Notes on Hebrews
Version Date: July 23, 2023. (Date of First Version: December 23, 2020.)
Heb 1:6 "But when he will bring again the firstborn into the world, he will also say, 'Let all God's angels worship him.'" This verse quotes השתחוו לו כל אלהים "Let all angels worship him" from Ps 97:7. Now Ps 97 is a psalm about the beginning of the visible reign of the Lord on earth. The Lord will reign visibly after his second coming. Thus, Heb 1:6 introduces the quotation with οταν δε παλιν εισαγαγη τον πρωτοτοκον εις την οικουμενην "but when he will bring again the firstborn into the world." Though at the first coming of the Lord Jesus, his deity was not fully manifested, when he will come again, the angels will be granted to worship him visibly. Now Satan's angels will not be there (Is 24:21-23, Rev 20:2-3). Thus, Heb 1:6 indicates plainly that the decree is for God's angels, who are the only angels that will be present during the visible reign of Christ on earth.
The Hebrew word translated "angels" in Heb 1:6 is אלהים. The word אלהים refers to mighty beings, and depending on context, it can refer to the true God, or to false gods, or to powerful men, or to angels. It is also used for believers in Ps 82:1, 6. Interesting in Ps 82:6 is that בני עליון כלכם "all of you are sons of the Most High" corresponds to אלהים אתם "ye are אלהים." Then, if angels are said to be בני האלהים "sons of God" in Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7, just like the believers in Ps 82:6, it follows that the angels too were called אלהים, just like the believers in Ps 82:6. While angels have much power now, believers too will have much power after the resurrection of the dead (Lk 20:36). Until that time, the most powerful among the beings that were created will be the angels. Note that De 10:17 and Ps 136:2 contain the phrase אלהי האלהים, commonly translated "the God of gods," providing an example in which the word אלהים refers to angels. In this phrase, אלהי, the construct form of אלהים, is translated "God." Moreover, האלהים, which is אלהים with the article, is commonly translated "gods." However, its meaning here is not "gods" but "angels." Indeed, the phrase אלהי האלהים states that God has incomparably greater power than any other powerful being. Thus, it does not refer to gods, for there is only one God and the text is not comparing him with inexistent beings. Rather, the text refers here to the most powerful created beings, that is, to angels.
The following remarks could be made to see that אלהים should be translated "angels of God" in the context of Ps 97:7. Though אלהים can refer to believers (Ps 82:1, 6), since believers worship Jesus, they will not have any need to be told "worship him." Though אלהים can refer to powerful men, they will not be powerful when the Lord returns unless they will be believers. Commonly אלהים refers to gods. However, Ps 97:7 is not about the Lord being worshiped by inexistent beings (the false gods) but about existing beings worshiping him. The only remaining possibility is that אלהים refers to angels. Note that this possibility fits perfectly the text. Angels were not granted to visibly worship Jesus at his first coming. On the contrary, at his second coming, as stated in Ps 97:7, they will be granted to worship him visibly. Since Satan's angels will not be present, the decree to worship Jesus is for God's angels. Thus, the only possible translation of אלהים that fits the context of Ps 97:7 is αγγελοι θεου "God's angels," as in Heb 1:6.
The translation of Ps 97:7 in Heb 1:6 is not identical to the translation found in the LXX. Note that where the LXX has προσκυνησατε αυτω παντες οι αγγελοι αυτου "worship him, all ye his angels," Heb 1:6 has προσκυνησατωσαν αυτω παντες αγγελοι θεου "let all God's angels worship him." The translation in Heb 1:6 can be explained as follows. It is well understood that a perfect form with the waw "and" conjuction prefixed to it can have the force of the jussive (see for instance והיו in Ge 1:14 and ועשו in Ex 25:8.) There is evidence that the perfect does not need the "and" conjunction to have the force of the jussive. Since a 3rd person perfect form that can be taken with jussive meaning could be reinterpreted as imperative (so at the 2nd person,) some examples in which the 3rd person fits better than the 2nd person will be considered here. In Is 47:13, הברו cannot be taken as an imperative form addressing the stargazers, for the verse already addresses at the 2nd person singular those who used their services. Thus, the verse has a Qere note respelling הברו. However, as written, the text is very meaningful if הברו is taken with a jussive meaning. Now a jussive meaning fits perfectly also שמע in Is 50:10 which is translated accordingly in the LXX. In Ps 109:28, when both קמו and יבשו are taken with jussive meaning, קמו ויבשו "let them rise, but let them be put to shame" mirrors יקללו המה ואתה תברך "let them curse but thou bless." In Jer 5:21, the following words address the people at the 3rd person: עינים להם ולא יראו אזנים להם ולא ישמעו "they have eyes but do not see, they have ears but do not hear." Therefore, considering שמעו נא זאת עם סכל ואין לב at the beginning of the verse, the jussive interpretation "let the foolish people without understanding hear this" fits better than the imperative interpretation because it is consistent with the 3rd person of the verbs in the remaining part of the verse. Moreover, originally, Lam 1:18 was not spoken to peoples, so the jussive interpretation of שמעו נא כל עמים וראו as "let all peoples hear and see" fits better than the imperative interpretation "hear, all you peoples, and see." So also in Ps 97:7, since the psalm was not spoken to angels, the jussive interpretation of השתחוו לו כל אלהים as "let all angels worship him" fits better than the imperative "worship him, all ye angels." Now השתחוו לו כל אלהים could also be translated "all angels will worship him." However, the jussive fits better a text meant for worship. In worship, people do not just state facts (such as the fact that all angels will worship him), but they also involve themselves emotionally and declare their desire for things that are in God's will to happen (such as by saying, "let all God's angels worship him.")
As could be noticed, Heb 1:6 has αγγελοι θεου "God's angels" where LXX has οι αγγελοι αυτου "his angels." Heb 1:6 makes it very clear that all angels of God will worship Jesus after his return. In the LXX, however, the fact that the antecedent of αυτου "his" is the same as the antecedent of αυτω "him," allows the interpretation that Jesus would be given some angels for his reign on earth and that only his angels (the angels given to him, not all angels of God) would worship him. Just as this interpretation is impossible in the Hebrew text of Ps 97:7, it is impossible also in Heb 1:6, which excludes it by using the phrase "God's angels" instead of "his angels."
Heb 2:3 A literal translation of this verse is: "How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation which having received its beginning spoken through the Lord, was confirmed for us by those who heard him?" This salvation is very great because of what it saves a person from and what a person receives through it. With the coming of the Lord Jesus, the kingdom of God has drawn near. Thus, after a believer dies, he lives in God's kingdom and is in the presence of the Lord. He does not taste death because Jesus, by the grace of God, tasted death for everyone (Heb 2:9). This salvation had a beginning; it began after the resurrection of the Lord. The fact that this salvation had a beginning does not mean that the believers who lived before the coming of the Lord have a different salvation. Though they did not experience this salvation when they died, they received it after the resurrection of the Lord (Mt 27:52, Jn 12:32, Eph 4:8). The beginning of this salvation was spoken through the Lord. The fact that we have δια του κυριου "through the Lord" instead of υπο του κυριου "by the Lord" is taken as emphasizing that the Lord spoke that which the Father gave him to say. Now in the translation above, "its beginning spoken through the Lord" appears instead of "spoken at the first by the Lord". This is because in ητις αρχην λαβουσα λαλεισθαι δια του κυριου the infinitive form λαλεισθαι requires a subject in the accusative case, so the subject is αρχην, not ητις.
Heb 2:6 A literal translation of the beginning of this verse is, "But he testified where one is saying, 'What is man ... '". Here, "where" is interpreted as referring to the place in Scripture where the quotation is taken from and "one" as referring not to the author of the quoted text but to any believer reciting the well known text of the quotation. Thus, "where one is saying" is interpreted as "in the place in Scripture from which one recites". The quotation is from Ps 8, which must have been well known to a Hebrew audience. This verse would also imply that it was often read in church. So the Scripture text here reasons with the hearer by means of a passage that was well known to the original audience. In the context of the previous two verses, in which God is the subject, the subject of "testified" is God. Thus, the passage emphasizes the testimony of God, for we also read in verse 4 about συνεπιμαρτυρουντος του θεου "God bearing witness".
This interpretation of Heb 2:6 can be justified as follows. The verse begins with διεμαρτυρατο δε που τις λεγων, which has a word-for-word translation "testified but where one saying". If "one" is taken as the subject of "testified", then the translation would be, "But someone testified somewhere saying". However, assuming no change of subject, that is, that the subject of Heb 2:5 is also the subject of "testified" in Heb 2:6, the translation is: "But he testified where one is saying". In support of this second interpretation, the following remarks could be made. (a) It seems most natural to assume no subject change from Heb 2:5 to Heb 2:6. If a subject change were meant, the order of the words could have been διεμαρτυρατο δε τις που λεγων instead of διεμαρτυρατο δε που τις λεγων. (b) This interpretation does not involve the words "somewhere" and "someone", so there is no need to explain why a well known passage and a well known author would be mentioned with these words. In fact, the epistle does name David as the author of a psalm quoted in another passage (Heb 4:7). (c) It could be noted also that the meaning "somewhere" of the word που is rarely found in the LXX and the New Testament. In the LXX, it appears in 1Ki 10:12 and Pr 31:21. In the Nestle and Aland Greek New Testament, the word που appears with the meaning "somewhere" in Ac 27:29. Other than this, the only New Testament instances of this common word that could possibly mean "somewhere" are Heb 2:6 and Heb 4:4. However, this document presents evidence that Heb 2:6 and Heb 4:4 use the "where" meaning of που. (See also the note below on Heb 4:4.) Now the word που is found three times in Hebrews, namely in Heb 2:6, 4:4, 11:8, and it clearly means "where" in Heb 11:8. (d) The accent used for the word που could be used to distinguish between the meaning "where" and "somewhere". However, according to the early manuscripts of the New Testament, the original text was written without accents.
Heb 2:7 "Thou hast lessened him to a small position compared to angels ... " This translation fits both Heb 2:7 and Ps 8:5 (8:6), which is the passage quoted in Heb 2:7. In the original languages, the verbs translated "to lessen" (ελαττοω in Greek and חסר in Hebrew) are not about creating or making something new so as to be less than something else, but about lessening something that already exists. Thus, this verse is not speaking about men, for their position was never comparable to that of angels. The verse speaks specifically about one who was higher than the angels but was lessened lower than angels, that is, about Jesus. When Jesus became a man, he also became lower than angels, since man is lower than angels. Man is not a little lower than angels, but far lower than angels. That man is far lower than angels can be seen also when considering the Hebrew word used for angels in Ps 8:5 (8:6). The Hebrew word is אלהים which commonly refers to God or gods, but sometimes also to mighty persons that are not God, such as to angels. This word emphasizes that compared to man, angels are very powerful.
Considering the translation of Ps 8:5 (8:6) in Heb 2:7, there are several Old Testament passages in which the word אלהים refers to angels; see the note on Heb 1:6. Moreover, βραχυ τι translates מעט "a small thing" and παρ αγγελους translates מאלהים "compared to angels." Since מעט is a noun, not an adjective, it is not translated just by βραχυ, which is an adjective, but by the phrase βραχυ τι. The Hebrew preposition מן "from" commonly introduces the word to which something is compared to, so מאלהים means "compared to angels." Of course, מאלהים could also be translated "compared to God." However, this would be an incomplete translation because אלהים can also denote angels. Something smaller than angels is clearly also smaller than God, so "compared to angels" is the right option. In the context, it is not possible to translate מאלהים as "compared to gods" since there is only one God. It is not possible either to translate it "compared to mighty men" since Ps 8:4 (8:5) speaks about how small man is. Thus, it would seem quite unlikely that the word אלהים would be applied to men right after a verse speaking about how small men are. Therefore, in the context of Ps 8:5 (8:6), מאלהים means "compared to angels."
Heb 4:4 A close translation of the text is: "For he has spoken this way in the passage concerning the seventh day, 'And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.'" The passage concerning the seventh day is Ge 2:2-3, from which only the ending of Ge 2:2 is quoted, as it speaks about God's rest. In view of Heb 4:3, it is clear that the focus is on God resting, not on the seventh day. Thus, the previous translation fits better the context than this alternative translation: "For he has spoken somewhere concerning the seventh day this way: 'And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.'". The latter interpretation of the text has been very common. In comparison, the former translation interprets differently the beginning of the verse. The verse begins with ειρηκεν γαρ που περι της εβδομης ουτως, which has a word-for-word translation "for has spoken where concerning the seventh thus". In the former interpretation, περι της εβδομης "concerning the seventh" modifies που "where", and so the beginning of the verse is: "For he has spoken this way where the passage concerning the seventh day is", that is, "For he has spoken this way in the passage concerning the seventh day". In the latter interpretation, περι της εβδομης modifies ειρηκεν "has spoken". Some evidence in favor of the former interpretation is as follows. (a) που is closer to περι της εβδομης than ειρηκεν. (b) There is no need to explain why "somewhere" is used to denote a well known Scripture passage. (c) The meaning "somewhere" of που is rare in the Scripture; see the note above on Heb 2:6.
Heb 7:27 The verse mentions two sacrifices that a high priest had to offer: first a sacrifice for his own sins, and then a sacrifice for the sins of the people. The fact that Jesus offered only the sacrifice for the sins of the people can be seen from the singular number of τουτο "this", where this word appears in τουτο γαρ εποιησεν εφαπαξ "for this he did once". The closest possible antecedent of the word τουτο "this" is the sacrifice for the sins of the people. Therefore, τουτο "this" refers to the sacrifice for the sins of the people and states that Jesus offered it once. Since Jesus is without sin, there was no need to offer also the first sacrifice which a high priest would offer for his own sins. If the text had ταυτα "these" instead of τουτο "this", it would refer to both sacrifices. However, the text has the singular form τουτο "this", indicating that only the sacrifice for the sins of the people was offered.
Heb 8:12 Literally, the Byzantine text states: "For I will forgive their iniquities and I will remember no more their sins and their lawless deeds." The Nestle and Aland version of the Greek New Testament has the same text except for lacking "and their lawless deeds". Note that the Greek text of Heb 8:12 is a close translation of the Hebrew text of Jer 31:34. The Byzantine text translates חטאתם "their sins" with των αμαρτιων αυτων και των ανομιων αυτων "their sins and their lawless deeds". Since any lawless deed is sinful, the additional phrase "and their lawless deeds" does not change the meaning of the text but emphasizes the extent of God's forgiveness. To see that ιλεως εσωμαι means "I will forgive", the LXX usage of the word ιλεως could be examined. The word ιλεως appears 26 times in the LXX. Most of the time it is used in the translation of the verb סלח "to forgive"; see the article ιλεως. In view of the LXX usage, "I will forgive" is a close translation of ιλεως εσωμαι. Now ιλεως εσωμαι has been commonly translated "I will be merciful". While God is certainly merciful when he forgives, the translation "I will be merciful" is not as close to the text as "I will forgive".
Heb 9:1 A good translation of this verse would be, "Therefore, the first dwelling place, the holy place of earth, had also regulations for worship." This translation follows the received text of Stephanus and Elzevir, which have η πρωτη σκηνη "the first dwelling place" instead of just η πρωτη "the first". As for translating σκηνη with the meaning "dwelling place", this meaning is mentioned in the Liddell-Scott lexicon and in the Gingrich lexicon, which also illustrates it with Lk 16:9, Ac 15:16, Rev 13:6, 21:3. The translation of το τε αγιον κοσμικον as "the holy place of earth" fits the observation that the temple was the only place on earth that was truly holy, being set apart by the presence of the Lord. The word ουν "therefore" indicates that what follows illustrates the point made in the previous verses, that the old covenant was meant to be temporary. Since the epistle was written before the destruction of the temple, the imperfect tense of ειχον "was having" shows that the passage speaks about the original form of the temple; it refers to the tabernacle.
Heb 9:4 Many times χρυσουν εχουσα θυμιατηριον "having a golden censer" is translated "having the golden altar of incense." Some evidence that θυμιατηριον means "censer" and not "altar of incense" is as follows. First, it could be noticed that the word appears without the definite article. The only other item without the definite article is σταμνος χρυση "golden jar" in this verse; all other items appear with the definite article, such as η λυχνια "the lamp", η τραπεζα "the table", and την κιβωτον της διαθηκης "the ark of the covenant". That the golden jar is mentioned without the definite article is not surprising, since the Old Testament mentions it with the words צנצנת אחת "a jar" (Ex 16:33). In contrast, the Old Testament describes the altar of incense in detail, and so the definite article would have been expected if θυμιατηριον referred to the altar of incense. Second, the LXX translates מקטרת "censer" with θυμιατηριον, where מקטרת and θυμιατηριον appear only in 2Ch 26:19 and Eze 8:11. In both 2Ch 26:19 and Eze 8:11 θυμιατηριον refers to something that one would hold in his hand. Therefore, θυμιατηριον refers to a censer, not to an altar of incense. The presence of the golden censer could be inferred from Lev 16:12-13. See the note on Lev 16:12.
A question that might arise is that if θυμιατηριον means "censer", why the altar of incense is not mentioned. The apparent reason is that the altar of incense is irrelevant to the topic of the passage. The passage speaks about matters of the old covenant that had passed away (Heb 9:8-10). The ark of the covenant and its content represented things that were most holy, and so they are mentioned because the tabernacle indicated that the way to the most holy had not been revealed. The golden censer was used to cover the ark with the cloud of smoke (Lev 16:12-13), so it represents something that had passed away, since now the believer is able to behold the glory of the Lord with an unveiled face (2Co 3:18). The bread of presence would fit the category of the gifts (Heb 9:9), and these are no longer required. The lampstand indicated the presence of darkness, but now the believer is in the light. However, the altar of incense refers to prayer, which is something that remains under the new covenant. So it was not mentioned in this passage together with what was standing for things passing away.
Now Nu 17:10 mentions the rod being placed before the testimony and Ex 16:34 the jar of manna. The ark of the covenant was overlaid with gold, indicating the value of what was stored in it. Its content represented God's testimony, his word. The tablets of the covenant had God's word. The manna indicated that God's word is food to the soul. The budded rod indicated that God's word brings life to those who receive it, just as the dead wood of Aaron's rod was caused to bud and bear almonds (Nu 17:8). By the time of temple of Solomon, the jar of manna and Aaron's rod were lost. This can be seen from the fact that these were supposed to be placed before the testimony (Nu 17:10, Ex 16:33-34) and that they were not in the ark of the covenant at the time of 1Ki 8:9. The statement of 1Ki 8:9 that אין בארון רק שני לחות האבנים "there was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone" testifies to an expectation that some other things besides the tablets were supposed to be inside the ark, confirming in this way the fact that the jar of manna and Aaron's rod were supposed to be there. See also the note on 1Ki 8:9.
Heb 9:6-7 The present tense of the verb forms εισιασιν "enters" and προσφερει "offers" indicate that the temple was standing when the epistle was written.
Heb 10:37-38 In addition to Hab 2:3-4, this passage makes a reference to Is 26:20. To see this, it could be noted that the phrase μικρον οσον οσον "a little while", which is found only in Heb 10:37, appears once also in LXX, in Is 26:20. It could be noted also that Is 26:20 is in the context of the resurrection of the dead (Is 26:19) and of the justice that the Lord will bring at his return (Is 26:21). Now the previous verses in Heb 10:35-36 encouraged the hearers to persevere and reminded them of their reward. In this context, the reference to Is 26:20 served as another reminder of the time when they would be rewarded. The reference to Hab 2:3-4 exhorted the hearers to persevere and stand firm in the faith.
Heb 11:22 The words of the Lord to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must have been known among the descendants of Jacob. As this verse reminds the hearer, Joseph recalled God's word, treated it as something certain, spoke about it, and responded to it by asking that his bones be taken when Israel would depart from Egypt (Ge 50:24-25). Joseph was likely well acquainted with the words of the Lord to Abraham about the exodus of Israel (Ge 15:13-14).
Heb 12:4 Jesus is without sin in spite of having been tempted like all other men. He resisted sin to the end. This verse could remind the hearer that Jesus resisted sin to the point of shedding his blood. Though he was tempted to save himself from death, he did not yield to this or any other temptation to sin. He continued to live righteously, though he knew so well that this would lead to his suffering and death.