Thursday, 25 February 2016
Explicit statements continued: Hebrews 1:8, assumptions
Hey, this is the fifth post in a thread about explicit New Testament statements pertaining to Christ's divinity. The thread has been spread across other posts, so if you need to see the progression of thought, then please recap first here (introduction) and then here (Thomas' declaration to Jesus), then here ("He says: Your throne O God", part 1), then here ("Your throne O God", part 2, "Elohim options"). This constitutes a new "sub-chapter" I am adding to my paper, Trinitarian Interpretations, which I initially published last August. So let's buckle up and conclude.
Returning to Hebrews 1 now, we really want to establish what the necessary and speculative interpretations are, in light of the explicitly set goal within the passage (to demonstrate Christ’s superiority over the angels) and of the Old Testament options available with regard to Elohim. Having covered some important Old Testament ground on this second point, we can understand that in applying Psalm 45:6-7 to Christ, the Hebrews author would not be overstepping Old Testament Israelite-Jewish boundaries in speaking of divine rule in relation to humans. So what are the assumptions necessary to both blue (Triune-God suggestive) and green (Triune-God dissuasive) camps?
Blue assumptions: That author is selecting the ultimate Elohim available to illustrate Christ's greatness with respect to angels, and not one of the others (i.e. not other divine council members, sometimes referred to as sons of God, not great human bearers of Elohim responsibilities, etc.), that Hebrews 1:8 provides an essential “upgrade” from the initial Elohim understanding of Psalm 45:6, that this upgrade supersedes the “son of God” status of the other divine council “sons” (likely, given that the other sons had not received “the name which is above all other names”), that it would be legitimate and normal for members within a triune Godhead to refer to one another as “their God”, and in a sense that is quite different to how first-century Jews spoke of X or Y being “their God”, and that this idea of a top-level Trinity, or at least one-being-multiple-persons deity was already existent albeit in embryonic form at the end of the first century.
Green assumptions: That the author and his recipients are aware of the other Elohim possibilities available to them (likely, given Hebrews 1:9), that the author does not upgrade the Elohim identity of Psalm 45:6 to that of Yahweh (or the Elohim of Psalm 45:7) and that there is no major shift in nuance between the Hebrew form “elohim” and the Greek translation “theos”.
From my perspective, it actually seems like the assumptions stack up greater on the blue side, although I am open to correction here. It is startling that Jesus is referred to as God, but it is clear to me that a decent part of that impact was due to my ignorance of the function of Elohim and a disregard for other dissuasive parts of the pericope.