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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS - Chapter 1 - Verse 5
Verse 5. For unto which oft he angels, etc. The object of this is to prove that the Son of God, who has spoken to men in these last days, is superior to the angels. As the apostle was writing to those who had been trained in the Jewish religion, and who admitted the authority of the Old Testament, of course he made his appeal to that, and undoubtedly referred for proof to those places which were generally admitted to relate to the Messiah. Abarbanel says, that it was the common opinion of the Jewish doctors, that the Messiah would be exalted above Abraham, Moses, and the angels. Stuart. There is a difficulty, as we shall see, in applying the passages which follow to the Messiah—a difficulty which we may find it not easy to explain. Some remarks will be made on the particular passages as we go along. In general, it may be observed here,
(1.) That it is to be presumed that those passages were, in the time of Paul, applied to the Messiah. He seems to argue from them as though this was commonly understood, and is at no pains to prove it.
(2.) It is to be presumed, that those to whom he wrote would at once admit this to be so. If this were not so, we cannot suppose that he would regard this mode of reasoning as at all efficacious, or adapted to convince those to whom he wrote.
(3.) He did not apprehend that the application which he made of these texts would be called in question by the countrymen of those to whom he wrote. It is to be presumed, therefore, that the application was made in accordance with the received opinions, and the common interpretation.
(4.) Paul had been instructed, in early life, in the doctrines of the Jewish religion, and made fully acquainted with all their principles of interpretation. It is to be presumed, therefore, that he made these quotations in accordance with the prevalent belief, and with principles which were well understood and admitted,
(5.) Every age and people have their own modes of reasoning. They may differ from others, and others may regard them as unsound, and yet, to that age and people, they are satisfactory and conclusive. The ancient philosophers employed modes of reasoning which would not strike us as the most forcible, and which, perhaps, we should not regard as tenable. So it is with the Chinese, the Hindoos, the Mohammedans now. So it was with the writers of the dark ages, who lived under the influence of the scholastic philosophy. They argue from admitted principles in their country and time—just as we do in ours. Their reasoning was as satisfactory to them, as ours is to us.
(6.) In a writer of any particular age we are to expect to find the prevailing mode of reasoning, and appeals to the usual arguments on any subject. We are not to look for methods of argument founded on the inductive philosophy in the writings of the schoolmen, or in the writings of the Chinese or the Hindoos. It would be unreasonable to expect it. We are to expect that they will be found to reason in accordance with the customs of their time; to appeal to such arguments as were commonly alleged; and, if they are reasoning with an adversary, to make use of the points which he concedes, and to urge them as fitted to convince him. And this is not wrong. It may strike him with more force than it does us; it may be that we can see that is not the most solid mode of reasoning, but still it may not be in itself an improper method. That the writers of the New Testament should have used that mode of reasoning sometimes, is no more surprising than that we find writers in China reasoning from acknowledged principles, and in the usual manner there; or than that men in our own land, reason on the principles of the inductive philosophy. These remarks may not explain all the difficulties in regard to the proof-texts adduced by Paul in this chapter, but they may remove some of them, and may so prepare the way that we may be able to dispose of them all as we advance. In the passage which is quoted in this verse, there is not much difficulty in regard to the propriety of its being thus used. The difficulty lies in the subsequent quotations in the chapter.
Said he at any time. He never used language respecting the angels, like that which he employs respecting his Son. He never applied to any one of them the name Son.
Thou art my Son. The name "sons of God," is applied in the Scriptures to saints, and may have been given to the angels. But the argument here is, that the name "my son" has never been given to any one of them particularly, and by eminence. In a large, general sense, they are the sons of God, or the children of God; but the name is given to the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, in a peculiar sense, implying a peculiar relation to him, and a peculiar dominion over all things. This passage is quoted from Ps 2.—a Psalm that is usually believed to pertain particularly to the Messiah, and one of the few Psalms that have undisputed reference to him. See Barnes "Ac 4:25"; See Barnes "Ac 13:33".
This day. See Barnes "Ac 13:33, where this passage is applied to the resurrection of Christ from the dead;—proving that the phrase "this day" does not refer to the doctrine of eternal generation, but to the resurrection of the Redeemer—"the FIRST-BEGOTTEN of the dead," Re 1:6. Thus Theodoret says of the phrase "this day"—" It does not express his eternal generation, but that which is connected with time." The argument of the apostle here does not turn on the time when this was said, but on the fact that this was said to him, and not to any one of the angels; and this argument will have equal force, whether the phrase be understood as referring to the fact of his resurrection, or to his previous existence. The structure and scope of the second Psalm refers to his exaltation after the kings of the earth set themselves against him, and endeavoured to cast off his government from them. In spite of that, and subsequent to that, he would set his King, which they had rejected, on his holy hill of Zion. See Ps 2:2-6.
It must, from the necessity of the case, be understood figuratively; and must mean substantially, "I have constituted, or appointed thee." If it refers to his resurrection, it means that that resurrection was a kind of begetting to life, or a beginning of life, see Re 1:5. And yet, though Paul (Ac 13:33) has applied it to the resurrection of the Redeemer, and though the name "Son of God" is applied to him on account of his resurrection, (See Barnes "Ro 1:4,) yet I confess this does not seem to me to come up to all that the writer here intended. The phrase, "THE Son of God," I suppose, properly denotes that the Lord Jesus sustained a relation to God, designated by that name, corresponding to the relations which he sustained to man, designated by the name "the Son of man." The one implied that he had a peculiar relation to God, as the other implied that he had a peculiar relation to man. This is indisputable. But on what particular account the name was given him, or how he was manifested to be the Son of God, has been the great question. Whether the name refers to the mode of his existence before the incarnation, and to his being begotten from eternity, or to the incarnation and the resurrection, has long been a point on which men have been divided in opinion. The natural idea conveyed by the title, `THE Son of God,' is, that he sustained a relation to God which implied more than was human or angelic; and this is certainly the drift of the argument of the apostle here. I do not see, however, that he refers to the doctrine of `eternal generation,' or that he means to teach that. His point is, that God had declared and treated him as a Son—as superior to the angels and to men, and that this was shown in what had been said of him in the Old Testament. This would be equally clear, whether there is reference to the doctrine of eternal generation or not. The sense is, "he is more than human." He is more than angelic, He has been addressed and treated as a Son—which none of the angels have. They are regarded simply as ministering spirits. They sustain subordinate stations, and are treated accordingly. He, on the contrary, is the brightness of the Divine glory, he is treated and addressed as a Son. In his original existence this was so. In his incarnation this was so. When on earth this was so; and in his resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of God, he was treated in all respects as a Son—as superior to all servants, and to all "ministering spirits." The exact reference, then, of the phrase "this day have I begotten thee," in the Psalm, is to the act of constituting him, in a public manner, the Son of God; and refers to God's setting him as King on the "holy hill of Zion"—or making him King over the church and the world, as Messiah; and this was done eminently, as Paul shows (Ac 13) by the resurrection. It was based, however, on what was fit and proper. It was not arbitrary. There was a reason why he should thus be exalted, rather than a man or an angel; and this was, that he was the God incarnate, and had a nature that qualified him for universal empire, and he was thus appropriately called "THE Son of God."
And again, I will be to him a Father. This passage is evidently quoted from 2 Sa 7:14. A sentiment similar to this is found in Ps 89:20-27. As these words were originally spoken, they referred to Solomon. They occur in a promise to DAVID, that he should not fail to have an heir to sit on his throne, or that his throne should be perpetual. The promise was particularly designed to comfort him in view of the fact, that God would not suffer him to build the temple, because his hands had been defiled with blood. To console him, in reference to that, God promises him far greater honour than that would be. He promises that the house should be built by one of his own family, and that his family and kingdom should be established for ever. That, in this series of promises, the Messiah was included, as a descendant of David, was the common opinion of the Jews, of the early Christians, and has been of the great body of interpreters. It was certainly from such passages as this, that the Jews derived the notion, which prevailed so universally in the time of the Saviour, that the Messiah was to be the Son or the descendant of David. See Mt 22:42-45; 9:27; 15:22; 20:30,31; Mr 10:47,48; Lu 18:38,39;; Mt 12:23; Mt 21:9; Joh 7:42; Ro 1:3; Re 5:5; 22:16.
That opinion was universal. No one doubted it; and it must have been common for the Jews to apply such texts as this to the Messiah. Paul would not have done it, in this instance, unless it had been usual. Nor was it improper. If the Messiah was to be a descendant of David, then it was natural to apply these promises, in regard to his posterity, in an eminent and peculiar sense to the Messiah. They were a part of the promises which included him, and which terminated in him. The promise, therefore, which is here made is, that God would be to him, in a peculiar sense, a Father, and he should be a Son. It does not, as I suppose, pertain, originally, exclusively to the Messiah, but included him as a descendant of David. To him it would be applicable in an eminent sense; and if applicable to him at all, it proved all that the passage here is adduced to prove—that the name Son is given to the Messiah, a name not given to angels. That is just the point on which the argument turns. What is implied in the bestowment of that name, is another point on which the apostle discourses in the other parts of the argument. I have no doubt, therefore, that while these words originally might have been applicable to Solomon, or to any of the other descendants of David who succeeded him on the throne, yet they at last terminated, and were designed to, in the Messiah, to whom pre-eminently God would be a Father. Comp. Introduction to Isaiah, & 7, iii. (3,) and See Barnes "Isa 7:16".
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