Hebrews 1:8 refers to Jesus as “God.” Does this prove that He is God?

This is the second article in response to an article on the Trinity by the Gotquestions website.  The first article discussed the logical contradiction in the Trinity concept.  The current article responds to Gotquestions’ argument that “GOD THE SON IS DISTINGUISHED FROM GOD THE FATHER” and refers to Psalm 45:6-7 and Hebrews 1:8-9 for support.

The point is that Hebrews 1:8 refers to Jesus as “God.”  But does this prove that He is God?  Hebrews 1:8-9 is a quote from Psalm 45.  I will, therefore, discuss Psalm 45 first.  After that, I discuss the first part of Hebrews 1, and conclude with verses 8 and 9.

But before I discuss Psalm 45, note that GotQuestions refers to “God the Son” and also to “God the Father.” We DO find the title “God the Father” in the Bible; about 20 times, but the title “God the Son” IS NEVER FOUND IN THE BIBLE.  The phrase “God the Son” is the product of the Trinity doctrine and does not come from the Bible.

All bold, underlining, UPPERCASE, font sizes and italics in this article were added by myself.  Bible quotes are mostly from the NASB.

Psalm 45

Let us now discuss Psalm 45.  Verses 1 and 2 read:

1 … I address my verses TO THE KING
2 … GOD HAS BLESSED YOU forever

This, therefore, makes a distinction between God and the king of Israel.  But verses 6 to 9 continue and refer to the king of Israel as God.  Addressing the king, it says:

6 YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER;
A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom.

7 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
Therefore GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED You

9 Kings’ daughters are among Your noble ladies;
At Your right hand stands the queen.

This identifies the king of Israel as God.  This is confirmed by verse 9, which mentions the king’s wives.  But it also says, “GOD, YOUR GOD, has anointed You.”  In other words, the king of Israel is called God, but God is also his God.

Elohim

All four instances of the word “God” in the quote from the psalm are translated from the Hebrew word elohim, which Strongs defines as “God,” with a capital “G,” or “god,” with a small “g.”  The NASB translates elohim mostly as “God,” with a capital “G,” but also about 250 times with a small “g” “god” or “gods.

The word elohim is discussed in a separate article.  Another place where we see a human being described as “god” or elohim—literally “gods”—is in Exodus 7:1, where “The LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made you a god [that is elohim] to Pharaoh.

The king is a normal human being.  Why is he called elohim?  We will respond to that question below, after we have discussed Hebrews 1.

Why is elohim translated as “God?”

But before we turn to Hebrews, there is a second matter in Psalm 45 that requires our attention.  That is the question, why did the translators of the NASB translate the word “King” in verse 1 with a capital “K?”  And why did they translate elohim, when it refers to the king, as “God” with a capital “G?” Why did they not translate elohim with a small “god,” as they did in the case of Moses, and as they do for all beings that are not God, but who are referred to as elohim?

It is not because of anything in the psalm itself, for there is nothing in the psalm that goes beyond a normal human king.  The translators capitalized these words for two reasons:

Firstly, they know that Hebrews 1 refers to Psalm 45 and interprets the king in this psalm as a type of (a symbol of) Christ.

Secondly, the translators are Trinitarians, and therefore believe that Jesus is God.

What we must realize is that, to translate elohim when it refers to the king of Israel, as “God” with a big “G,” rather than with a small “g,” is an application of the Trinity doctrine.

With this background, we can now discuss Hebrews 1:

Hebrews 1

A primary purpose of Hebrews is to exalt Jesus.  The letter, for example, commences by saying:

    • That God appointed His Son as “heir of all things” (1:2).
    • That, through the Son, God, “made the world” (1:2).
    • That the Son “is … the exact representation of God’s nature” (1:3).
    • That the Son “upholds all things by the word of His power” (1:3), and
    • That the Son “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3).

Distinct From God

Note that “God” in verse 1 is identified as “the Majesty on high” in verse 3.

We discussed above how Gotquestions refers to “God the Son,” but these first verses of Hebrews make an explicit distinction between “God” and “His Son. If the Son is distinct from God, then the Son is not God, if we use the word “God” in the way that the New Testament uses it.

From verse 4 onwards, Hebrews explains that the Son is “much better than the angels.”  If the Son was God, as the Trinity doctrine requires, then there WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ANY NEED to argue that the Son is better than the angels.  Then the writer of Hebrews could simply have said that the Son is God.  See Jesus is not God for a further discussion of these principles.

Subordinate to God

We must also appreciate that these verses identify the Son as subordinate to God, for example:

    • God is the original Owner, because He “appointed” His Son as the heir of all things (1:2).
    • God is the Creator, for He made the world “through” the Son (1:2).
    • God is the true glory, for the Son is the radiance of His glory (1:3).
    • God is the ultimate Ruler, for the Son sits on His “right hand.”

The fundamental concept in the Trinity doctrine is that the Son is co-equal with the Father.  The entire remainder of the Trinity concept has been developed to reconcile this conclusion with the Bible.  If it is then found that the Son is subordinate to God, then the entire Trinity doctrine collapses.  For a further discussion, see, God is the Head of Christ.

Today I have begotten You

In verse 5, Hebrews 1 quotes from Psalm 2, saying “you are my son, today I have begotten you.”  In Psalm 2, these words refer to the king of Israel.  Hebrews, therefore, interprets the king of Psalm 2 to be a type of the Son. Hebrews quotes the Old Testament very frequently, for it was specifically addressed to the Hebrew Christians.

Worship the Son.

Hebrews continues and says that GOD COMMANDED ALL ANGELS TO WORSHIP THE SON (1:6).  If Jesus is worshiped, DOES THAT NOT MEAN THAT HE IS GOD?  Hebrews 1:6 is similar to Philippians 2:9-10, where we read,

God highly exalted Him (that is, Jesus),
and bestowed on Him the name which is above EVERY NAME,
so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW …
and that every tongue will confess
THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD,
TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER.

God commanded His worship.

The question then is, if Jesus is not God, WHY IS HE WORSHIPED?  To respond to this question, notice the following:

FIRSTLY, both Hebrews 1:6 and Philippians 2 make an explicit distinction between God and Jesus.  Philippians 2, for example, says that “God exalted Him.”  Furthermore, “every tongue will confess THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD.”  In other words; they will not confess Jesus as God.

SECONDLY, in both, IT IS GOD WHO CAUSES ALL BEINGS TO WORSHIP JESUS.  If Jesus was God, then THERE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ANY NEED for God to COMMAND His creatures to worship Him.

Proskuneó

THIRDLY, the Greek word that is translated “worship” (that is the word proskuneó) has a much wider meaning than the English word “worship.”  “Worship” implies that the one worshiped is God, but humans also proskuneó one anotherProskuneó simply means to show honor.  It literally means “to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior.”  For example, the three wise men came looking for the “King of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2).  When they found Him, “they fell to the ground and proskuneó Him” (v11); not because He is God, for they did not think of Him as God, but because He is “born King of the Jews.”

FOURTHLY, in Philippians 2, Jesus is worshiped “TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER.”  He is not worshiped independently from God, but “to the glory of God.”  To glorify the Son is to glorify the Father.  We worship the Father through the Son.

But why do we worship Jesus?

Why do we worship the Son with the Father?  The reason is that WE CANNOT REALLY SEPARATE THE SON FROM GOD.  I like Tertullian’s metaphor.  For him, the Father is like the sun in the sky, and His Son is like the rays streaming from the sun.  God created all things through His Only Begotten Son and He still “upholds all things by the word of His (that is, His Son’s) power” (Heb. 1:1-3; cf. John 1:1-3; Col 1:15-17).  “In Him (that is, in Jesus) all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).  We therefore worship the Son, not only because God commanded us to, but because of who He is.  For a further discussion, see Jesus is worshiped.

Only Begotten Son of God

When people hear that Jesus is the Son of God, they think of human sons, who are in all respects equal to their fathers.  But the Bible does not teach that the Son is equal to God.  He is called the SON of God to reveal to us that He has a very unique relationship with God AS FAR AS HIS ORIGIN IS CONCERNED.  He is His “only begotten Son,” who, before His birth as a human being, existed “in the form of God” (Phil. 2:5).  To describe Jesus as the “only begotten Son” attempts to explain something in human language which human minds cannot comprehend.  He was not begotten as humans are.  We should not give our own interpretation of this symbolic language. We should allow the Bible to interpret it for us.  For a further discussion, see Only Begotten Son of God.

Hebrews 1:8

Then, after describing the angels as “winds, and … a flame of fire,” we come to the verses that are the particular focus of the current article, namely verses 8 and 9.  I read:

8 But of the Son He says,
“YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER,
AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM. 9 “YOU HAVE LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS; THEREFORE GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED YOU …”

This is a fairly exact quote from Psalm 45:6-7.  The author of Hebrews interprets the king of Israel in Psalm 45 as a type of Jesus.  The writer described Jesus as “God” in verse 8 because Psalm 45 refers to the king of Israel as “God.”  We now need to explain why the king of Israel, and consequently, the Son of God, are described as God.

“God” and the Greek word theos

The word “God” in Hebrews 1:8 is translated from the Greek word theos.  Theos, similar to the Hebrew word elohim, can be translated as “god” either with a capital “G” or with a lower “g.” It depends on who it refers to.  This requires further clarification.

THERE IS NO WORD IN THE ORIGINAL GREEK TEXT THAT IS EXACTLY EQUAL TO OUR WORD “GOD.”  In modern English, we use the word “God,” with a capital “G,” to identify one specific Being; namely, the Uncaused Cause of all things.  The word “God,” with a capital “G,” functions in English as A PROPER NAME FOR THE SUPREME BEING.

The ancient languages did not have the modern differentiation between lower and upper case letters.  They only had words (such as theos and elohim) that are equivalent to our word “god” with a lower “g.” The word “god,” with a lower “g,” does not identify any specific being, but A CATEGORY OF BEINGS.  That group of beings includes the God of the Bible, but also includes other beings.  For example, Satan is also called theos, namely “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Therefore, to translate theos as “God” with a capital “G” or as “god” with a lower “g” depends on the translator’s interpretation, and since translators generally are Trinitarians, they translate the instances where the title theos is applied to Jesus, as “God” with a capital “G.”  But if one does not assume the Trinity theory, the reference to Jesus as theos in Hebrews 1:8 may also be translated as “god,” with a lower “g.”

It is a form of collective circular reasoning: First, the Trinitarian translator adds a capital “G.” Then the readers exclaim, SEE, it says “God!  Therefore Jesus is God!”  For a further discussion, see – The Meanings of the Word THEOS.

God Jesus has a God.

In conclusion, the fact that Hebrews 1:8 identifies Jesus as God does not prove that He is God.  The next verse actually proves that He is not God, for it says to Jesus, “GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED YOU” (Heb. 1:9).  In other words, Jesus has a God over Him.  This makes one think of John 20.  That chapter similarly refers to Jesus as “God,” but in the same chapter Jesus refers to God as His God (compare verses 17 and 28). See – Did Thomas call Jesus “my God” in John 20:28?

Summary

Hebrews 1:8 refers to Jesus as “God.”  Does this prove that Jesus is God?

The first verses of Hebrews 1, in a number of ways, make an explicit DISTINCTION BETWEEN JESUS AND GOD, and, contrary to the Trinity doctrine, represent Jesus as SUBORDINATE TO GOD.  According to verse 6, God commanded all angels to worship the Son.  This again shows that the Son is subordinate to the Father.  But we do not worship the Son only because God commanded us to.  We worship Him because of who He is, for God created all things through Him and still upholds all this through the word of His Son’s power.

Jesus is called theos (that is, god) in Hebrews 1:8 because:

(a) Hebrews 1:8 is a quote from Psalm 45.
(b) In that psalm, the king is called elohim (god).
(c) The writer of Hebrews interpreted the king of Psalm 45 as a type of Christ.

That Jesus is called theos does not prove that He is God, for theos can also be translated either as “god” with a small “g.”  But translators are Trinitarians, and therefore believe that Jesus is God.  To translate theos as “God,” with a capital “G,” rather than with a small “g,” when it refers to Jesus, IS PURELY INTERPRETATION.  It is an application of the Trinity doctrine.

BUT THE VERY NEXT VERSE PROVES THAT JESUS IS NOT GOD, for it says that Jesus has a God over Him.

 

Hebrews 1:1-2 The New Testament has a higher authority because God spoke it in His Own Son, who is heir of all things, through whom also He made the world and who still upholds all things.

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

The Two Testaments

These verses contrast the two testaments:

What God spoke long ago in the prophets represents the Old Testament.

Son of manWhat God spoke in these last days in His Son refers to the New Testament, or perhaps more accurately, the Four Gospels.

The writer is saying with this contrast that the Four Gospels have a much higher authority because God spoke it in His Own Son, who is heir of all things, through whom also He made the world and who still upholds all things (Hebrews 1:2-3).

Hebrews frequently quotes the Old Testament.  It uses the Old Testament to show that the Four Gospels have a much higher authority.  For this reason the writer starts in Hebrews 1:1 by affirming the Old Testament as the Word of God.

New TestamentSome Bible interpretations effectively classify the Four Gospels as part of the Old Testament, while the New Testament letters are used as the basis for Christianity.  But Hebrews tells us that the four gospels are the foundation of the New Testament.

 

 

God Spoke

In these verses it is God that spoke; not the prophets and not His Son.

We should be amazed that the infinite and eternal God should speak to man; a speck of dust floating in the unending expanse of the universe.  But this reflects His love for man; “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

God exists outside the limits of space, time and matter. If God had not spoken, we would have known anything about Him, and we would have floating around in this immeasurable universe without hope. But God has spoken, and we therefore do have hope.

The fathers include Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They are also the spiritual fathers of Gentile Christians believers (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:29).

Last Days

Last DaysThe phrase last days is commonly understood as meaning ‘recently’.  However, Jesus said, His disciples believed and the entire New Testament—including Hebrews (9:26; 10:25, 36-37)—teach that the Lord is coming soon.  The phrase “these last days” therefore indicates the writer’s belief that his generation was to be the last generation before Christ’s return.  Please see Why did He Not Return in the First Century as He promised?

His Son

Even though 1:2 says that God “has spoken to us in His Son”, the writer and his readers had not actually heard Jesus (2:3).  They were second-generation Christians.  Hebrews was written more than 30 years after Christ’s death.

The title “His Son” (1:2) signifies His unique relationship to God, just like the title “Son of man” designates His relationship to man.

Jesus as babyGod created everything through His Son (1:2).  His Son therefore always existed.  To become a human being, His Son emptied Himself of glory, power and even wisdom.  He became a helpless human baby, had to develop like any other human being, and was utterly dependent on God.

The most wonderful event ever in the existence of mankind is that the Son of God should have come from heaven to teach mankind.  But equally amazing is how few listened to Him when He was on the earth, and how few still regard Him today.

Conclusion

This letter to the Hebrews does not have an introduction like we would find in other letters.  In Hebrews the first three verses serve as an introduction, but also immediately confront the reader with the main theme of this epistle, which is the superiority of Christ, and therefore the higher authority of His message.

This is a summary.
To read the full article, see God Spoke.

Hebrews 1:1-2 God spoke long ago in the prophets. In these last days He has spoken in His Son.

What God spoke to us in His Son has a much higher authority than the Old Testament.

 

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

God … spoke

God spoke – In 1:1 God spoke in the prophets and in 1:2 God spoke in the Son, but in both verses it is God that spoke; not the prophets and not His Son.

If God had not spoken, we would have been without hope.God exists outside the limitations of our physical space, time and matter. He cannot be seen by our eyes or measured in a laboratory. He said,

My thoughts are not your thoughts“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

We are not equipped to know anything about God.  If God had not spoken, we would have been without knowledge of Him or without hope. But God has spoken, and we therefore do have hope.

Long ago to the fathers in the prophets (1:1)

The letter to the Hebrews was written for Jews.The letter to the Hebrews is very Jewish in nature.  It has a strong focus on:

Moses (3:1-6);
The Exodus generation (3:7-4:11);
The Jewish sacrificial system (4:14-10:31);
The Old Testament heroes of faith (chapter 11) and;
The “heavenly Jerusalem” in contrast to Mount Sinai (12:18-24).

On the basis of this strong Jewish emphasis it is usually concluded that the letter was addressed to Jews who converted to Christianity, or even that it was addressed to a Jewish synagogue of which some members have accepted Jesus as Messiah, but others not.

 The writer of Hebrews admits the Old Testament as the Word of God.  Both the writer and the intended audience were trained in the Jewish Scriptures.  The writer in 1:1 affirms the Old Testament as the Word of God.  His ultimate purpose was to show the superior claims of the gospel, and to lead them away from confidence in the Old Testament rites, but he will use the Old Testament to substantiate his arguments.  Therefore he first affirms their belief in the inspiration of the prophets.

God elected AbrahamThe fathers also belong to Gentile Christians.The fathers include Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Gentile believers may correctly assume that “the fathers” belong to them as well, for Abraham is the spiritual father “of us all,” that is, of all true believers:

so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law (the Jews), but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16)

if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29).

God spoke … in many portions (KJV – parts) (1:1)

Law of Moses

God did not speak through the prophets all at once.  In the 39 books of Old Testament, God revealed Himself in many portions.

God spoke … in many ways (1:1)

By whom did He speak? – Sometimes the Spirit spoke directly to His servants; sometimes through angels, or sometimes God even appeared Himself as the Angel of Jehovah, as to Abraham in Genesis 18.

How did He speak? – His methods of communication include direct Still small voicecommunication, dreams, visions and impressions.  Elijah, for example, once stood upon the mountain before Yahweh,
and there was a great and strong wind which rent the mountains, and broke the rocks into in pieces; but Yahweh was not in the wind.
Then there was an earthquake; but Yahweh was not in the earthquake.
Then there was a fire; but Yahweh was not in the fire.
Then Yahweh spoke to Elijah is a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12).

In what form did He speak? – The forms in which His word is delivered include prophecy, poetry, proverbs, historical events and religious ordinances.

In these last days (1:2)

Last DaysThe early church expected Jesus to return soon. – The phrase “last days” is commonly interpreted as meaning ‘recently’.  However, Jesus said, His disciples believed and the entire New Testament teaches that the Lord is coming soon.  The author of Hebrews similarly wrote:

Now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26)

all the more as you see the Day approaching. …   For in just a very little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay” (10:25, 36-37).

The phrase “last days” elsewhere in the New Testament also implies the last days before Christ’s return:

Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking” (2 Peter 3:3)

Mockers’and it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour forth of My spirit on all mankind’” (Acts 2:17)

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self” (2 Timothy 3:1-2)

It is therefore proposed that the phrase “these last days” indicates the writer’s belief that his generation was to be the last generation before Christ’s return.  Please see Why did He Not Return in the First Century as He promised?

God … has spoken unto us (1:2)

This does not mean that the writer and/or his readers had actually heard Jesus, for they did not (2:3).

We should be astonished that the infinite and eternal God should speak to man; a speck of dust floating in the unending expanse of the universe.  But it reflects God’s love for mankind; “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

In his Son (1:2)

Son of manTo become a human being, His Son emptied Himself of glory, power and wisdom.  Jesus said, “before Abraham was born, I am” (John 7:58). The Son shared the Divine glory before the world was, but He “emptied Himself” (Phil. 2:7) when He came into the world. That means that He laid aside His glory and power, and even His wisdom, “taking the form of a bond-servant” (Phil. 2:7).  He became a helpless human baby, had to develop like any other human being, and was dependent on God for everything.  He said, “the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing” (John 5:19), and “I cast out demons by the Spirit of God” (Mt. 12:18).  But even though Christ emptied Himself, He remained Who He previously was before.  These things we have to accept by faith, for we are unable to understand it.

The title “Son” signifies His unique relationship to God, just like the title “Son of man” designates His relationship to man. The Jews understood the title “Son of God” to mean equality with God:

Jesus and the PhariseesJesus said, “My Father is working until now” (John 5:17).  “For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” (v18).

John 10 records Jesus saying “I am the Son of God” (v36).  For that reason the Jews wanted to stone Him, saying, “because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (v33).

The most wonderful event in history – The most wonderful event ever in the existence of mankind is that the Son of God should have come from heaven to teach mankind.  Yet, equally amazing, how few listened to Him when He was on the earth, and how few still regard Him today.  People have no interest in Him, and refuse to listen to what He has to say about of the unseen and eternal world.

New TestamentThe New Testament is God’s message in His Son.  The Four Gospels—the first four books of the New Testament—record God speaking to us in His Son, but Acts and the New Testament letters interpreted and elaborated what Jesus taught.  Therefore the entire New Testament may be considered to be what God “has spoken to us in His Son”.

The gospels are the foundation of the New Testament.  Some Bible interpretations view the gospels effectively as part of the Old Testament, and teach that the New Testament letters represents true Christianity.  But according to Hebrews the foundation of Christianity is what God spoke to us in His Son.

The New Testament has a much higher authority than the Old Testament.  The Old Testament contains solemn messages to mankind which God gave to the prophets, endowing them with more than human wisdom and eloquence. But how much more important is the message which is brought by his own Son?  Throughout the letter, the writer contrasts the old and the new and elevates the new above the old.  In the current verses the old is how God revealed Himself through the Old Testament prophets, and the new is how He revealed Himself through His Son.  With this contrast the writer is saying that, what God has spoken to us in His Son, has a much higher authority than the Old Testament, and therefore imposes on us the highest obligation to attend to what He has said.  This is the main message of Hebrews 1:1-3.

The New Testament clarifies many issues that were unclear in the Old.  There is a great variety of subjects which we now, with the benefit of Christ’s teachings, see clearly, which were very imperfectly understood by the teaching of only the Old Testament prophets. Among them are the following:

(a) The character of God:

No one has seen GodNo one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:18)

Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Mt. 11:27)

(b) How man may be reconciled to God: Even the sins committed under the first covenant are taken away through the sacrifice of His Son (Heb. 9:15; 10:4; 11:40; Rom. 3:25).

But I say to you
Sermon on the Mount

(c) God’s moral principles: Prophets had delivered many moral principles of great importance, but the purest and most extensive body of moral principles on earth are found in Christ’s teachings.

(d) The future state:  Jesus revealed the doctrine of the resurrection of the body and the certainty of a state of future existence.  What the Sadducees previously were able to dispute, is stated irrefutably in the New Testament.  The Saviour raised up more than one to show that it was possible; and He was Himself raised, to put the whole matter beyond dispute.  He also revealed the certainty of future judgment of all mankind.

Conclusion

Hebrews does not have an introduction like we would find in other letters.  The first word in Paul’s letters, for instance, is always his own name, followed by the name of the church or individual to whom he wrote.

In Hebrews the first three verses serve as introduction, but also immediately confront the reader with the main theme of the entire epistle, which is the superiority of Christ and His message.  The first three verses argue that Christ is superior to the Old Testament prophets, for He is God’s Son—the exact representation of God’s nature—and through Him God made everything and through Him God still upholds everything.  But that is not the writer’s ultimate goal.  His real message is that Jesus’ message, as recorded in the New Testament, is superior to the Old Testament prophets.

Hebrews 10:26 – If we go on sinning willfully, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Jesus has offered one sacrifice for all sins of all time.  By that single sacrifice He has made His people perfect for all time.  However, they may still fall away.  Christians continue to sin; sometimes unintentional and sometimes the lust of the body makes them do things which they deeply regret.  But they remain “perfect”, to use terminology from Hebrews, in spite of such sins.  However, if a Christian goes on sinning willfully, after receiving the knowledge of the truth. then it becomes impossible to renew him again to repentance. 

Hebrews was written to protect Christians against this danger.  It advises them to draw near to the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace in time of need.  The main aim of Hebrews is to give us confidence in God; to teach us to trust God, so that we would know that He sympathizes with our weaknesses.

Previous articles

This is the fifth and last in a series of articles on the teachings in the letter to the Hebrews on Christ as our high priest.

The first article explains How Jesus became high priest:  God perfected Jesus through suffering.  Jesus offered Himself without blemish to God, making purification of sins through death.  Jesus then sat down on His Father’s throne and became our high priest in the tabernacle in heaven.

The second article describes Jesus as a better high priest, for the Levitical priesthood was merely a copy and shadow of the tabernacle in which Jesus serves, and for that reason was unable to do away with sin.  “Perfection”—a word which Hebrews uses for being put right with God—is only possible only through Jesus.

The third article analyzes the role Jesus plays as our high priest.  He is sympathetic and merciful, appearing before God for us.  God promised, “their lawless deeds I will remember no more”.  Our high priest Jesus guarantees that promise.

The large middle section of Hebrews (4:14 to 10-31) discusses Jesus as our high priest.  This section starts and ends with similar phrases.  This was how ancient writers indicated that a portion of text forms a discrete unit.  This technique is called an inclusio.  The fourth article analyzes these two bookends, which also serve as a summary of that entire section, and which urges us to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, for Jesus is faithful and sympathetic with our weaknesses.

Purpose

The purpose of this fifth and last article is to ask why Hebrews advises us to draw near to God through Jesus.  This may seem like a dumb question, for obviously we must seek God.  However, the writer has already indicated that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10).  What further need is there to ”draw near … to the throne of grace”?  What do we need more grace for?

A study of Hebrews 10 (actually from 9:25 to 10:22) will provide answers.  Below the principles in 9:25-20:22 are presented in a sequence which seems to be logical.

Animal sacrifices were offered time after time, but Jesus died once only.

Animal sacrifices were offered:

9:25often … year by year”;
10:1continually year by year”;
10:3year by year”;
10:11daily … time after time”;

But Jesus offered a single sacrifice:

9:28Offered once to bear the sins of many
10:10the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all
10:12He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time
10:14one offering

In the next section Hebrews argues that Jesus’ sacrifice, which was offered once only, is sufficient.

Jesus’ sacrifice does take sin away, something which the animal sacrifices were unable to do.

Animal sacrifices cannot take sin away:

10:1The Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near” (cf 10:2)

10:4It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”.
10:11can never take away sins

Make perfect” (10:1) means the same as “put away sin” (9:26).  Other phrases used by Hebrews as synonyms for “make perfect” are “cleansed … no longer have had consciousness of sins” (10:2) and “take away sins” (10:4).

The writer goes further and say that the fact that the animal sacrifices are offered over and over proves that they cannot take away sin (10:2-3).

But Christ’s offering does take away sin:

Put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26).

In 10:1 the writer states that the Law (of sacrifices) is only a shadow of the good things to come, and therefore can never make perfect those who draw near.  10:5-9 implies that Christ’s sacrifice is the reality of which the “Law” was a shadow.  This is further proof that the reality (Christ’s death) is able to take away sin.

Jesus has “offered one sacrifice for sins for all time” (10:12). 

He offered one sacrifice for the sins of all ages, including sins committed prior to the first covenant, sins committed under the first covenant and sins committed under the new covenant.  His sacrifice is sufficient even for the sins of His enemies, but will benefit only “those whom He foreknew” (Rom. 8:29).

By His once for all sacrifice He made His people perfect for all time.   

10:10We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”.
10:14By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (10:14).
10:18Where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin”.
10:2The worshipers, having once been cleansed, … no longer have … consciousness of sins

Sanctified – The word “sanctified” (10:10 – NIV “holy”) is often used with reference to spiritual growth, but Hebrews uses “sanctified” as a synonym for “put away sin” (9:26), “take away sins” (10:4) or “make perfect” (10:1). The unusual use of familiar words contributes significantly to our difficulty in understanding Hebrews.

10:2 – The statement in 10:2 is made in the context of the animal sacrifices, but the implication of the context is that this applies to Christ’s sacrifice of Himself.

But we still sin – Perfected people continue to sin, but since that “one sacrifice” is “for sins for all time”, even their future sins have been taken care of.  They remain “perfect” even when they sin.

When were they made perfect? – Since Jesus perfected them by His “one offering”, they have been perfected when He died; not when they repented.  The also applies to the Old Testament saints; they were also perfected when He died: “so that apart from us they would not be made perfect” (11:40).  “Those who are sanctified” are therefore perfected as a group; not a one by one.

But people that have been sanctified by His blood can still fall away.

Many believe that, once a person is saved, that person will always remain saved.  But this is not what Hebrews teaches.  As indicated by the verses quoted below, Hebrews teaches that it is possible for Christians to fall away.  Each of the verses below contains either a promise (orange font) or a warning (blue font), but in each case the promise or warning is conditional, as indicated by the underlined text:

3:6 We are God’s house, “if we hold fast … until the end”.
3:14We have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast … until the end”.
10:35-36 You have need of endurance, so that … you may receive what was promised”.
10:38 If he shrinks back, My (God’s) soul has no pleasure in him”.
10:39 We are not of those who shrink back to destruction”.
10:26-27 If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries”.
10:29 “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified?

Destruction (10:39) – Consume (10:27) – Similar to Paul, Hebrews does not preach eternal punishment in hell.  See Eternal Life and Death in Paul’s Letters.

The danger – The traditional view is that the danger, which motivated the writer of Hebrews to write his letter, was that his readers were Christian Jews and that they were in danger of falling back into mainstream Judaism, but this is never explicitly stated as such in Hebrews.  The warnings in Hebrews are always against sin in general.

Were they really Christians? – The Calvinistic explanation of these verses is that these people never really were Christians, but it is difficult to support this view from the verses quoted above.  For instance, the person, who the writer had in mind, “was sanctified” by the blood of the covenant (10:29).  This person therefore previously was in a right relationship with God; he was a real Christian.  But if this person “go on sinning willfully”, he will end up in “the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (10:26-27).

As further evidence that Hebrews teaches that real Christians can fall, consider 6:4-6:

In the case of those who
+     have once been enlightened and
+     have tasted of the heavenly gift and
+     have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit
, and
+     have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and
then have fallen away,
it is impossible to renew them again to repentance
”.

The phrases in bold indicate that these people were once sanctified by the blood of the covenant.  Particularly the word “renew” means that the person had repented before.

The purpose of the current article is not primarily to argue against the once saved, always saved doctrine.  The purpose is simply to understand what the writer thought, for unless we understand his anxiety, namely that some of his Christian brethren might fall away, we would be unable to explain why he asks his readers to draw near to the throne of grace.

Once a Christian has fallen away, he is impossible to renew to repentance.

6:6 “It is impossible to renew them again to repentance
10:26-27If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries”.

Three kinds of sin

Willful sins – Three kinds of sin may be identified.  The word “willfully” (10:26) implies a high handed or defiant form of sin – sins that reject God’s covenant.

Unintentional sins – 9:7 refers to “sins … committed in ignorance”.  The Old Testament refers to unintentional sins (for instance Leviticus 4:1).

Sins I hate – But there remains a third kind of sin which is not willful nor intentional. Romans 7 helps us to understand the sins which Christians do not commit “willfully“, which means that they do not want to do these things.  Paul wrote in Romans 7 (orange bold emphasizes what Paul wants to do):

14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.

19I practice the very evil that I do not want”.

21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” (Rom. 7:21-23)

In these verses Paul distinguishes between two parts of man:

▬ the “inner man” (v22) or “mind” (v23);
▬ the “flesh” (v14) or “the members of my body” (v21)

In the case of Christians, these two parts are controlled by two different laws:

The law of my mind” (v23) is the “law of God” (v22).  In his “inner man” or “mind” Paul does not want to sin, for “I agree with the Law” (v16).

But the “flesh” or “members of my body” are controlled by the “law of sin” (v23).  This law is “waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin“.

Consequently, although the Christian does not want to, he still sins:

Rom. 7:15I am not practicing what I would like to do”.
Rom. 7:15I am doing the very thing I hate”.
Rom. 7:16I do the very thing I do not want to do
Rom. 7:19I practice the very evil that I do not want
Rom. 7:21me, the one who wants to do good

This distinguishes a Christian from a non-Christian: Because of the lusts of the body both the Christian and non-Christian sin, but the Christian, in his “inner man” or “mind”, does not want to sin.

The writer of Hebrews is not troubled by sins “committed in ignorance”.  He is also not concerned with sins which “I do not want to do” (Rom 7:16).  “Perfected” people (Heb. 10:14) remain “perfect” even when they sin unintentionally and when they do things which they really do not want to do.  But the Christian who “go on sinning willfully”, which means that, in the “inner man” or “mind”, he wants to sin, which means that he does not agree with God’s law (Rom. 7:16), thereby regards “as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified” (10:26, 29).  He rejects that sacrifice.  Then no sacrifice remains.  And since no means remains whereby the person can be “perfected”, there only remains “a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (10:27).

Conclusion

This is why Hebrews was written; the writer was concerned that some of his Christian brethren might fall away.  They were in great danger.  To protect them from this danger, he advises them, “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16).  The word “confidence” is key to the understanding of Hebrews.  The main purpose of Hebrews is to give us that confidence; to teach us to trust God, to know that “since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered” (2:18), He sympathizes with our weaknesses (4:15).

TO: General Table of Contents