My Lord and My God: John’s Use of Psalm 35

At the end of the Gospel of John, we read the following:

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

The problem with this passage is the following: Thomas seems to call Jesus both Lord and God, but we know that Jesus and God are different. This is the only direct attribution of the name “God” to Jesus in John, and in all of the NT (with the exception of Hebrews). So the question is: Did John really mean for his readers to understand that Jesus is God, or that he can rightly be called God?

 

The Citation Approach

Normally this statement of Thomas’s would be evaluated in terms of a bald declaration, but it seems to me that the words of Thomas are really a citation of Psalm 35:23.

Awake, O Lord, and attend to my judgment, [even] to my cause, my God and my Lord.

ἐξεγέρθητι, Κύριε, καὶ πρόσχες τῇ κρίσει μου, ὁ Θεός μου καὶ ὁ Κύριός μου, εἰς τὴν δίκην μου.

Thomas’s words are a verbatim repetition, with the exception that the order of God and Lord is reversed. This is not a problem, though, since reversing the order of words or clauses was not uncommon in Jewish writers at that time (see Paul and the Language of Scripture by Christopher D. Stanley; for example, compare 1 Corinthians 2:9 [Eye has not seen, nor ear heard] and Isaiah 64:4 [we have not heard, neither have our eyes seen]. Ciampa and Rosner write that “such alterations were an accepted part of citation technique in antiquity.” The First Letter to the Corinthians, 127.). So it could be that this is exactly what is going on in John 20:28, but is there reason to think this, other than the unusual statement of Thomas? I think that there is.

Psalm 35 and John

We should ask ourselves whether John even knew Psalm 35 before we jump to the possibility of him citing it in the words of Thomas. It appears that he did, since in John 15:

21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.

22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.

23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also.

24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.

25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

27 And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.

For our purposes we will note the following:

  1. Jesus identifies himself with the Father (God) in the sense that hating him means hating the Father.
  2. He cites “their law” about being hated without cause.
  3. He speaks of the Comforter (the Holy Spirit).
  4. He speaks of testifying and bearing witness.

As for the citation from “their law,” it could be from two different sources: Psalm 35:19 or Psalm 69:4. Here is a comparison of the Greek:

 Ἐμίσησάν με δωρεάν (John)

οἱ μισοῦντες με δωρεὰν (Ps 35)

οἱ μισοῦντές με δωρεάν (Ps 69)

We can see that the two Psalms use an identical phrase, and so we cannot from this discern which one Jesus was citing. So it seems that Jesus could have been referring to either one.

However, when we look at this passage in John 15 in relation to John 20, things become clearer.

Point 1 is seen in John 20:38 (“My Lord and My God,” spoken to Jesus alone).

Point 2 is seen (possibly) as another citation from “their law.” (“My Lord and My God”).

Point 3 is seen in the context of 20:38 in that Thomas was not their when Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the 10 Apostles, the very event predicted in John 15.

Point 4 is seen in the testimony of Thomas. He had set himself up as a judge of Jesus, demanding that evidence be shown to him before he declared a verdict. When the evidence was presented by Jesus himself, he passed his judgement with the testimony of “My Lord and My God.” This was done not by him putting his fingers into Jesus’s hands (the text does not say whether he did so) but rather by him receiving the Holy Spirit just as the 10 Apostles had. Although this is only implied rather than recounted, it makes sense since it would be strange that Thomas would not receive the Holy Spirit like the other 10. If he did receive it, it would appear that he received it in this encounter, like the 10 had a week earlier. The result of him receiving it would be his testimony that Jesus is Lord and God, recalling John 15:26 “he shall testify of me.”

Given the 4 strong connections between John 15 and John 20, we can conclude that the citation in John 15 is of Psalm 35, just as Psalm 35 is cited in John 20.

This is further shown by the context of Psalm 35 itself and its relation to the narrative events of John 15 and 20. While both Ps 35 and 69 speak of being persecuted by enemies (the context of John 15) there are particular traits in Ps 35 that apply to the chapters in John.

 11 Fierce witnesses rise up; They ask me things that I do not know.

21 They also opened their mouth wide against me, And said, “Aha, aha!

Our eyes have seen it.

23 Stir up Yourself, and awake to my vindication, To my cause, my God and my Lord.

27 Let them shout for joy and be glad, Who favor my righteous cause;

And let them say continually, “Let the Lord be magnified, 

Who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.” 

28 And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness And of Your praise all the day long.

All of these elements find an interpretation in the story of Thomas: he was a follower of Jesus, but had believed what he had seen (v.21), namely that Jesus had died. He favored the cause of Jesus, and as a consequence “magnified” him by calling him “My Lord and My God” (v.23). Thomas saw the vindication of Jesus, the Lord’s servant (v.27) and responded accordingly as we see in the Psalm.

Conclusion

John ends his Gospel with the declaration of Thomas that Jesus is “My Lord and My God.” This confession of belief caps the book, and is therefor very important. The only material after this confession is the statement that those who believe without seeing (the readers of John) are blessed, that Jesus did many other miracles not recorded in John, and that the Gospel was written so that you would believe (like Thomas, but without the benefit of actually seeing). Thomas’s statement becomes the model that John’s readers are to adopt, a confession based on faith without seeing. John wants his readers to confess Jesus as “My Lord and My God,” a confession coming from Psalm 35 that is applied to God himself.

That is not to say that John flatly equates Jesus with his own Father, but rather that Jesus and his Father are “one”(Dt. 6:4, John 10:30) and to see Jesus is to see the Father (John 14:9). This is why, when Thomas is given the Spirit, he looks at Jesus and confesses him to be “My Lord and My God,” the same Lord and God who vindicated Jesus, God’s servant. The statement is not a piece discursive theology, but a citation of prophecy fulfilled in Jesus’s resurrection, and a recognition of the unity of God and his Son. John “has his cake and eats it too” in the sense that he affirms a unity of Jesus and God while retaining a distinction between God and Jesus.

 

 

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Anthrax in the Bible: A Burning Issue

(note: normally I use only pictures that I have taken personally, but the image above is taken from the internet.)

 

Don’t let the title scare you: your Bible is not infectious. On the other hand, the Bible does speak of anthrax, although you probable haven’t realized this before. Below we will see just what this means.

What is Anthrax?

When I was growing up, Anthrax to me was a thrash metal band. Later on I associated the word with terrorism due to the anthrax attacks of 2001. I recently spent some time with a person who lived through those attacks. He survived, but as a result all of his possessions were burned as a precaution.

If you don’t know already, anthrax as a disease is deadly and found in herbivores, yet in modern times has been weaponized. The disease’s name derives from an ancient Greek term.

 

Coal

I typically encounter coal in the form of charcoal. Specifically, charcoal briquettes used to cook food on my grill. These are made by taking wood shavings pressed together and then burned in an environment where instead of being burned completely, the oxygen level is regulated so that the carbon structure of the wood is retained. Just like when you have a campfire that burns itself out, resulting in ashes and coal, charcoal is manufactured so that most of the wood is transformed into coal rather than ash.

If you grill a good deal, you might be familiar with natural wood charcoal. Rather than briquettes, these are pieces of wood that have been converted into coal. These pieces are black, of course, but also quite beautiful: they have a slight iridescent sheen to them and you can still see the grain of the wood. They also have a rather interesting sound to them when they are knocked about and when they crack as they catch fire, rather like what I would imagine semi-hollow crystals would sound like (think of the sounds in the crystal cave in Superman).

But we all know that coal is mined as well as made. A few years ago I was walking in the woods and looking for interesting rocks. This was in an area that had arrowheads and various types of quartz in plentitude. I came across a rather light-weight rock which was black and had an iridescent sheen. I had no idea what it was, but after a bit of googling I found out that it was anthracite coal. This type of coal, as opposed to bituminous coal, is rather hard and burns at a much higher temperature.

It was due to this discovery in the woods that I realized that anthrax was coal.

 

The Wider Etymology

Anthracite means “coal-like,” and anthrax (the disease) is so named because it produces boils that resemble coal. Boils, by the way, are so named because the body “boils” (bubbles) these lesions to the surface (just like water boiling). Another term associated with this family of words is carbuncle, a term that denotes both boils (lesions) and a semi-precious stone (red garnet). “Carbuncle” is from carbunculus, a small coal. Additionally, “carbon” is a more modern term that simply means “burning coal” (think of carbo-hydrates, carbu-rater, etc.).

Now that we have established that anthrax and carbuncle are synonymous terms that simply derive from different families of languages, we can look at the biblical evidence.

 

The New Testament

We find anthrax in the NT three times:

Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink:

for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire (ἄνθρακας πυρὸς) on his head.

-Romans 12:20

The above verse is advice given by Paul, and it has always struck me as rather strange. Is the helping of one’s enemy a form of attack? Who wants burning coals on their head, after all? This becomes clearer when we realize that Paul is citing a teaching from Proverbs:

If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink

For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.

-Proverbs 25:21-22

The burning coals are useful and he is referencing the practice of carrying live coals as a way of transferring fire. Even the tradition of getting coal in one’s stocking at Christmas was originally a sign of good luck and prosperity; coal and fire were good. At any rate, Paul goes on to write in the next verse:

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

This makes it explicit that the coals were for the benefit of the “enemy,” in spite of their opposition to you.

 

The other two instances in the NT are both from John:

And the servants and officers stood there,

who had made a fire of coals (ἀνθρακιὰν);

for it was cold: and they warmed themselves:

and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.

-John 18:18

Peter warms himself by a charcoal fire during the trial of Jesus, and there he denies knowing Jesus three times. He is literally and figuratively close to hell in this scene, and his three-fold denial is reversed a few chapters later:

As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals (ἀνθρακιὰν) there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.

10 Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.

11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.

12 Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.

13 Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.

14 This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.

-John 21:9-14

The passage continues with Jesus asking Peter three times if he loved him, and Peter’s triple affirmation serves as a balance to his triple denial in chapter 18. This scene plays out around a meal and a coal fire, just as the denials played out over a trial and a coal fire. The coals in scene one were of judgment, while in scene two they are of of life and forgiveness. Peter, in effect, was cooking/judging himself while Jesus was judged in ch. 18, and Jesus was cooking/preparing Peter and the Gentiles while Peter vindicated himself in ch. 21. Just as Paul taught that one should heap coals upon one’s enemy instead of doing them harm, Jesus uses coals to feed and forgive Peter. Peter, the denier of Jesus and therefore his enemy, benefits from the coals and is fed, just as we find in Proverbs and Romans.

 

The Old Testament

Other than Paul and John, we have no NT references to coals. Yet the OT provides us with a background for understanding the meaning of coal in Scripture.

28 Judge none blessed before his death: for a man shall be known in his children.

29 Bring not every man into thine house: for the deceitful man hath many trains.

30 Like as a partridge taken and kept in a cage, so is the heart of the proud; and like as a spy, watcheth he for thy fall:

31 For he lieth in wait, and turneth good into evil, and in things worthy praise will lay blame upon thee.

32 Of a spark of fire a heap of coals (ἀνθρακιά) is kindled: and a sinful man layeth wait for blood.

-Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach 11:28-32

Here we have the “heap of coals” that is strikingly similar to Paul’s and Proverbs’s “heaping coals of fire,” as well as the context of betrayal as in John 18.

We also have coal in the second chapter of Genesis 2:9-12:

And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.

The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;

And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. (KJV)

And the gold of that land is good, there also is carbuncle (ἄνθραξ) and emerald. (Br)

The Greek clearly speaks of coal, and it is notable that of the 4 rivers and regions spoken of in Genesis 2, only the first has gold and jewels. The Hebrew has the first “jewel” as being bĕdolach, which means “gum resin.” This calls to mind incense, which is composed of gum resin. The word may derive from badal, a term which means “divide.”

This is meaningful because creation in Genesis occurs by the process of division: God divides the earth from the water, etc. (see Gen. 1:4, 6, 7, 14, 18) The word used is badal. The rest of the many instances of badal in the OT deal with the difference between holy and unholy, Israel and the Gentiles, the Levites and the other tribes, and so on. It has to do with holiness, which is essentially the idea of separation.

But what does gum resin (with a connotation of holiness) have to do with coal? One burned incense (holy resin) on coal, not on regular wood. The smoke was a sign of holiness. So we see that the LXX and Hebrew refer to different substances, but ones that were particularly (and intentionally) linked. Coal is the only “jewel” which is burned, and bĕdolach is burned on it.

In Exodus 28:17-18 and 39:10-11 both mention coal/carbuncle in the context of the 12 stones of the priest’s breastplate that represent the 12 tribes of Israel. In both cases the text of the Hebrew and the Greek differ slightly:

And thou hast set in it settings of stone, four rows of stone;

a row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle (bareqeth, σμάραγδος) is the first row;

and the second row is emerald (ἄνθραξ, nophek), sapphire, and diamond;

We should note that the English translation above is simply guessing at what the Hebrew words are (as we see in the links), and yet “carbuncle” is anthrax. For our purposes we should simply note that once again ἄνθραξ is here not only a precious ornamental stone, but one that represents a tribe of Israel. Since σμάραγδος is the Greek for emerald it is clear that ἄνθραξ is the first stone in the second row of the breastplate. If we follow the standard order of the tribes, this corresponds to Judah.

The symbol of Judah, the royal tribe, is ἄνθραξ! Jesus, of course, was from the tribe of Judah, as was David. Again, we are talking about coal here, or possibly some otherwise unknown gem that went by the same name as coal.

We encounter this again in Ezekiel:

Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering,

the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald (nophek), and the carbuncle (bareqeth), and gold: (MT)

the sardius, and topaz, and emerald, and carbuncle (ἄνθρακα), and sapphire, and jasper, and silver, and gold, and ligure, and agate, and amethyst, and chrysolite, and beryl, and onyx: (LXX)

the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.

Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.

Ezekiel 28:13-14

The Hebrew has 9 gems and then gold, while the LXX has 6 gems, silver and gold, and then 6 more gems. The Greek follows the order of the tribal gems in Exodus, while the Hebrew does not (nor is it complete). Whatever led to this difference is hard to ascertain, but it is clear that the Greek text is meant to recall the breastplate of the high priest, as well as the land of good gold and carbuncle from Genesis 2.

The figure described is called the King of Tyre, but the description is that of Satan and Adam (see vs. 9, 12, 13, and 17). This figure is also an “anointed cherub who covers” in the Hebrew, which means the figure is a messiah (anointed one) and an angel who guards paradise (see Gen. 3:24) but more importantly is enthroned above the Ark of the Covenant and covers it (Ex. 25:20). The Greek has “From the day that thou wast created thou [wast] with the cherub:,” a clear reference to Adam.

Other Instances in the OT

We read of various other instances of coal/carbuncle (ἄνθραξ) in the OT, detailed below by theme:

Burning of Incense before God

Leviticus 16:12 mentions the coals that were used by the high priest to burn incense during the Day of Atonement.

 

Divine Epiphanies

2 Samuel 22:9, 13 mention coals in describing the awesome appearance of God, as does Ps. 18:8, 12

Job 41:12 uses very similar imagery in describing Leviathan, whose eyes are like the morning star (Lucifer).

Ezekiel 1:13 and 10:2 there were “coals of fire” in the middle of the Divine Chariot, and 24:11 has God purifying through coals.

Isaiah 6:6 has a coal from the altar before God (in heaven) prifying the lips of Isaiah after he has seen God.

 

Punishment for the Wicked

Ps. 119:4 likens the tongue of the wicked to coals of the desert, and Ps. 139:10 says that coals will fall on them.

 

Danger from the Wicked

Proverbs 6:28 likens a harlot to coals that burn, and Proverbs 26:21 draws a comparison between the hearth for coals and a contentious man for strife.

 

Anti-Idolatry

Isaiah 44:19 speaks of baking loaves of bread on coals made from the same wood used for constructing idols, and Is. 47:14 in a rather sarcastic anti-idolatry theme says “Because thou hast coals of fire, sit thou upon them.”

 

Restitution

Isaiah 54:11-16

11 Afflicted and outcast thou has not been comforted: behold, I [will] prepare carbuncle (ἄνθρακα) [for] thy stones, and sapphire for thy foundations;

12 and I will make thy buttresses jasper, and thy gates crystal, and thy border precious stones.

13 And [I will cause] all thy sons [to be] taught of God, and thy children [to be] in great peace.

14 And thou shalt be built in righteousness: abstain from injustice, and thou shalt not fear; and trembling shall not come nigh thee.

15 Behold, strangers shall come to thee by me, and shall sojourn with thee, and shall run to thee for refuge.

16 Behold, I have created thee, not as the coppersmith blowing coals (ἄνθρακας), and bringing out a vessel [fit] for work; but I have created thee, not for ruin, that [I] should destroy [thee].

 

The final example is hard to categorize: it is a story told deceitfully to King David to try to trick him. The coal in the passage is the woman’s heir, her only surviving son.

And behold the whole family rose up against thine handmaid, and they said, Give up the one that smote his brother, and we will put him to death for the life of his brother, whom he slew, and we will take away even your heir: so they will quench my coal that is left, so as not to leave my husband remnant or name on the face of the earth.

-2 Samuel 14:7

 

Conclusion

The biblical role of anthrax/coal/carbuncle (ἄνθραξ) can be summed up in the following manner:

  1. It is valuable (like a jewel) and represents the tribe of Judah, the royal tribe.
  2. It is useful, the only useful jewel, in fact. It cooks things, melts metals, and primarily burns incense before God.
  3. It is a symbol associated with the divine presence (epiphanies).
  4. It is a symbol of divine judgement.

Because of all 4 of the above points, anthrax is particularly holy. For Christians, we can add that anthrax is associated with Jesus in particular: he is from Judah (1), he is judged and consumed (2), he embodies the presence of God on earth (3), his body was offered as a pleasing sacrifice and incense to God (2), and he will return to judge the earth (4).

Perhaps the next time that you hear of anthrax, you can turn your attention from the evil actions of men who have weaponized it to kill each other and refocus your gaze on Jesus, the one who (as true anthrax) was burned as an offering to God and taught that we should help our enemies rather than hurt them. Anthrax, originally a boon to humanity, now denotes a terrible weapon against our fellow man because of our rejection of Jesus and his teachings. But we can reprogram our minds to see anthrax as a beautiful jewel and symbol of the Messiah who came as a sacrifice, one which accomplished the forgiveness of his own enemies.

 

Thanks for reading!

The Christology of Hebrews Chapter 1

I recently got into a discussion about the assertions that the author of Hebrews makes in the opening chapter of his letter and I was invited to unpack just how I interpreted what the author was doing. Given that it is a somewhat complex topic that is not germane to a short comment in a thread, I decided to make a blog post about it.

 

Hebrews 1

The passage in question is this:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,

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;

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:

Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

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?

And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.

And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.

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.

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 passage is a beautiful exposition of the identity of the Son of God. By using a series of different scriptural quotations the author makes his point about just who the Son actually is, and he also adds his own assertions/rhetorical questions both prior to and after this string of quotations.

Here is a listing of the quotations used:

Verse 5: Ps. 2:7b and then 2 Sam. 7:14

Verse 6: Dt. 32:43 (see this paper for more info on the text critical issues involved)

Verse 7: Ps. 104:4

Verses 8-9: Ps. 45:6-7

Verses 10-12: Ps. 102:25-27

Verse 13: Ps. 110:1

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the author’s use of Scripture in this chapter is that he asserts that the words of David directed towards God are actually the speech of God directed towards the Son! This issue is a problematic one for non-Trinitarians, and one which I will address here. But first we need a little background.

 

Jewish Monotheism

Jews believed in One God. They might have admitted to other “gods” existing, but such entities were not on par with the One God. Only God was worthy of worship, only God created everything, only God chose Israel and spoke by the Prophets.

In the created realm there were humans, animals, inanimate objects, and angels. The gods of the nations were thought to be either in the angelic realm or else simply imaginary. They were no gods at all, even if men worshipped them as gods.

The way that God was spoken of by Jews was diverse but rather consistent. God was called  El, YHWH, the Lord, Father, the Rock, and other titles. The primary titles were ‘el, ‘elohiym, and Yĕhovah/Yahweh. This final name is a proper name of God revealed directly to Moses, and the variation of how it is rendered is due to the Hebrew text lacking consonants. It is called the Tetragrammaton because it is 4 consonants (YHWH); he vowels between those letters are inferred, leading to the different renderings as Yĕhovah/Yahweh.

The Greek terms corresponding to these Hebrew titles/names are fairly consistent: El and Elohim are ὁ θεὸς (God), and YHWH is κύριος (Lord). The second is quite important, since when reading the Hebrew word YHWH, the reader would not pronounce the Tetragrammaton but would instead pronounce the word as Adonai (Lord). This was due to the belief that YHWH was such a holy name that it should not be pronounced, except once a year by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.

This led to a curious aspect of the Greek text of Scripture: when the Hebrew text had YHWH, the Greek text usually had κύριος. When the Hebrew text had Adonai, the Greek text also had κύριος. Hence there was no way of telling (by the Greek alone) if the κύριος written of was YHWH or Adonai. Even in the account of God revealing his name of YHWH to Moses (Ex. 6:3) the Greek has no literal rendering of YHWH and instead has κύριος. So when a Jew heard “Adonai” or “κύριος” they had to decide whether it was referring to the One God or was simply a title of respect that could be used of humans. (note: Adonai is a plural of Adown, just as elohim is a plural of el. This was a plural of heightened emphasis rather than actual pluarlity, at least in the minds of interpreters.) Just as Mr. or Sir Jones means “master” and “sire,” but we don’t actually consider Jones to be our Master like God is said to be; or when we hear “Lord Byron” we don’t assume that it denotes the same Lord as the phrase “Lord have mercy.”

 

Hebrews 1 and the Exegesis of Jewish Monotheism

While the authorship of Hebrews is a contested matter, we can safely assume that the author was either Jewish himself or was convinced of the truth of Jewish beliefs. This follows from his use of Jewish scriptures in his argument in chapter 1 and throughout the entire letter. As such, it is shocking (to us) how he appears to speak of Two Gods.

The implicit assertion is found in verse 8, but the previous verses set the stage and the verses which follow strengthen his point. It should be noted that while many modern Christians have doubts about the divinity of Jesus as opposed to his humanity, it appears that Hebrews 1 addresses the divinity of Jesus as opposed to his angelic status. The humanity of the Son is never mentioned explicitly in chapter 1.

The book opens (vs.1-2b) with the assertion that in these last days God spoke through his son rather than through the prophets. It follows that the Son spoke for God, but there is also an implication that he trumped the work of the prophets precisely because he spoke as a son rather than as a servant.

The Son is then said to be:

1) the heir of all things,

2) the one who God used to make the worlds

3) the brightness of God’s glory

4) the image of God’s person

5) the upholder of all things by the word of God

6) the one who purged our sins

7) the one seated at the right hand of God

(Note that rather than copying and pasting the original, I summarized the content and therefore the listing above contains some of my own interpretation of the words rather than a literal retelling. One should always defer to the original when in doubt, which would be the Greek text rather than my reworded synopsis.)

Verse 4 is where the angels come in: the Son was made to be better than the angels and by virtue of his inheritance the Son received a greater name than the angels.

At this point the description of the Son seems to rule out a (mere) human being, although it could be said that the description could apply to a perfect, high priestly, true human being on all points except one: that God made the worlds through the Son. This simply did not happen through a human in Jewish teaching.

Yet all of these points could possibly apply to an angelic figure, including the making of the worlds. It was affirmed by Jews that God was the creator of everything, but also that God made everything through Wisdom, a hypostasized (personalized) concept. Some Jews believed that Wisdom made everything by the power of God, and still other Jews believed that God made everything through angelic mediators.

This seems to be exactly what the author of Hebrews was addressing: the idea that the Son was Wisdom and an angelic mediator. His aim seems to clarify the latter and distinguish the Son from a “mere” angel, affirming that the Son was the Son of God, not merely a creation of God (as the angels were). There was a “genetic” connection, to use a modern metaphor.

So, verse 4 distinguishes the Son from all other angels, but still allows for the Son to be an angel himself. He could simply be the highest angel. Yet verse 5 makes clear that the identity of the Son is that he is God’s son, not simply one of God’s angel. Verse 6 has God telling all of his angels to worship his Son, which shows that the Son is higher than the rest of the angels, but admittedly still allows for the Son to be an angel. After all, the chapter began with the Son being sent by God to speak to humans, which is exactly the role of an angel.

While verses 4-6 set up a distinction between the Son and the angels: angels are not spoken of (here) as being “sons” nor are they (here) objects of worship. Yet it should be remembered that in some instances an angel could receive worship that was due to God alone, and that angels were sometimes called “the sons of God.” So the distinction is not absolute at this point.

It should also be pointed out that my analysis here is functional, not ontological. The angels could be exalted men, since an angel is simply an agent who brings a message. Verse 7 speaks of angels as “sprits,” and men have spirits; they are also “ministers,” and God appointed men to minister to him in the Temple and elsewhere.

Yet in verse 8 we have something rather different: the author of Hebrews boldly asserts that “to the Son” (or perhaps “regarding the Son”) God calls him (the Son) “God”! Not only is this bold on the face of it, but it is bold when we consider the Psalm that he is citing. On a plain reading of the Psalm it is clear that David is speaking of the One God. Yet the author of Hebrews tells us that God spoke those words to the Son. The One God called his Son “God.” This simply cannot be said of a (mere) angel or a (mere) man.

Yet the citation continues with another twist: God, still speaking to the Son, says that the Son’s God anointed the Son above the Son’s fellows. This is perplexing because the One God cannot be “anointed,” nor can the One God have a God. In the Psalm it is clear that the figure being anointed is not the One God, but the king (Ps. 45:1), yet verse 8 in Hebrews (Ps. 45:6) makes it explicit that the one being addressed has shifted from the king/warrior to the One God, apparently as an aside. The author of Hebrews makes clear that he interprets the Psalm differently than this, and that the king is God. Yet the king is God who has a God and has “fellows.” This seems to be impossible to say of the One God. Yet the fact remains that the author of Hebrews is asserting this very impossibility.

God is often spoken of as a king and a warrior. Could the Psalm be about God himself, and not a human agent? It could be, and the author of Hebrews seem to lean in this direction, but again there is the objection of the king having a God, and being anointed (Hebrews 1:9, Psalm 45:7). Whoever this figure is, he is God and he has a God, which John 20:17 applies to Jesus and in Hebrews is applied to the Son.

The specific words used for “God” in this Psalm are elohiym and θεός. These terms cannot be read as merely functional (like Adonai or κύριος). They apply only to the One God in a plain reading of the OT writings. The author of Hebrews points out to his readers that this is not the case, but rather that elohiym and θεός are rightful titles for the Son. The Son is both God and yet distinct in some ways from the One God who goes by the same name/title.

For the sake of easy reading I will here repost the end of Hebrews chapter 1 so the reader doesn’t need to scroll up to see the original:

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?

Verses 10-12 move from the stunning assertion that the Son is God to the assertion that the Son is Lord. The idea that Jesus is Lord is nothing new, of course, but is often taken in the more mundane sense of “master.” But the author of Hebrews makes clear that the Son is Lord and God, making the “Lord” to mean YHWH. No human Lord laid the foundations of the earth or created the heavens. Only the Lord YHWH did this, and this idea was already mentioned in Hebrews 1:2. But again, the original context of the Psalm seems to apply to YHWH as the One God, leaving open the possibility that the actual work of creation may have been done by an imtermediary. The author of Hebrews affirms that it was done through an intermediary, namely the Son of God who is also God and Lord (YHWH).

We can see this when we look at the original in Psalm 102, and for your convenience I have listed below the verses that mention God/Lord by name, starting with verse 1:

Hear my prayer, O LORD (YHWH, κύριος), and let my cry come unto thee.

12. But thou, O LORD (YHWH, κύριος), shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations.

15. So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD (YHWH, κύριος), and all the kings of the earth thy glory.

16. When the LORD (YHWH, κύριος) shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory.

18. This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD (Jah, κύριος).

21. To declare the name of the LORD (YHWH, κύριος) in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem;

22. When the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD (YHWH, κύριος).

24. I said, O my God (El, no word given in the Greek), take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations.

We then come to verses 25-27, which are the ones cited in Hebrews 1:10-12. But we should note that the author of Hebrews has used the Greek version of the beginning of the citation. The Psalm English readers are used to is based on the Hebrew text, which begins:

“Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth”

while in Hebrews we read

“And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth”

This is better understood when we realize that the author of Hebrews is citing the LXX version of the Psalm, which includes “Lord.” Here is the Greek of both:

κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς σύ κύριε τὴν γῆν ἐθεμελίωσας (Ps)

καί Σὺ κατ᾽ ἀρχάς κύριε τὴν γῆν ἐθεμελίωσας (H)

The only difference between the two is the “and” which actually introduces the citation rather than forms part of it, and the transposition of the “you” (σύ).

Who is the Lord in this Psalm? It is always YHWH (6 times strictly speaking, and 1 time the shortened form YH substitutes YHWH). The Lord in this Psalm is always understood as the One God, and the author of Hebrews asserts that it refers to the Son, just as earlier elohiym, θεός refers to the Son.

The chapter has one final citation, this time of Psalm 110:1. He cites only the second and third clauses of verse 1, but it is worth noting the clause he omits (note that it is a common Jewish rhetorical technique to omit a verse or part of a verse with the aim of the reader supplying the clause/verse himself; the omitted phrase is usually the most important one).

The LORD (YHWH, κύριος) said unto my Lord (‘adown, κύριος)

Sit thou at my right hand,

until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

The author of Hebrews essentially asks how it would be appropriate to speak to an angel this way. Yet he omits the most striking clause, the initial one that calls the subject of the action “Lord”  (‘adown, κύριος). Here we should point out that Lord is not the name of YHWH, but adown in the Hebrew. Yet there is no such distinction in the Greek, and we have already seen that the Son is Lord in the sense of YHWH, not merely adown or Adonai.

By omitting the initial phrase which speaks of “the Lord” speaking to “my Lord,” the knowledgeable reader’s attention is brought to bear specifically on this phrase. And when they look at it, it clearly says that the Lord spoke to my Lord, just as the author of Hebrews had earlier asserted that God had spoken to the Son and called him “God.” Without this treatment by the author of Hebrews, a Jewish Christian would read Ps. 110:1 as YHWH speaking to a human or angelic “Lord.” The author of Hebrews makes that reading impossible. There are two Lords (κύριος) and two Gods (θεός). The two have distinct functions and are not the same, but are also identified with the same unique titles. The Son is not an angel or a man, but God and Lord.

At this point the reader here has a few options:

  1. Affirm that the Son is a second God and Lord, even while being distinct from the first God and Lord
  2. Affirm that there is only one God and Lord, and so the Son must be that sole God and Lord
  3. Affirm that the author of Hebrews is wrong in his treatment of the OT citations
  4. Affirm that the author of Hebrews didn’t mean what he actually wrote

The only viable option for those who affirm that Hebrews is an inspired book is #1. Options 2-4 are all contradicted by the author of Hebrews and the notion of the inspiration of Scripture. It should be remembered that the idea of a second YHWH was already an idea extant in Judaism, forwarded by Philo, an Alexandrian Jew who simultaneously affirmed that the second YHWH/Lord/Logos was distinct from the One God yet still God.There was also the “Two Powers in Heaven” discussion in Jewish circles, which pointed to Metatron as an angelic second YHWH. The only novelty in the assertions made in Hebrews 1 is that the Son (Jesus) is affirmed to be that second YHWH, something that Philo would not have affirmed and that Jews who believed in a second YHWH like Metatron also rejected.

As always, thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

A Peculiar Aspect of the Gospels

There are 4 Gospels included in the New Testament. They are all formally anonymous (the author does not identify himself) but all are associated consistently with 4 authors. These attributions are consistent and widespread, and there seems to be no confusion as to who wrote the texts in the accounts of early Christians, and even later Christian authors.

This consistency is highly unusual, implying a very strong tradition of authorship for all 4 Gospels. This defies explanation if early Christian communities were not intimate connected and the authorship of each Gospels was established early.

The twist on this is that each Gospel contains a character that is ambiguously associated with the author:

Matthew (9:9), Mark (14:51-52), Luke (24:13), John (21:7)

What explains this phenomenon?