Sunday, January 31, 2010

without Him nothing was made these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world...(Hebrews 1:2)

After declaring that Jesus has been "appointed [by God] heir of all things," the author of Hebrews turns to a second attribute of Christ: through Him God made the world (Hebrews 1:2). The writer asserts that Jesus possesses a unique role in the creation of the universe, that of co-creation with God (which we will discuss further below). So, with regard to the Person of Christ in light of the Incarnation, He necessarily existed prior to becoming human Himself as well as existing before all of creation (including humanity) in general. The nature of Christ, then, or who He is in His Person, is a key focus of the attributes mentioned in Hebrews 1:2-4.
When we consider the claim of Jesus' involvement in the creation of the universe, and what that implies about His nature, in a Jewish context (since the New Testament operates on the foundation of the Old, and since the author of Hebrews claims continuity with prior revelation), it is clear that this impinges upon the notion that God, who is "one," initially created (creatio originans, 'originating creation') the universe by an omnipotent act of speaking (see Genesis 1:1; Deuteronomy 6:4). Additionally, God is seen as the sole active sustainer (creatio continuans, 'continuing creation') of the the entirety of creation (see, e.g., Psalm 104; Copan and Craig 2004). As a result, for someone to claim that any additional being or person experiences this type of creative role is the equivalent of deifying that entity or person. The writer of Hebrews, in accordance with New Testament Christology, applies both types of creation, creatio originans and creatio continuans, to Christ. In order to resolve the dilemma posed by claiming continuity with Old Testament Judaism and its conceptualization of God, two conclusions can be made: either the New Testament claims entail polytheism and are therefore blasphemous, or the New Testament claims are entirely accurate and entail the divinity of Jesus. I argue that the latter is the correct position (that is, the one that is in accordance with the reality of God).
The reason that the proposition of Christ's divinity can be seen as completely compatible with early Jewish monotheism is that the New Testament writers do not view Christ as a second God, but instead a second Person of one God. For this reason the apostle John writes in his prologue:

[i]n the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being [...] And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, as of the only begotten from the Father [...] No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:1-3, 14, 18, NASB)

So, similar to what we find in Hebrews, the Incarnate Christ was "with God" in the beginning and, more profoundly, "was [Himself] God." Because of the deity of Christ, the writer of Hebrews states that "through [Him] God made the world" (Hebrews 1:2). That is, "[a]ll things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being" (John 1:3). Or, as Paul writes,

by [Jesus] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible [...], all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17)

With this in mind as we read Hebrews, we can rest in the words that God has spoken through Christ, knowing that God is directly revealing God to us through Him.

Copan, P. and Craig, W. L. (2004). Creation Out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic and Apollos.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

heir of all things these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things...(Hebrews 1:2)

Upon mentioning the Son of God, the author of Hebrews turns to a series of attributes that relate to the Person and work of Jesus. Namely, the Son is He 1) whom God has appointed heir of all things, 2) through whom God made the world, 3) who is the radiance of God's glory and 4) who is the exact representation of God's nature, 5) who upholds all things by the word of His power, 6) who made purification of sins, 7) who sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and 8) who has become better than the angels, having inherited a more excellent name than they (Hebrews 1:2-4). Each of these attributes serves as the foundation for the Christology that the author develops throughout the letter.
In the first of these descriptions of Christ, the author maintains that God has "appointed [Him] heir of all things" (1:2). Superficially, one might mistake this action of "appointing" to indicate a qualitative difference between the Person of the Father and the Person of the Son with regard to divinity. Put another way, if Christ is God, how can He be "appointed" to a position (i.e., "heir of all things") by another? Would He not, by His own divine nature, already be over "all things"? The question brings up a valid concern, but if taken seriously, ignores or dismisses the fulness of biblical revelation with regard to the Person and work of Jesus, and the Person and work of God.

As we will see as we continue in Hebrews, the author of Hebrews and other New Testament writers maintain that they are constant with prior revelation from God in their claim that Christ is divine, in that He not only is from God but is also of the same being and essence (1:3a; see also Colossians 1:15, 19; 2:9; also John 1:1-2, 18, NASB). Accordingly, when we read or declare that Jesus was "appointed" by God to be "heir of all things," we are not diminishing either the nature of God or the nature of Jesus. Rather, we are describing the particular filial relationship that holds between two Persons of the Triune God. The Father, who is not the Son but is God, "appointed" the Son, who is not the Father but is God, "heir of all things" (see inserted picture above).
To properly understand (as fully as we are able) a notion like the Son being "appointed heir of all things," we have to bear in mind the dual nature of Christ who, by His eternal nature is fully God, and, by His own volition is fully human. Christ has been "appointed" heir of all things, in short, so that God may be "all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28; see also Colossians 3:11). The Incarnate Deity, wholly able to sympathise with fallen humanity in order to serve as our faithful High Priest, has come to redeem and restore all of creation to a right relationship with God that we might enter in to God's holy presence (Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-16). So, God the Son humbled and emptied Himself to be made in the likeness of humankind, so that by His work He might be made "heir of all things" (see Philippians 2:5-11). Though co-equal and co-eternal with the Father, the Son chose to subordinate Himself, and as a faithful servant and heir will subject all things to God, so that God might be all in all, with the end that "all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father" (1 Corinthians 15:28; John 5:23).

Friday, January 15, 2010

to us in His Son (part 1 of 2)

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in theses last days has spoken to us in His Son...(Hebrews 1:1-2)

After introducing us to the proposition that God has spoken, the writer of Hebrews refines this claim in two ways. First, highlighting the historical authenticity and continuity of God's communication to humankind through the Scriptures, the author reminds the audience that "God [...] spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways" (Hebrews 1:1, NASB). Second, and foundational to the argumentation of Hebrews, the author declares that God "has in these last days spoken to us in His Son" (1:2). Accordingly, Jesus, the Son of God, is the ultimate means by which God has communicated His final, authoritative, divine, and living words to us and to all of humanity. Such claims are not only central tenets of Christian doctrine, but, for the recipients of the Letter to the Hebrews (and to us), the reality of these assertions serves as the substance for their (and our) hope, comfort, faith, and life. For this reason, the first major section of Hebrews ends with an exhortation that we "pay much closer attention to what we have heard [in/through Christ], lest we drift away from it" (2:1, ESV). The finality and reality of God speaking to us through Christ is of such weight that we cannot afford to act towards it with a Laodicean mindset.
The guarantee that God has spoken to us in His Son reveals in part both the nature of God as well as the nature of Christ. Again, as mentioned previously, we see God as an intimate and personal initiator whose words can be trusted because His communication is directly from Himself, for example through prophets and through Christ. Moreover, with regard to Jesus, God's Son, we see the perfection of God's spoken expression. For the writer of Hebrews, since "[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature," God's word through Christ entails the divinity of Christ, the authority of Christ, and fulfillment in Christ (1:3; see also Colossians 1:15a, 19; 2:9; John 1:1-3, 18).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

that God has spoken

God, after He spoke long ago to the father in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son...(Hebrews 1:1-2)

One of the many unique features of the New Testament book of Hebrews is the constant emphasis on the primacy of God. Moreover, the author articulates a doctrine of God that is unmistakably Trinitarian. A principal manner in which we observe the Triune God dynamically active is in the proposition that God has spoken. It is this proposition to which the writer of Hebrews initially turns in order to comfort the reader, providing assurance with regard to the authority and efficacy of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Accordingly, the author of the letter to the Hebrews begins the "brief word of exhortation" with the reality that God has spoken (Hebrews 13:22; 1:1-2). This terse, though profound, phrase is a bold claim that related not only to the original hearers, but one that bears upon humanity today with urgent immediacy. That is, (especially considering American Christianity) we live in a time in which we can (and sometimes do) easily take the word of God for granted (consider, for example, the multitude of Bibles readily available to us as well as their accessibility). Yet, perhaps now more than ever, we cannot afford to treat God's word with even the slightest amount of indifference. Before I am misunderstood, I do not intend to mean that we are personally apathetic in our approach to God's word as authoritative for our lives. Rather, the notion that God has spoken can become so commonplace in our Christianity that we fail to understand how this reality impinges upon all of humanity, especially in a society whose prevalent postmodernism is characterized by the question, "Indeed, has God said?" (Genesis 3:1) Accordingly, our lives need to be marked by a complete understanding for ourselves and others that God has spoken, and still speaks to us today.
Christianity is, in part, predicated upon a claim to the validity and tangibility of the proposition that God has spoken. As the writer of Hebrews notes, "God [...] spoke long ago to the fathers" (Hebrews 1:1). Such an action implies initiation (agreeing with God's sovereignty), desire for fellowship through communication (acknowledging His personhood), and continuity between past and present (affirming the accuracy and dependability of His word). Undoubtedly, if we consider that God exists, the most reliable means for humankind to ascertain any knowledge about God is if God reveals God to us. Furthermore, we ought to expect consistency and continuity throughout the history of God's creation. Hebrews, and Christianity, declares the actuality of God's communication to humankind and invites us to consider its meaning for our lives. Indeed, God has spoken in the Scriptures, whose anticipatory nature receives climactic fulfillment in Jesus Christ.