”(Matt 3:17)  He suffered, surely, but he did so as perfectly representing the Father (John 14:9)

I’m not too sure on the thought-flow of this post since my brain is currently fuzzy; I may have made the points without tightening the connections as much as I would like.

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