Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hebrews: The Messiah in chapter 1

Paul's purpose for the letter to the Hebrews is to encourage them towards a more mature faith. The first chapter is the first of a series of comparisons designed to establish a dichotomy that illustrates that the Mosaic Law is a visible demonstration of the promised Messiah who is now not physically available to satisfy our faithless yearning for a visible sign. In this vein, Paul starts by pointing out some very Jewish concepts like the Messiah, prophets and angels.

When Paul mentions prophets and angels. Prophets are significant in a Jewish understanding of revelation. While the Hebrew scriptures contain such as history and wisdom literature, they typically referred to the whole of divine scriptural revelation as "the Law and the Prophets." The word "angel" simply means "messenger". In this context it implies the spiritual beings created to bring God's message to the world. As such, it is understood that the prophets heard from, were ministered to, and were protected by God's angels.

Paul's comparison between the Messiah and Prophets indicates Christ's role and permanent office as the divine prophet. In verse 3, Paul also aligns himself with the teaching of John in his gospel. The word translated "word" is the Greek "rhema" instead of "logos" as John uses. However, the meaning of the context from verse 2 follows the meaning of the first few verses in John 1. Beyond this, Paul points out Christ's relationship to the Father and directs us to his comparison to the prophets of old as one who is a direct representative of the Father. This is found later in John's gospel quite clearly. In John 5:37 we see that Christ was sent as was the prophets. In the first half of John 14, Jesus carries on a discourse with his disciples where He expounds on His relationship with the Father as one who has come as His representative. He also quite clearly claims divinity with the Father.

But the comparison with the prophets of old is impossible beyond this. As if to answer the question that the messiah was simply an angel, Paul draws a comparison of the relationship between the Messiah and the Father and angels and the Father.

The big question I have at this point is of verse 4 where Paul uses the phrase, "having become as much better than the angels..." I need to do a word study of "become" and check some commentaries on this passage. I'll do so and update later with what I find...

If any who read this have some insight on this passage, feel free to comment.


Yes, folks, Andie (from Xanga) wins the theological trophy! "Became" refers to Christ's work in His incarnation, namely the atonement. The reason I say this is because his name means "salvation". We know this name was given to Him because He inherited it. But He also earned it because He did suffer according to its value.

This brings up an issue that I was discussing this past week with a friend. I once posted a brief analysis of the logical incongruity between eternity and temporality within the context of the origins debate. You can read it here:

I added some focus specifically on the philosophical origins of the scientific method in my class on the origins debate this past fall. That material can be found in these two articles:

I won't reiterate all this except to say that eternity is more than simply infinite time. God is eternal and as the creator of time is not subject to it. The point it that Christ is eternal, but He entered into the temporal as a representative of the Father ultimately to accomplish the work of salvation. When He did this, He was subject to scrutiny by temporal minds and the word "became" can be applied to what we saw of Him.

I'll use the illustration I came up with as I conversed with my friend last week. I indicated a chair that sat next to me and explained that the chair was a finite, discrete entity. As it is, it had a beginning where the tree was cut and the craftsmen formed the chair from the wood. It will have an ending in a fire or dump or some such thing. As it sits here, we can see that the chair doesn't exist in all directions infinitely in space. There is a point at the ends of its legs where it ceases to exist and the floor begins to exist. However, the existence of the chair itself is an indisputable fact that will never change. We know it exists. After it has ceased to exist, it's existence here at this time will still be a fact. Long before the tree grew from which the chair was made it was a fact, albeit unknowable to us at the time, that the chair would exist. Therefore, while the nature of the chair's existence is temporal, the fact that it exists is eternal. Christ's incarnation was temporal. His existence does something incomprehensible. He is God, therefore the nature of His existence is eternal. However, by condescending to our need in the incarnation, He assumed an existence of a temporal nature without losing His eternal existence.


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