Friday, October 12, 2018

Unitarians and Hebrews 1:10-12

by Michael R. Burgos Jr., PhD

The argument presented by the writer of the Epistle of Hebrews within the prologue has been long understood to present an uncompromising assertion of the full deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is especially true of the utilization of Psalm 102:25-27(101:26-28 LXX) at Hebrews 1:10-12.[1] There, the author of Hebrews has taken a text which refers to Yahweh’s work of creation and applied to the Son of God. Moreover, the author of Hebrews presents this as something that is said by the Father to the Son. Unitarians who affirm an exclusively human Christology, beginning with Buzzard,[2] have decried this reading of Hebrews 1:10-12, insisting that a Yahweh text isn’t being applied to the Son of God and that the creation which is in view is not that of the Genesis creation. The purpose of this essay is to evaluate the unitarian contentions regarding Hebrews 1:10-12.
And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” (Hebrews 1:10-12, ESV) 
καί· σὺ κατ’ ἀρχάς, κύριε, τὴν γῆν ἐθεμελίωσας, καὶ ἔργα τῶν χειρῶν σού εἰσιν οἱ οὐρανοί· αὐτοὶ ἀπολοῦνται, σὺ δὲ διαμένεις, καὶ πάντες ὡς ἱμάτιον παλαιωθήσονται, καὶ ὡσεὶ περιβόλαιον ἑλίξεις αὐτούς, ὡς ἱμάτιον καὶ ἀλλαγήσονται· σὺ δὲ ὁ αὐτὸς εἶ καὶ τὰ ἔτη σου οὐκ ἐκλείψουσιν. (Προς Εβραιους 1:10-12, NA28)
The argument of unitarians essentially goes like this: The author of Hebrews is deriving his citation of the Psalm from the Septuagint. Whereas the Masoretic text states in Psalm 102:23, “He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days,” the Septuagint renders the text, “He answered him in the way of his strength, ‘of the fewness of my days’ he proclaimed to me.”[3] The Septuagint understands the Masoretic עִנָּ֖ה (‘innāh, “he has broken”) as עָנָה (‘ānāh, “he answered”) and subsequently translates the verb ἀπεκρίθη (apekrithē, “he answered”).[4] As Bruce has noted, the distinction “is formally one of vocalization.”[5] Buzzard, following Bruce, has argued that the balance of the Psalm consists of Yahweh’s response to the supplicant, including vv. 25-29 (24-28 MT).

The claim that Psalm 101:23 (LXX) marks the transition from the words of the supplicant to those of Yahweh is one of two main arguments utilized by unitarians to deny that the Son is being identified as Yahweh, the Creator God, in Hebrews 1:10-12.[6] The second argument is the assertion that heavens and earth mentioned in Hebrew 1:10-12 are not that of the Genesis creation, but that of the future restored state. Support for this claim is marshalled by an appeal to Isaiah 51:15-16 which states,
I am the LORD your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD of hosts is his name. And I have put my words in your mouth and covered you in the shadow of my hand, establishing the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth, and saying to Zion, “You are my people.” (Isaiah 51:15-16, ESV)
Of this text it is claimed that Yahweh has placed his words in the mouth of Zion, who is typologically portraying the Messiah, and it is the Messiah who establishes the heavens and earth. It is claimed that this text “Speaks of an agent of God in whom God puts His words and whom He uses ‘to plant the heavens and earth.’”[7]

The difficulty with these arguments is a terribly poor reading of the relevant passages. It is completely erroneous to suppose that the entirety of Psalm 101:23b-29 (LXX) constitutes Yahweh speaking to the supplicant. While it is clear that v. 24b (LXX) contains Yahweh’s response, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to suppose that vv. 25-29 (LXX) are the words of Yahweh to the supplicant. Asserting as much places a very unusual set of theological claims in the mouth of the Almighty God. If v. 24 is Yahweh speaking, then Yahweh is finite and the supplicant is eternal:
μὴ ἀναγάγῃς με ἐν ἡμίσει ἡμερῶν μου ἐν γενεᾷ γενεῶν τὰ ἔτη σου. (Psalm 101:25 LXX)
Do not lead me away at the middle of my days, your years are in generations of generations. (Psalm 101:25 LXX, author’s translation)
Evidently, unitarians believe that the supplicant, who in the application of Hebrews 1:10-12 is the Messiah, is eternal, while Yahweh is concerned that his days might end in the middle of his life. Clearly, such an interpretation places the actual meaning of the text on its head. A better reading recognizes that while Psalm 101:24 LXX identifies Yahweh’s answer to the supplicant, v. 25 marks a return to the supplicant pleading to Yahweh. Thus, like v. 24, vv. 26-29 also refer to Yahweh. This reading accords best since it contrasts the finitude of the life of the supplicant with the immutable and eternal life of Yahweh.

A similar observation is necessary regarding Isaiah 51:16. Unitarians erroneously argue that this text indicates that Zion/the Messiah is the one in whom God will use to establish the heavens and earth. However, this assumption is baseless. Isaiah 51:15-16 indicates things done by Yahweh which includes his placement of his words in the mouth of Zion and his “establishing the heavens…” That is, Isaiah 51:16 in no way attributes the creation of heaven and earth to Zion/the Messiah. Rather, that act, like the placement of words in the mouth of Zion, is an action of God alone. Like Psalm 102:25-27 in the Hebrew Bible, it is Yahweh alone who creates the heavens and the earth. There is no biblical category for a creature who is also a Creator.[8]

The question remains, does Hebrews 1:10-12/Psalm 101:25-26 LXX and Isaiah 51:16 refer to the future creation of the new heavens and earth or to the Genesis creation? There are two lines of reasoning which heartily disprove the notion that the creation mentioned in the relevant passages is a new creation. First, the utilization of Hebrews 1:10-12/Psalm 101:25-26 results in a comparison of heavens and earth and the Son of God. While the creation will wear out like a garment and be changed, the Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t change and his life doesn’t end. Christ will roll up the creation like a robe, thereby ending the created order as it was. Clearly, if this were a reference of the new heavens and earth as unitarians assert, this would necessarily mean that the “future kingdom”[9] will wear out and come to an end. That is, if Hebrews 1:10-12 is referring to “the coming age of the Kingdom,”[10] then the kingdom of God will come to an end. Unitarians believe that the new heavens and earth will wear out, and its creatures will die, and there will be yet a third new heavens and earth. Schoenheit, Graeser, and Lynn state this clearly:
Both the Old Testament and New Testament tell us that there will be a new heavens and earth after this one we are currently inhabiting. In fact, there will be two more. First, the heaven and earth of the Millennium, the 1000 years Christ rules the earth, which will perish (Isa. 65:17; Rev. 20:1-10), and then the heaven and earth of Revelation 21:1ff, which will exist forever. The context reveals clearly that Hebrews 1:10 is speaking of these future heavens and earth. If we simply continue to read in Hebrews, remembering that the original texts had no chapter breaks, Scripture tells us, “It is not to angels that He has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking” (Heb. 2:5). This verse is very clear. The subject of this section of Scripture is not the current heavens and earth, but the future heavens and earth.[11]
The eschatology outlined above is unbiblical on its face since the very passage cited, Revelation 21:1, states that there are only two earths—one old and one new: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” The unitarian appeal to Hebrews 2:5, “For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking,” only serves to demonstrate the consistency of the orthodox reading. The wearing out and rolling up of this current creation is the event which inaugurates the arrival of the next world.

Second, the grammar and syntax of Hebrews 1:10 makes it clear that the Genesis creation is in view. Ellingworth has noted that phrase κατ’ ἀρχάς (kat archas, “in the beginning”) “is a classical synonym, rare in the Greek Bible…for ἐν ἀρχῇ” (en archē, “in the beginning”).[12] κατ’ ἀρχάς is therefore an obvious reference to the Septuagint’s account of the Genesis creation. The verb which refers to the creative act in Hebrews 1:10/Psalm 101:25, ἐθεμελίωσας (ethemeliōsas, “laid the foundation”) is indicative of a past completed action. Buzzard has asserted a proleptical reading, saying “Hebrews 1:10 is a prophecy, written in the past tense (as customarily prophecies are), but referring to the ‘inhabited earth of the future about which we are speaking’ (Heb. 2:5).”[13] Buzzard’s claim is spurious since Hebrews 1:11-12 is not in the past tense. That is, if Hebrews 1:10-12 is a prophecy, and Hebrews 1:10 is given in the present tense as prolepsis, then it would necessarily follow that the balance of the prophecy would also be given in the same tense. But alas, the verb of Hebrews 1:10 is given in the aorist, and those of Hebrews 1:11-12 are in the future. Subsequently, Buzzard’s reading of Hebrews 1:10-12 divulges a grand display of begging the question.

According to the author of Hebrews, the Son of God created all things and it will be he who consummates the end of the world as we know; for “all things were created through him and for him.”[14] The Son is Yahweh, the one changes not, as the application of Psalm 101:25-26 by the writer of Hebrews shows. The unitarian claims regarding this pericope rely upon dubious assertions which result in incorrect theological and grammatical conclusions. The unitarian reading asserts a God who is finite, while his agent is eternal and immutable. The unitarian claim that Hebrews 1:10 refers to a future creation results in an eschatology which posits three heavens and earths, two of which are the “new” heavens and earth. The unitarian interpretation also requires an ad hock bifurcation of grammatical tense in the middle of a prophecy wherein Hebrews 1:10 is proleptic, while the balance of the prophecy is future. Despite unitarian claims, Hebrews 1:10-12 remains a powerful witness to the deity, immutability, and Creatorship of the Lord Jesus Christ.


[1] For an exegesis and consideration of the Christological teaching of the prologue of Hebrews see Michael R. Burgos Jr., Against Oneness Pentecostalism: An Exegetical-Theological Critique, (Torrington: Church Militant Pub., 2017), 45-48; and Michael R. Burgos Jr. Ed., Our God is Triune: Essays in Biblical Theology, (Torrington: Church Militant Pub., 2018), 128-129.
[2] As far as I can tell, this response to the trinitarian appeal to Heb 1:10-12 began in a footnote in Anthony Buzzard & Charles Hunting’s The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self-Inflicted Wound, (Lanham: International Scholars Pub., 1998), 337, n. 38 and was later more fully articulated in Anthony Buzzard, Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian: A Call to Return to the Creed of Jesus, (Morrow: Restoration Fellowship, 2007), 418-424.
[3] Author’s translation. See also Albert Pietersma, Bejamin G. Wright Eds., A New English Translation of the Septuagint, (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2007), 597.
[4] Philip Church, “Hebrews 1:10-12 and the Renewal of the Cosmos,” in Tyndale Bulletin 67.2 (2016), 277-278.
[5] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 62.
[6] Buzzard wrote, “Thus the LXX introduces a second lord who is addressed by God…” Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian, 420.
[7] ibid., 423.
[8] Isa 44:24.
[9] Buzzard, Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian, 422.
[10] ibid., 423.
[11] John W. Schoenheit, Mark H. Graeser, and John A Lynn, One God & One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Chrsitian Faith, (Indianapolis: The Living Truth Fellowship, 2011), Kindle, loc. 14902-14908.
[12] Ellingworth, Paul, New International Greek Testament Commentary: Commentary on Hebrews, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 127.
[13] Buzzard, Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian, 423.
[14] Col 1:16.

1 comment:

  1. Michael-

    I'm glad you chose to write on this topic. Just a few things i'd like to observe. Even if YHWH is addressing another in the LXX, why can't it be YHWH addressing the personified Wisdom? After all, Wisdom is credited with the creation in Proverbs 8. Plus, there's an even bigger problem here. Assuming the unitarian argument, YHWH is calling the one he's addressing, "Lord." How can YHWH call a creature "Lord?" If it's YHWH's wisdom he's calling "Lord," then that's not really a problem since He's just talking about His own attribute (Wisdom) in a personified manner.

    So either way (I think your explanation is reasonable too), I don't see how the unitarian interpretation can work here.

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