Hebrews 1.1-4: A (Not So) Brief Analysis

1 Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν ἐν τοῖς προφήταις  2 ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων διʼ οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας  3 ὃς ὢν ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ φέρων τε τὰ πάντα τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ καθαρισμὸν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ποιησάμενος ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ τῆς μεγαλωσύνης ἐν ὑψηλοῖς  4 τοσούτῳ κρείττων γενόμενος τῶν ἀγγέλων ὅσῳ διαφορώτερον παρʼ αὐτοὺς κεκληρονόμηκεν ὄνομα

Analysis

Heb 1.1-4 forms the exordium (Introduction) to Hebrews.  In Greek it is one complex and very intricate sentence known as a period (BDF §§464; cf. Lk 1.1-4).

1.   In many ways and in many portions [Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι].  Auctor begins his sermon with three adverbs Πολυμερῶς (manner), πολυτρόπως (manner), and πάλαι (temporal).  They are placed at the beginning to emphasize both the continuity and the manner in which the former revelation (i.e. the Old Testament) was given to Israel.  One also notes the use of alliteration: Πολυμερῶς, πολυτρόπως, πάλαι, πατράσιν, προφήταις.

The participle λαλήσας (temporal) is dependent upon the verb ἐλάλησεν in v. 2, both having ὁ θεὸς as their subject.  The communication of God was to the fathers, by means of the prophets [τοῖς πατράσιν ἐν τοῖς προφήταις]. The use of the plural indicates that the communication was a continuous process.

2. In these last days [ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων] stands in contrast to πάλαι in v.1.  (God) spoke to us by a son [ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ].  Unlike the former days when God’s main spokesmen were prophets, In these last days he now speaks through a son to his people [ἡμῖν].  The communication of God through a Son [ἐν υἱῷ] is the final communicative act of God which has ushered in the last days we now find ourselves living in.  The lack of the article before υἱῷ may be due to the preposition which precedes it (BDF §§255) or because of the divine name (BDF §§254).  Wallace also notes that the anarthrous υἱῷ stresses its “qualitativeness” (ExSyn, 244-45).

ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας

Continuity

Discontinuity

A Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι A* ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων
B τοῖς πατράσιν B* ἡμῖν
C ἐν τοῖς προφήταις C* ἐν υἱῷ

Whom he appointed heir of everything [ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων].  ὃν ἔθηκεν κ.τ.λ. is the first of seven consecutive statements concerning the son

1. The Son is appointed heir of all things [ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων] (v.2b).

2. The Son is the agent through whom God created the world [διʼ οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας] (v.2c).

3. The Son is the radiance of the glory of God [ὃς ὢν ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης] (v.3).

4. The Son is the exact representation of God’s nature [χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ] (v.3a).

5. The Son upholds everything by His word of power [φέρων τε τὰ πάντα τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ] (v.3b).

6. The Son made purification for sins [καθαρισμὸν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ποιησάμενος] (v.3.c)

7. The Son was exalted to the right hand of God [ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ τῆς μεγαλωσύνης ἐν ὑψηλοῖς] (v.3d).

The first statement about the Son [ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων] is most likely an allusion to Ps 2.8, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage [κληρονόμον], and the ends of the earth your possession.”

Through whom also he made the world [διʼ οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας].  This second statement about the Son portrays the Son as the agent of God’s creation.  This echoes the prologue of John’s gospel when he writes (1.13; cf. 1 Cor 8.6; Col 1.16).  Auctor might also be drawing from the OT Wisdom tradition (Prov 8.22-31; cf. Sir 24.1-12; Wis 8.4).

The second relative clause διʼ οὗ κ.τ.λ. further elaborates on the first.  Both of these relative clauses serve as God’s references for the son; they are credentials for the son as God’s prophet in these last days.

3. And he is the radiance of his glory [ὃς ὢν ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης]. With the use of ἀπαύγασμα Auctor again draws upon the Wisdom tradition that is mentioned above.  The author of Wisdom writes concerning Wisdom, “For she is a reflection [ἀπαύγασμα] of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness” (Wis 7.26; cf. Philo Spec. 4.123; Opif. 1.146; Plan. 1.50).  1 Clem 36 shows a lot of familiarity with Heb 1.

Heb 1 1 Clem. 36
3 ς ν παύγασμα τῆς δόξης καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ, φέρων τε τὰ πάντα τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ, καθαρισμὸν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ποιησάμενος ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ τῆς μεγαλωσύνης ἐν ὑψηλοῖς, 4 τοσούτῳ κρείττων γενόμενος τῶν ἀγγέλων σῳ διαφορώτερον παρʼ αὐτοὺς κεκληρονόμηκεν νομα.  5 Υἱός μου εἶ σύ, γὼ σήμερον γεγέννηκά σε; 7 ποιῶν τοὺς γγέλους αὐτοῦ πνεύματα καὶ τοὺς λειτουργοὺς αὐτοῦ πυρὸς φλόγα, 13 Κάθου κ δεξιῶν μου, ως ν θῶ τοὺς χθρούς σου ποπόδιον τῶν ποδῶν σου; ς ν παύγασμα τῆς μεγαλωσύνης αὐτοῦ τοσούτῳ μείζων ἐστὶν ἀγγέλων, σῳ διαφορώτερον νομα κεκληρονόμηκεν. 3 γέγραπται γὰρ οὕτως· ποιῶν τοὺς γγέλους αὐτοῦ πνεύματα καὶ τοὺς λειτουργοὺς αὐτοῦ πυρὸς φλόγα. 4 ἐπὶ δὲ τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ οὕτως εἶπεν ὁ δεσπότης· Υἱός μου εἶ σύ, γω σήμερον γεγέννηκά σε· αἴτησαι παρʼ ἐμοῦ, καὶ δώσω σοι ἔθνη τὴν κληρονομίαν σου, καὶ τὴν κατάσχεσίν σου τὰ πέρατα τῆς γῆς. 5 καὶ πάλιν λέγει πρὸς αὐτόν· Κάθου κ δεξιῶν μου, ως ν θῶ τοὺς χθρούς σου ποπόδιον τῶν ποδῶν σου.

And the exact representation of his nature [καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ].  The fourth statement describes the Son as χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ [the exact imprint of his nature].  χαρακτὴρ is found only here in the New Testament, but it appears in the LXX three times: Lev 13.28, “for it is the scar [χαρακτὴρ] of the burn”; 2 Macc 4.10, “When the King assented and Jason came to office, he at once shifted his compatriots over to the Greek way of life [χαρακτὴρ]”; 4 Macc 15.4, “…We impress upon the character [χαρακτὴρ] of a small child…”  χαρακτὴρ also appears in Philo fifty-three times.

Upholding all things by the power of his word [φέρων τε τὰ πάντα τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ].  Not only is the Son the agent through God created the world (Heb 1.2c), He is also the sustaining agent of all things.  Paul refers to the Son in Col 1.17 (which has similar thematic and theological concepts) as the one who holds all things [τὰ πάντα] together in Himself.  The sustaining of everything is through, or by the means of the powerful word of the Son [τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ].  The very same word of power that created the world is the same powerful word that sustains all things.

When he made purification for sins [καθαρισμὸν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ποιησάμενος].  This cleansing will be discussed in great detail in Heb 9-10, but for now everything is done to avoid alienating the readers at the outset, and the brief mention of purification of sins is to be seen as a rhetorical device.

The Son’s redemptive work in Heb 1.3c [καθαρισμὸν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ποιησάμενος] parallels his creative work in Heb 1.2c [διʼ οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας].  Kαθαρισμὸν is fronted to emphasize the Son’s removal of sin.  Both Heb 1.3 and 2 Pet 1.9 use καθαρισμὸν to speak of the cleansing that Jesus accomplished for believers.  Much like Heb 1.3, Heb 10.12 links the sacrifice of Christ with the exaltation of the Son to the right hand of God:

Heb 1.3 Heb 10.12
After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on highκαθαρισμὸν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ποιησάμενος ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ τῆς μεγαλωσύνης ἐν ὑψηλοῖς But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of Godοὗτος δὲ μίαν ὑπὲρ ἁμαρτιῶν προσενέγκας θυσίαν εἰς τὸ διηνεκὲς ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ θεοῦ

He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high [ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ τῆς μεγαλωσύνης ἐν ὑψηλοῖς].  The seventh and final statement concerning the Son speaks of His exaltation.  After the Son was made heir of all things, after he created the world, while he is presently sustaining all things through His powerful word, and after He made purification for sin, “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high [ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ τῆς μεγαλωσύνης ἐν ὑψηλοῖς]” (Heb 1.3d).  Auctor introduces what will be one of his main Old Testament passages in Hebrews, Ps 110. In Hebrews alone, Auctor alludes to Ps 110.1 four times, and quotes it directly once:

Heb 1.3 ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ τῆς μεγαλωσύνης ἐν ὑψηλοῖς
Heb 1.13 Κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου, ἕως ἂν θῶ τοὺς ἐχθρούς σου ὑποπόδιον τῶν ποδῶν σου
Heb 8.1 ὃς ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ θρόνου τῆς μεγαλωσύνης ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς
Heb 10.12 οὗτος δὲ μίαν ὑπὲρ ἁμαρτιῶν προσενέγκας θυσίαν εἰς τὸ διηνεκὲς ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ θεοῦ
Heb 12.2 ἐν δεξιᾷ τε τοῦ θρόνου τοῦ θεοῦ κεκάθικεν

In the New Testament, Ps 110.1(109.1 LXX) is quoted five times (Matt 22.44; Mark 12.36; Luke 20.42-43; Acts 2.34-35; Heb 1.13).  To be at the right hand [ἐν δεξιᾷ] is a sign of authority.  After God raised Jesus from dead, he was “exalted at the right hand of God [τῇ δεξιᾷ οὖν τοῦ θεοῦ ὑψωθείς]” (Acts 2.33).  Paul, speaking of the confidence we have in Christ because of His death, resurrection, and exaltation to glory, writes, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who dies – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God [ὃς καί ἐστιν ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ θεοῦ], who is indeed interceding for us” (Rom 8.34; cf. Eph 1.20; Col 3.1).  At the glorification of the Son, God exalted Him to be at His right hand “until [his] enemies are made a footstool for [his] feet.”

4. Having become much greater than the angels, as he has inherited a more excellent name that they [τοσούτῳ κρείττων γενόμενος τῶν ἀγγέλων ὅσῳ διαφορώτερον παρʼ αὐτοὺς κεκληρονόμηκεν ὄνομα].  At the exaltation of the Son to the right hand of God, the Son inherited a much greater name than the angels, because the inheritance that He has received is more excellent than theirs.  The focus of  comparison has shifted from the prophets and the Son in Heb1.1-2a to the Son and angels in Heb1.4-2.9.

The inclusion of angels here should not be seen as an indication of a false view of angels, but rather as Auctor shows in Heb 2.2 they were mediators of the Old Covenant, as the prophets were mediators between God and the fathers.  Not only has the son been appointed heir of all things [ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων], but he has also inherited a name that is superior to the angels [ὅσῳ διαφορώτερον παρʼ αὐτοὺς κεκληρονόμηκεν ὄνομα].  The exordium is connected to 1.5ff by means of the hook word ἀγγέλων as well as an inclusio:

Heb 1.5 Τίνι γὰρ εἶπέν ποτε τῶν ἀγγέλων
Heb 1.13 πρὸς τίνα δὲ τῶν ἀγγέλων εἴρηκέν ποτε

4 thoughts on “Hebrews 1.1-4: A (Not So) Brief Analysis

  1. Pingback: Analysis of Hebrews 1:1-4 « The Church of Jesus Christ

  2. Pingback: Hebrew 1:1-4 « ΕΝ ΕΦΕΣΩ

  3. Excellent study. Have you seen my discourse analysis of the passage in the Westminster Theological Journal? Also, could you supply your final translation of the prologue sometime? Thanks for this labor of love!

  4. Greetings. I haven’t had time to analyze all the points in your study, however I’m curious in knowing how did you manage to get the Greek text into the wordpress blog? I have attempted to try this before and it gave me a transliteration. Did you use symbols in word?

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