Saturday, January 23, 2010

To which of the angels did God ever say...?

The theme of Hebrews 1 seems to be that Jesus is greater than the angels, and here the author gives his main argument. It's a pretty good one, too.

The question, "To which of the angels did God ever say...?" appears twice in the chapter, once in verse 5 and again in verse 13, effectively bookending the passage. There are about a half-dozen quotes here; let's categorize them.

  Quotations addressed to... Quotations simply about...
...the Son
  • (verse 5) "You are my son" - from Psalm 2:7
  • (verses 8-9) "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever" - from Psalm 45:6-7
  • (verses 10-12) "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth" - from Psalm 102:25-27
  • (verse 13) "Sit at my right hand" - from Psalm 110:1
... angels (none)
I find these quotes fascinating. I'm sure I don't understand them 100%, but did you notice that the passages about the Son or addressed to the Son outnumber the quotes about angels? One could argue that the author of Hebrews is selecting quotes to make his point, but really, where in the Bible do you ever have God addressing an angel? We usually just hear about it second-hand.

So "God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth" for example (Luke 1:26). Or we just read, "But the Angel of the Lord called" (Genesis 22:11). True, God did speak directly to Satan (Job 1:7, 2:2-6) but that's not the kind of angel we're talking about here. In any case, the Bible doesn't talk a whole lot about angels, but there is a lot about Messiah, and there's a lot that God says to Messiah too.

Which brings up another point, viz., How does the author of Hebrews know that all these quotations are in fact talking about the Son? That is a huge question, because it underlies not only the book of Hebrews, but a lot of other parts of the New Testament. I'll make the observation for now that to a certain extent, the author of Hebrews reads the Old Testament the way the Lord Jesus Christ read the Old Testament. Consider verse 13, quoting Psalm 110:1. Jesus Christ himself also quotes this verse, identifying the addressee as the Christ (Matthew 22:41-44).

I know that's not an answer, because it just pushes the question one level back (How did Jesus himself identify the addressee as the Christ? Do you have to be God to know what the Old Testament means?) -- but I think it is humanly possible to get a pretty good idea of what these things mean. Not that I have it figured out though! More on this will come in later postings.

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