"Thy Throne O' God! -- Understanding Hebrews 1:8"

by Kegan A. Chandler

But of the Son He says, "YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM” – Hebrews 1:8 (NASB)

Hebrews 1:8 is one of the most popular verses used by Trinitarians and Oneness-beleivers to demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth is God.  However, a closer examination of the first and second chapters of Hebrews will shed light on the fact that in the biblical context, one may indeed be called "God" and not actually be the God of Israel.  We must read verse 8 in light of the information provided for us by the author in the surrounding context, as well as what we know about God's nature revealed in the Old Testament, and the Hebraic concept of Agency.

We must demand that the verse be examined in context.  We cannot lift this verse out of it's context, discarding the rest of the Epistle to the Hebrews and standing it up on it's own as an end-all doctrinal statement, which is a surefire way to acquire faulty exegesis.  Many Trinitarians and others have claimed that Hebrews 1:8 is clear proof that Jesus is YHWH.  However, the truth is that in no way does the writer of Hebrews argue that Jesus is YHWH.  If so, he makes a very poor argument that can be easily dismantled by their own writings in the first two chapters.  The writer of Hebrews, whoever they were, was an obviously well-studied early Christian.  They have grasped both the totality of the revelation of Jesus Christ in the post-ascension era, as well as the essential concepts of Agency found many times in the Old Testament scriptures.  The writer succinctly argues, not that Jesus is YHWH, but that Jesus is a supremely exalted man who has been given YHWH’s authority and has become superior even to the holy angels.

Let us examine the information that the writer gives us about Jesus that surrounds verse 8: 

Before we get to verse 8 we read that Jesus:

 1) was not speaking to the fathers in ages past (1:1-2)

2) had to become superior to angels since he previously wasn’t (1:4)

3) gained an inheritance of something he didn’t have a right to previously (1:4)

4) will be a Son to God (interestingly, not God himself) (1:5)

5) is a representation of God (interestingly, not God himself) (1:3)


 And right after we get to verse 8 we read that Jesus:

 1) has a God (1:9)

2) has been anointed above his fellows (1:9) (God has no fellows)

3) was made for a while lower than the angels (2:9)

4) is NOW crowned with glory and honor because he died (2:9) (since he wasn’t crowned beforehand)

5) is the pioneer of man’s salvation (the first to receive salvation) (2:10)

6) calls men his BROTHERS (2:11)

7) says that he will put his trust in God (2:13)

8) is made like his brothers in every single way (2:17)

9) was tempted (2:18) (God cannot be tempted)

10) is now counted worthy of more glory than Moses (3:3) (if he’s YHWH, shouldn’t this go without saying?)

 

Certainly the writer is not describing the unchanging, Almighty YHWH, Eternal Lord of the Universe.  We must understand then, being from a different time and culture than the writer, that there must another meaning to “the Son” being called “GOD/god” in Heb 1:8.

There are several OT passages that once applied only to YHWH, that now in the New Testament age, are applied to his representative, Jesus.  We know that the writer of Hebrews uses this method because of what we find at the end of Chapter 1 and the beginning of Chapter 2.  Remember, the original text contains no chapter breaks; knowing this will often assist the Bible student in connecting ideas across later chapter-and-verse interpolations.

Verse 10 starts quoting Psalm 102:25:

He also says, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth and the heavens are the works of your hands; They will perish, but you remain; and they all will become old like a garment, and like a mantle you will roll them up; like a garment they will also be changed.  But you are the same, and your years will not come to an end.”

In the same way that the writer took Psalm 45 and applied it to Jesus, he is taking Psalm 102 and applying it not only to Jesus, but also to the new creation of the new heavens and new earth.  In the OT period, Psalm 45 applied to GOD laying the foundation of the Genesis creation.  The writer is now applying it to Jesus who will “make all things new” when he comes to establish the Kingdom Age.  ‘In the beginning’ of the New Age, Jesus will ‘roll up the old earth and change it like a garment’.  How do we know that the writer is meaning this?  Because he says so just 6 verses later:

“For He did not subject to angels the world to come, about which we are speaking.” (Heb 2:5)

So we can see that the writer is using words/phrases/verses that previously referred to YHWH and to the acts of YHWH and is applying them to his representative on earth, Jesus Christ. 

In Hebrews 1:8, Jesus is being called ‘elohim’ (Gr ‘theos’) or “god/GOD”.  Remember, many people in the Bible are called “GOD” in a representational sense:
     Moses = “Then YHWH said to Moses, “See I have made you GOD to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet” (Exodus 7:1)
     Rulers of Israel = “I said, ‘You are GOD”, you are all sons of the Most High” (Psalm 82:6)
     Satan = “The GOD of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers…” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Jesus, however, is no more YHWH than Moses is.  We must understand that “GOD/God/god” is a title.  It is a descriptive.  Strong's, in addition to explaining the biblical usage of 'theos' as pertaining to YHWH, also provides these usages:

#G2316: "a god or goddess, a gernal name of deities or divinities, whatever can in any respect be likened unto God or resemble him in any way, God's representative or viceregent, magistrates and judges"

‘YHWH’ is the real personal name of the one true god, not “God”.  "God" is what YHWH is, while "YHWH" is who he is.  Of course, Jesus is never called YHWH in the entire Bible.  Instead, Jesus is one with divine authority, a chief dignitary, a holy prince, a powerful ruler.  Jesus is just like the angels in that he is an appointed representative of God with divine authority… but the writer of Hebrew's point is that Jesus is now HIGHER than all the other ‘gods’!  In the same chapter in which the writer calls Jesus “god”, he also says that Jesus “has become as much superior to the angels”, “Let all God’s angels worship him”… and continues to make these comparisons to the angels: “To which of the angels did God ever say: ‘You are my Son, today I have become your Father?’ and “To which of the angels did God ever say ‘Sit at my right hand’?”

Clearly the point is that Jesus has become the supreme representative of God… even greater than the angels, or even Moses.
The point is certainly not that Jesus is YHWH.

The writer of Hebrews has penned chapters 1-2 in order for us to know that:

Jesus > angels  not  Jesus = YHWH

 

Praise be to YHWH, who has rewarded the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:5) with exaltation above all other authorities!  Jesus truly is the ultimate representative of God.