Tuesday, August 19, 2008

So, a friend is memorizing Hebrews and I'm not part of a Bible study right now. Which has made me think of experimenting (again) with the book of Hebrews. This time, the idea is to read the book in conjunction with Chrysostom's commentary. First, I type the passage in question. Then I reflect on it and write my comments. Finally, I read Chrysostom and summarize his comments. This method may well change before too long.

Hebrews 1:1-2

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,

has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;


Christ is God's Son and through Him the worlds were made. The God who spoke to the prophets speaks through Jesus Christ.

This passage unambiguously asserts Christ's status as God (the worlds were made through Him), and proclaims to the Jews a continuity with the prophesies of old-- it emphasizes that Christ Jesus is not a new god.


In time past God spoke through prophets, then "when a long time had intervened, when we were on the edge of punishment, when the Gifts had failed, when there was no expectations of deliverance, when we were expecting to have less than all-- then we had more."

"God has spoken by Christ" emphasizes to those who don't yet trust Christ (but do trust God) that it is God who is speaking (this is why Paul doesn't simply say that Christ spoke these words, but rather that God spoke the words by Christ).

That Christ is appointed "heir of all things" means that his inheritance is not just the Jews, but has been extended to all nations.

Hebrews 1:3-4

who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.


This passage emphasizes Christ's glory and worthiness-- He purged our sins, He is the brightness and image of God, He upholds all things. He is more excellent even than the angels.

But why this word 'became'? It's tempting to interpret this as a hint that Christ was not always greater than the angels, that he became such. In which case, God the Son would not have always been God.

This cannot be Paul's meaning, as he's already said that all things were made through Christ. If Christ predated the angels, if they were made through Him, then Paul cannot mean to imply that the angels were at one time more excellent than their Creator.

But still that curious verb.

Perhaps, as this is an epistle to the Jews who acknowledge God's glory but doubt Christ's participation in that glory, this verb "became" emphasizes God's humanit in Christ.

The Word, remember, "became" flesh. Human flesh did not always have a more excellent name than the angels, but by the Incarnation human flesh inherited such a name; human flesh was incorporated into the Godhead. Perhaps Paul is emphasizing to the Jews that through Christ our flesh inherits holiness?


"Henceforward then he treats here of that which is according to the flesh, since the phrase 'being made better' doth not express His essence according to the Spirit, (for that was not 'made' but 'begotten') but according to the flesh: for this was "made."

Chrysostom speaks of what we now call the "zone of proximal development" or "scaffolding," by which in teaching you alternately take the student up to lofty levels beyond their full comprehension, and then guide them back down to what they understand firmly. By this means they begin to grasp for higher things but remain grounded. So also Paul alternates between Christ's glory and his lowliness, between his Godhood and his humanity.

He says that the Word is pre-eternally glorious, but that the flesh has been made glorious in the Incarnation.

Chrysostom then speaks of "both high and low" of man, in particular emphasizing the giving of alms, reminding us that the "least of these" will be made high. Yet even the poorest, he says, should be mindful of the needy-- because God "regards the will, not the gifts."

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