THE GOD OF JESUS: PART EIGHTEEN
“God, your God”
Hebrews 1:8-9, is used as a major support for the proposition Jesus is God in every respect the Father is God short of being the Father.
Hebrews 1:8-9b: But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
Nearly all English translations take the phrase “Your throne, O God” as a vocative clause in the Greek which means that grammatically it indicates that something or someone is being directly addressed. There are some Greek scholars who see this phrase as a nominative clause and translate it as “God is your throne” implying that God the Father is the source of Jesus’ authority. While this is a grammatically acceptable rendering of this phrase, the majority of commentators on this passage see this as a vocative clause referring to Jesus as God.
Scholarship has determined the writer of this passage is quoting from a Psalm written as a wedding song for a Davidic King, most likely Solomon. The writer to the Hebrews sees the Psalm written for Israel’s King as applicable to Jesus who God the Father has appointed King over Israel and the entire human race.
Psalm 45:6-7: Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.
This psalm is directed to a human king who is called god (elohim). Calling human rulers god (elohim) is common in OT literature. It is a title applied to one having great power and authority. Kings have great power and authority. Judges are called gods (elohim) in Psalm 82. The application of Psalm 45 to Christ is very appropriate as He has been granted great power and authority over angels and all other created beings. This does not mean Christ is God as the Father is God any more than a King in Israel was God as the Father is God even though such Kings were called elohim. The evidence that Christ is not God as the Father is God is found in the following quote from Psalm 45.
Hebrews 1:9: “Therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
Here we see the one God addressing Christ as being Christ’s God. If Christ is also the one God, we then have the one God addressing the one God which makes no sense at all. When this was written, Jesus was in His glorified state at the right hand of the Father. Yet God is seen as being His God. This clearly shows God to be a separate and distinct Being from Jesus and as such is the God of Jesus. The author continues by writing the following:
Hebrews 1:10-12: He also says, "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end."
This is a quote from Psalm 102:25-27 where the Psalmist is addressing YHWH as creator and being without end. The Greek text shows Hebrews 1:10 begins with the word “And.” Most English translations begin this passage with the word “And.” The phrase “He also says,” as found in the NIV, is not in the Greek text. Some theologians believe the word “And” continues the thought seen in verse nine which makes the reference to “Lord” at the beginning of verse ten refer back to God (the Father) who is last mentioned in verse nine and forms a doxology of praise and reverence to God the Father.
Hebrews 1:8-12: But to the Son He says: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.'' And: "You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands; They will perish, but You remain; and they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not fail'' (NKJV).
The author begins this passage by using Psalm 45:6-7 to show how God the Father has anointed the Son. The author goes on to quote Psalm 102:25-27 which pays tribute to YHWH as creator. As previously discussed, throughout the OT, the Father is identified as the one and only creator God (YHWH). Therefore, it is reasonable to believe the author of Hebrews is referencing this Psalm in praise to the creative power and enduring nature of YHWH who is the Father and who has given great power and authority and an everlasting kingdom to His Christ (the anointed of YHWH). The designation Lord is associated with both God the Father and Jesus in the NT Scripture. In the OT a distinction is made between Adonai (YHWH) and adoni (The Son) as discussed in Chapter Three of this book. That it is Adonai as Lord (The Father) being addressed in this passage is confirmed by the overall context of Hebrews, chapter one.
This chapter begins by showing how in the past God spoke to the forefathers through the prophets but has now spoken through his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
Hebrews 1:1-2: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
If the Son is YHWH God as the Father is YHWH God and the Son as YHWH God is creator of all things as many believe, why would the Son be appointed heir of all things? Being an heir is to be in a position to inherit what you don’t currently own. If the Son is YHWH, He would already own all things by virtue of having created all things as the creator God.
It is instructive that the Greek word translated “universe” in Hebrews 1:1-2 in the NIV and “world” in many other translations is aion. This Greek word appears 165 times in the New Testament and is variously translated as “world,” “age” and “ever.” It means a segment of time. It can relate to a long period of time and even time without end (forever), or a short period of time. Context determines it usage. The Greek kosmos relates to the world as created and the Greek oikoumene refers to the world as inhabited.
The first century church was experiencing transition to a New Covenant age. The writer to the Hebrews shows how Christ, as the one through whom the New Covenant was being facilitated, is superior to angels and the Aaronic Priesthood. God the Father was in the process of creating a New Covenant age through Christ, a process that was consummated in the judgement upon Israel in AD 70 when the temple was destroyed and the means to facilitate the Old Covenant system was eliminated. The last days the writer is referring to are the last days of the Old Covenant age which was about to fade away and be replaced by a New Covenant age facilitated by the Father through Christ (Hebrews 8:13). Hebrews 1:2 is not a reference to God creating the physical universe through Christ. It is the New Covenant age God was making through Christ. Now let’s look at verse three.
Hebrews 1:3: The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
The Greek word translated radiance in this passage appears only this once in the NT. Its basic meaning is “reflected brightness.” Some versions, such as the KJV, translate it as brightness. The writer is saying the Son is the reflected brightness of God. Does being a reflection of something equate with being that something? During His ministry, Jesus expressed to His followers that He was a reflection of His Father when He told them that by seeing and believing in Him one sees the Father. People were not literally seeing the Father. They were seeing the character, will and very mind of the Father represented (reflected) in Christ. In this manner, Jesus was the reflected brightness of God the Father. Jesus was the light that came into the world.
John 12:44-46: When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light (brightness), so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
The writer to the Hebrews points out that Jesus is the representation of God’s Being. This does not mean He is the Being God. The writer speaks of Christ becoming superior to the angels (Hebrews 1:4). Wouldn’t the Son already be and always have been superior to the angels if He is God? The writer says because Christ has loved righteousness and hated wickedness, His God will set Him above his companions.
Hebrews 1:9: You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.
If Jesus is God as God is God, He would already be and always would have been above His companions. The very language of Hebrews 1:4-9, belies Jesus being God as God is God.
The writer of Hebrews 1:3 identifies Jesus as “the exact representation (image in some translations) of his being” (person in some translations). “Of his being” refers back to the word God. The word being or person is translated from the Greek word hypostasis. The Arndt, Gingrich and Bauer Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, defines hypostasis as substantial nature, essence, actual being or reality of something, often as a contrast to what merely seems to be. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon defines hypostasis as a setting or placing under as that which has foundation. Hypostasis is also defined as confidence, conviction, assurance and steadfastness.
Hypostasis was used by Aristotle and Neo Platonists (third century A.D. followers of the teachings of Plato) to speak of the objective reality of a thing as opposed to its outer form or illusion. Hypostasis was used by early Church writers such as Origen and Tatian to denote Being or substantive reality. This Greek word was not always distinguished in meaning from the Greek word ousia which means individual substance or essence.
In the formulation of the Trinitarian definition of God by church leaders in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., ousia came to designate God as a single substance in three hypostasis’ of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Athanasius wrote that ousia should be used properly of the one Being God while hypostasis should be used strictly of the distinct objective reality of each of the divine Persons in their relations to each other. In reflection of this view, Cappadocian theologian Gregory of Nyssa wrote that, “God is not God because he is Father nor the Son because he is the Son, but because both possess the ousia of the Godhead.” God is seen as one ousia expressed in three hypostases.
The problem with this concept is seen in looking at the “Lord's Prayer.” Jesus instructed His listeners that when they prayed they are to address their Father in heaven. Was Jesus instructing his followers to address only the hypostasis of the Father or was He instructing them to address the ousia that is God which, under Trinitarian thought, would be Father, Son and Spirit. Since, under Trinitarian theology, God is seen as one ousia, it would appear reasonable, within the context of such theology, to conclude that in addressing the Father one is addressing the one ousia of Father, Son and Spirit. Yet, there is nothing in Jesus' instruction to remotely suggest such a thing. It would be more reasonable, and certainly consistent with what Christ said about the Father being the one and only true God, that when Christ instructs His listeners to in prayer address their Father, He is instructing them to address the one and only God (one and only ousia) who is the Father and only the Father.
Throughout the NT it is evident that when God is being addressed in prayer, He is being addressed as the God of Jesus with no hint of Jesus also being God. In Acts 4:24-27, the people are seen as praying to God and reflecting on Jesus who is seen as the anointed servant of the God they are addressing in prayer. In Ephesians 1:15-16, Paul is seen as praying to the God of Jesus who Paul calls the "glorious Father." In 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3, Paul speaks of praying to God whom he identifies as "our God and Father." In Ephesians 3:14-17, we see Paul kneeling before the Father and asking the Father to grant power to the Ephesian Christians so they will have a greater faith in what Christ has done for them. In Colossians 1:3, we see Paul praying to the God and Father of Jesus. Throughout the NT we see prayer directed to God the Father. We do not see prayer directed to the Son or to the Spirit. This speaks volumes as to who God is.
When Cappadocian theologian Basil was presented with the problems associated with Jesus' instruction to in prayer address the Father as God, he responded by saying that, “what was common to the Three (Father, Son and Spirit) and what was distinctive among them lay beyond speech and comprehension and therefore beyond analysis or conceptualization.” We are being asked to believe a concept that is beyond speech, comprehension, analysis and conceptualization.
Within Christianity, hypostasis became associated with the Greek prosopon, which is translated into Latin as “persona.” The Latin “persona,” literally means “mask” or a character played by an actor. Since an actor can play several roles by simply changing masks, this is felt to analogize to one God in three persons or hypostasis’.
An actor, however, can only play one role at any given moment. Therefore, this analogy fails to support the Trinitarian concept of God which teaches God is three persona (hypostasis’) all of the time at the same time. The idea of the actor changing masks to play different roles is much like the Modalistic Model of God taught by the theologian Sabellius in the third century. As discussed in Chapter Twelve, Sabellius taught God is only one person who acts as Father in creating the universe, as Son in redeeming sinners and as Holy Spirit in sanctifying believers. Sabellius viewed the one God playing three different roles at different times in history while retaining single personhood.
Hypostasis appears five times in the NT and in most English translations four out of those five times the word is translated as confidence or assurance which reflects the context of the passage wherein the word is found. Only in Hebrews 1:3 is hypostasis translated in such a way as to reflect its meaning of objective or substantive reality.
In view of the meaning ascribed to the word hypostasis, when the writer of Hebrews 1:3 says the Son is the radiance or image of God's glory and the exact representation of His Being (hypostasis), the writer is saying the Son is the image of the Being (hypostasis) that is God. This is the same as saying the Son is the image of the substantial nature, essence, or reality that is God. However, the writer says the one God is hypostasis (ousia according to Athanasius). The one God is the single objective reality that is God. The writer to the Hebrews sees the Son as the image and representation of the hypostasis (objective reality) that is God. God is identified by the Greek word hypostasis. How then can it be said the Son is a hypostasis of God? This is tantamount to saying the Son is a hypostasis of the hypostasis. Trinitarianism teaches God’s Being (hypostasis in Hebrews 1:3) consists of the three hypostasis’ of Father, Son and Spirit. If the Son is a hypostasis of the one hypostasis that is God and the one hypostasis that is God is actually three hypostasis’ of Father, Son and Spirit, the writer is virtually saying the Son is the image of the three hypostasis’ of Father, Son and Spirit which is to say the Son is the image of Himself.
If, on the other hand, the writer is using the word God in Hebrews 1:3 to mean the Father, then, under Trinitarian thought, the writer would be saying the Son hypostasis of the Godhead is the radiance of the glory and the exact representation or image of the Father hypostasis of the Godhead. Under Trinitarianism, however, each hypostasis of the Godhead has its own attributes that distinguish each hypostasis from the other. If the Son has his own attributes as the Son, and the Father has His own attributes as the Father, how can it be said the hypostasis called the Son is the exact representation or image of the hypostasis that is the Father. Would this not make the Son the same in attributes as the Father and the Father the same in attributes as the Son? What distinction would there be between the Father and Son? If when looking at the Son one sees the Father and when looking at the Father one sees the Son because they are one in Being, where is there any real distinction between the two to justify seeing the Son and Father as hypostasis’s of the single ousia called God?
The truth of the matter is that being the image, engraving or imprinting of something does not make one that something. Scripture tells us we humans are made in the image of God. Yet we obviously are all separate individuals and are not one with God in the Trinitarian sense of being co-equal, un-separated substance. The Greek word for “representation” is karizomai and appears just this once in the NT and in Greek means a mark or stamp, such as in engraving, imprinting or etching. The Son is seen as the stamp, engraving or imprinting of the Being (hypostasis) that is God. This does not mean the Son is God. When coins are engraved they are not considered one with the engraving device. When stamps are imprinted they are not considered to be the same as the imprinting device. Coins and stamps are an impression of what the engraving or imprinting device does.
Hebrews chapter one does not establish Jesus is God as God is God. Instead we see Jesus reflecting the divine nature and being given superiority over angels and all other Beings. He is granted power, authority and a Kingdom by His God which is in harmony with all other Scripture we have discussed that identify the Father as the one and only Supreme Creator God who is the God of Jesus. Let's briefly look at Ephesians 5:5.
Ephesians 5:5: For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
It is instructive that Paul speaks of the Kingdom being of Christ and of God. If Christ is God, why make such a distinction? I submit the distinction is made because the Kingdom is of God the Father and it is from the Father, the one and only Supreme God, that Christ receives the Kingdom as the Scriptures clearly reveal. In Hebrews 1:3, the Son is seen as sitting down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. This clearly shows the superiority of the one God over the Son of this one God.
But, you may ask, what about the proclamation Thomas made after being convinced Jesus rose from the dead?
John 20:28: Thomas said to him, "My Lord (kurios) and my God (Theos)!"
Many Trinitarian apologists consider Thomas statement to be the most profound utterance found in Scripture as to Jesus being God. One commentator calls it the “supreme Christological pronouncement of the fourth gospel.”
Was Thomas seeing Jesus as the one and only Supreme Creator God of the universe? As discussed in Chapter Four, the Greek theos can be used as a designation for someone other than the one and only Most High Creator God. It can be used as a designation for someone who has or is perceived to have power and authority. Context must be considered in determining how the word God is used in Scripture. Thomas had doubted Jesus had risen from the dead. When Thomas became convinced the crucified Christ had actually risen from the dead he had a virtual epiphany. He now understood this was not an ordinary man. Thomas now understood that the man standing before him was indeed the Christ, the anointed of God. Thomas responded in a euphoric manner and recognized Jesus as his Lord and god which was to recognize Jesus as his master and ruler.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus identified Himself as Lord which is to say master. Jesus never identified Himself as the one and only Supreme God. Jesus identified His Father as being the one and only Supreme God. Paul, John and other of the Apostles identified Jesus as Lord and identified the Father as the one and only Eternal God. If you are going to conclude Thomas is identifying Jesus as being the one and only Most High, Supreme God, you are concluding Thomas is introducing an understanding about Jesus that runs contrary to what Jesus taught and what the Apostles taught regarding who God is versus who Jesus is.
In view of the whole of what Scripture teaches as to who God is versus who Jesus is, it is necessary to conclude Thomas is not using theos to identify Jesus as the one and only Supreme, Creator God. Proclaiming Jesus to be God as the Father is God would have run contrary to Thomas’ deeply ingrained monotheism. In calling Jesus theos, Thomas is expressing great exhilaration at being convinced Jesus is alive. It is a joyous response to what Thomas was experiencing. To take Thomas’ statement to be anything more than this is to create serious contradiction within the Scriptures.
It should also be noted that after John records Thomas’ reference to Jesus as god, he wrote that what he has written is to demonstrate that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
John 20:31: But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, he Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Note that John writes “Son of God.” In Trinitarian theology, God is Father, Son and Spirit. When John writes that Jesus is the Son of God, there is no indication that in John’s mind he understands the word God to include the Son. John is not seeing Jesus as the God He is the Son of. All through the NT we see God identified as the Father and the Father identified as God. Thomas’ joyous and exhilarated expression directed at Jesus does not do away with the weight of Scripture that shows there to be only one Supreme God who is the Father and only the Father.