Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 44: Hebrews, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
EPISTLE OF ST. PAUL TO THE HEBREWS
1. God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
1. Deus olim multifariam multisque modis loquutus patribus per prophetas,
2. Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
2. Extremis hisce diebus loquutus est nobis per Filium, quem constituit haeredem omnium, per quem etiam secula condidit.
God formerly, etc. This beginning is for the purpose of commending the doctrine taught by Christ; for it shows that we ought not only reverently to receive it, but also to be satisfied with it alone. That we may understand this more clearly, we must observe the contrast between each of the clauses. First, the Son of God is set in opposition to the prophets; then we to the fathers; and, thirdly, the various and manifold modes of speaking which God had adopted as to the fathers, to the last revelation brought to us by Christ. But in this diversity he still sets before us but one God, that no one might think that the Law militates against the Gospel, or that the author of one is not the author of the other. That you may, therefore, understand the full import of this passage, the following arrangement shall be given, —
Formerly by the Prophets
Now by the Son;
Then to the Fathers
But now to us;
Then at various times
Now as at the end of the times.
This foundation being laid, the agreement between the Law and the Gospel is established; for God, who is ever like himself, and whose word is the same, and whose truth is unchangeable, has spoken as to both in common.
But we must notice the difference between us and the fathers; for God formerly addressed them in a way different from that which he adopts towards us now. And first indeed as to them he employed the prophets, but he has appointed his Son to be an ambassador to us. 7 Our condition, then, in this respect, is superior to that of the fathers. Even Moses is to be also classed among the prophets, as he is one of the number of those who are inferior to the Son. In the manner also in which revelation was made, we have an advantage over them. For the diversity as to visions and other means adopted under the Old Testament, was an indication that it was not yet a fixed state of things, as when matters are put completely in order. Hence he says, multifariously and in many ways”. God would have indeed followed the same mode perpetually to the end, had the mode been perfect and complete. It hence follows, that this variety was an evidence of imperfection.
The two words I thus understand: I refer multifariously to a diversity as to times; for the Greek word πολυμερῶς which we may render, “in many parts,” as the case usually is, when we intend to speak more fully hereafter; but πολυτροπῶς points out a diversity, as I think, in the very manner itself. 8 And when he speaks of the last times, he intimates that there is no longer any reason to expect any new revelation; for it was not a word in part that Christ brought, but the final conclusion. It is in this sense that the Apostles take the last times and the last days. And Paul means the same when he says, “Upon whom the ends of the world are come.” (1Co 10:11.) If God then has spoken now for the last time, it is right to advance thus far; so also when you come to Christ, you ought not to go farther: and these two things it is very needful for us to know. For it was a great hindrance to the Jews that they did not consider that God had deferred a fuller revelation to another time; hence, being satisfied with their own Law, they did not hasten forward to the goal. But since Christ has appeared, an opposite evil began to prevail in the world; for men wished to advance beyond Christ. What else indeed is the whole system of Popery but the overleaping of the boundary which the Apostle has fixed? As, then, the Spirit of God in this passage invites all to come as far as Christ, so he forbids them to go beyond the last time which he mentions. In short, the limit of our wisdom is made here to be the Gospel. 9
2. Whom he has appointed, heir, etc. He honors Christ with high commendations, in order to lead us to show him reverence; for since the Father has subjected all things to him, we are all under his authority. He also intimates that no good can be found apart from him, as he is the heir of all things. It hence follows that we must be very miserable and destitute of all good things except he supplies us with his treasures. He further adds that this honor of possessing all things belongs by right to the Son, because by him have all things been created. At the same time, these two things 10 are ascribed to Christ for different reasons.
The world was created by him, as he is the eternal wisdom of God, which is said to have been the director of all his works from the beginning; and hence is proved the eternity of Christ, for he must have existed before the world was created by him. If, then, the duration of his time be inquired of, it will be found that it has no beginning. Nor is it any derogation to his power that he is said to have created the world, as though he did not by himself create it. According to the most usual mode of speaking in Scripture, the Father is called the Creator; and it is added in some places that the world was created by wisdom, by the word, by the Son, as though wisdom itself had been the creator, [or the word, or the Son.] But still we must observe that there is a difference of persons between the Father and the Son, not only with regard to men, but with regard to God himself. But the unity of essence requires that whatever is peculiar to Deity should belong to the Son as well as to the Father, and also that whatever is applied to God only should belong to both; and yet there is nothing in this to prevent each from his own peculiar properties.
But the word heir is ascribed to Christ as manifested in the flesh; for being made man, he put on our nature, and as such received this heirship, and that for this purpose, that he might restore to us what we had lost in Adam. For God had at the beginning constituted man, as his Son, the heir of all good things; but through sin the first man became alienated from God, and deprived himself and his posterity of all good things, as well as of the favor of God. We hence only then begin to enjoy by right the good things of God, when Christ, the universal heir, admits to a union with himself; for he is an heir that he may endow us with his riches. But the Apostle now adorns him with this title, that we may know that without him we are destitute of all good things.
If you take all in the masculine gender, the meaning is, that we ought all to be subject to Christ, because we have been given to him by the Father. But I prefer reading it in the neuter gender; then it means that we are driven from the legitimate possession of all things, both in heaven and on earth, except we be united to Christ.
3. 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 on the right hand of the Majesty on high.
3. Qui quum sit splendor gloriae et character substantiae ejus, portetque omnia verbo suo potenti, peccatorum nostrorum purgatione per seipsum facta, considit in dextera magnificentiae in excelsis.
3. Who being the brightness of his glory, etc. These things are said of Christ partly as to his divine essence, and partly as a partaker of our flesh. When he is called the brightness of his glory and the impress of his substance, his divinity is referred to; the other things appertain in a measure to his human nature. The whole, however, is stated in order to set forth the dignity of Christ.
But it is for the same reason that the Son is said to be “the brightness of his glory”, and “the impress of his substance:” they are words borrowed from nature. For nothing can be said of things so great and so profound, but by similitudes taken from created things. There is therefore no need refinedly to discuss the question how the Son, who has the same essence with the Father, is a brightness emanating from his light. We must allow that there is a degree of impropriety in the language when what is borrowed from created things is transferred to the hidden majesty of God. But still the things which are indent to our senses are fitly applied to God, and for this end, that we may know what is to be found in Christ, and what benefits he brings to us.
It ought also to be observed that frivolous speculations are not here taught, but an important doctrine of faith. We ought therefore to apply these high titles given to Christ for our own benefit, for they bear a relation to us. When, therefore, thou hear that the Son is the brightness of the Father’s glory, think thus with thyself, that the glory of the Father is invisible until it shines forth in Christ, and that he is called the impress of his substance, because the majesty of the Father is hidden until it shows itself impressed as it were on his image. They who overlook this connection and carry their philosophy higher, weary themselves to no purpose, for they do not understand the design of the Apostle; for it was not his object to show what likeness the Father bears to the Son; but, as I have said, his purpose was really to build up our faith, so that we may learn that God is made known to us in no other way than in Christ: 11 for as to the essence of God, so immense is the brightness that it dazzles our eyes, except it shines on us in Christ. It hence follows, that we are blind as to the light of God, until in Christ it beams on us. It is indeed a profitable philosophy to learn Christ by the real understanding of faith and experience. The same view, as I have said is to be taken of “the impress;” for as God is in himself to us incomprehensible, his form appears to us only in his Son. 12
The word ἀπαύγασμα means here nothing else but visible light or refulgence, such as our eyes can bear; and χαρακτὴρ is the vivid form of a hidden substance. By the first word we are reminded that without Christ there is no light, but only darkness; for as God is the only true light by which it behaves us all to be illuminated, this light sheds itself upon us, so to speak, only by irradiation. By the second word we are reminded that God is truly and really known in Christ; for he is not his obscure or shadowy image, but his impress which resembles him, as money the impress of the die with which it is stamped. But the Apostle indeed says what is more than this, even that the substance of the Father is in a manner engraven on the Son. 13
The word ῦποστάσις which, by following others, I have rendered substance, denotes not, as I think, the being or essence of the Father, but his person; for it would be strange to say that the essence of God is impressed on Christ, as the essence of both is simply the same. But it may truly and fitly be said that whatever peculiarly belongs to the Father is exhibited in Christ, so that he who knows him knows what is in the Father. And in this sense do the orthodox fathers take this term, hypostasis, considering it to be threefold in God, while the essence (οὐσία) is simply one. Hilary everywhere takes the Latin word substance for person. But though it be not the Apostle’s object in this place to speak of what Christ is in himself, but of what he is really to us, yet he sufficiently confutes the Asians and Sabellians; for he claims for Christ what belongs to God alone, and also refers to two distinct persons, as to the Father and the Son. For we hence learn that the Son is one God with the Father, and that he is yet in a sense distinct from him, so that a subsistence or person belongs to both.
And upholding (or bearing) all things, etc. To uphold or to bear here means to preserve or to continue all that is created in its own state; for he intimates that all things would instantly come to nothing, were they not sustained by his power. Though the pronoun his may be referred to the Father as well as to the Son, as it may be rendered “his own,” yet as the other exposition is more commonly received, and well suits the context, I am disposed to embrace it. Literally it is, “by the word of his power;” but the genitive, after the Hebrew manner, is used instead of an adjective; for the perverted explanation of some, that Christ sustains all things by the word of the Father, that is, by himself who is the word, has nothing in its favor: besides, there is no need of such forced explanation; for Christ is not wont to be called ῥη̑μα, saying, but λόγος, word. 14 Hence the “word” here means simply a nod; and the sense is, that Christ who preserves the whole world by a nod only, did not yet refuse the office of effecting our purgation.
Now this is the second part of the doctrine handled in this Epistle; for a statement of the whole question is to be found in these two chapters, and that is, that Christ, endued with supreme authority, ought to be head above all others, and that as he has reconciled us to his Father by his own death, he has put an end to the ancient sacrifices. And so the first point, though a general proposition, is yet a twofold clause.
When he further says, by himself, there is to be understood here a contrast, that he had not been aided in this by the shadows of the Mosaic Law. He shows besides a difference between him and the Levitical priests; for they also were said to expiate sins, but they derived this power from another. In short, he intended to exclude all other means or helps by stating that the price and the power of purgation were found only in Christ. 15
Sat down on the right hand, etc.; as though he had said, that having in the world procured salvation for men, he was received into celestial glory, in order that he might govern all things. And he added this in order to show that it was not a temporary salvation he has obtained for us; for we should otherwise be too apt to measure his power by what now appears to us. He then reminds us that Christ is not to be less esteemed because he is not seen by our eyes; but, on the contrary, that this was the height of his glory, that he has been taken and conveyed to the highest seat of his empire. The right hand is by a similitude applied to God, though he is not confined to any place, and has not a right side nor left. The session then of Christ means nothing else but the kingdom given to him by the Father, and that authority which Paul mentions, when he says that in his name every knee should bow. (Php 2:10) Hence to sit at the right hand of the Father is no other thing than to govern in the place of the Father, as deputies of princes are wont to do to whom a full power over all things is granted. And the word majesty is added, and also on high, and for this purpose, to intimate that Christ is seated on the supreme throne whence the majesty of God shines forth. As, then, he ought to be loved on account of his redemption, so he ought to be adored on account of his royal magnificence. 16
4. Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
4. Tanto praestantior angelis factus, quanto excellentius prae ipsis sortitus est nomen.
5. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?
5. Cui enim inquam angelorum dixit, Filius meus es tu, ego hodie genui te? Et rursus, ego illi in Patrem, et ipse erit mihi in Filium.
6. And again, when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.
6. Rursus autem quum introducit filium in orbem dicit, Et adorent eum omnes angeli Dei.
4. Being made so much better, etc. After having raised Christ above Moses and all others, he now amplifies His glory by a comparison with angels. It was a common notion among the Jews, that the Law was given by angels; they attentively considered the honorable things spoken of them everywhere in Scripture; and as the world is strangely inclined to superstition, they obscured the glory of God by extolling angels too much. It was therefore necessary to reduce them to their own rank, that they might not overshadow the brightness of Christ. And first he proves from his name, that Christ far excelled them, for he is called the Son of God; 17 and that he was distinguished by this title he shows by two testimonies from Scripture, both of which must be examined by us; and then we shall sum up their full import.
5. Thou art my Son, etc. It cannot be denied but that this was spoken of David, that is, as he sustained the person of Christ. Then the things found in this Psalm must have been shadowed forth in David, but were fully accomplished in Christ. For that he by subduing many enemies around him, enlarged the borders of his kingdom, it was some foreshadowing of the promise, “I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance.” But how little was this in comparison with the amplitude of Christ’s kingdom, which extends from the east to the west? For the same reason David was called the son of God, having been especially chosen to perform great things; but his glory was hardly a spark, even the smallest, to that glory which shone forth in Christ, on whom the Father has imprinted his own image. So the name of Son belongs by a peculiar privilege to Christ alone, and cannot in this sense be applied to any other without profanation, for him and no other has the Father sealed.
But still the argument of the Apostle seems not to be well-grounded; for how does he maintain that Christ is superior to angels except on this ground, that he has the name of a Son? As though indeed he had not this in common with princes and those high in power, of whom it is written, “Ye are gods and the sons of the most”, (Ps 50:6;) and as though Jeremiah had not spoken as honorably of all Israel, when he called them the firstborn of God. (Jer 31:9.) They are indeed everywhere called children or sons. Besides, David calls angels the sons of God;
“Who,” he says, “is like to Jehovah among the sons of God?” (Ps 84:6.)
The answer to all this is in no way difficult. Princes are called by this name on account of a particular circumstance; as to Israel, the common grace of election is thus denoted; angels are called the sons of God as having a certain resemblance to him, because they are celestial spirits and possess some portion of divinity in their blessed immortality. But when David without any addition calls himself as the type of Christ the Son of God, he denotes something peculiar and more excellent than the honor given to angels or to princes, or even to all Israel. Otherwise it would have been an improper and absurd expression, if he was by way of excellence called the son of God, and yet had nothing more than others; for he is thus separated from all other beings. When it is said so exclusively of Christ, “Thou art my Son,” it follows that this honor does not belong to any of the angels. 18
If any one again objects and says, that David was thus raised above the angels; to this I answer, that it is nothing strange for him to be elevated above angels while bearing the image of Christ; for in like manner there was no wrong done to angels when the highpriest, who made an atonement for sins, was called a mediator. They did not indeed obtain that title as by right their own; but as they represented the kingdom of Christ, they derived also the name from him. Moreover, the sacraments, though in themselves lifeless, are yet honored with titles which angels cannot claim without being guilty of sacrilege. It is hence evident that the argument derived from the term Son, is well grounded. 19
As to his being begotten, we must briefly observe, that it is to be understood relatively here: for the subtle reasoning of Augustine is frivolous, when he imagines that today means perpetuity or eternity. Christ doubtless is the eternal Son of God, for he is wisdom, born before time; but this has no connection with this passage, in which respect is had to men, by whom Christ was acknowledged to be the Son of God after the Father had manifested him. Hence that declaration or manifestation which Paul mentions in Ro 1:4, was, so to speak, a sort of an external begetting; for the hidden and internal which had preceded, was unknown to men; nor could there have been any account taken of it, had not the Father given proof of it by a visible manifestation. 20
I will be to him a Father, etc. As to this second testimony the former observation holds good. Solomon is here referred to, and though he was inferior to the angels, yet when God promised to be his Father, he was separated from the common rank of all others; for he was not to be to him a Father as to one of the princes, but as to one who was more eminent than all the rest. By the same privilege he was made a Son; all others were excluded from the like honor. But that this was not said of Solomon otherwise than as a type of Christ, is evident from the context; for the empire of the whole world is destined for the Son mentioned there, and perpetuity is also ascribed to his empire: on the other hand, it appears that the kingdom of Solomon has confined within narrow bounds, and was so far from being perpetual, that immediately after his death it was divided, and some time afterwards it fell altogether. Again, in that Psalm the sun and moon are summoned as witnesses, and the Lord swears that as long as they shall shine in the heavens, that kingdom shall remain safe: and on the other hand, the kingdom of David in a short time fell into decay, and at length utterly perished. And further, we may easily gather from many passages in the Prophets, that that promise was never understood otherwise than of Christ; so that no one can evade by saying that this is a new comment; for hence also has commonly prevailed among the Jews the practice of calling Christ the Son of David.
6. And again, when he bringeth or introduceth 21 , etc. He now proves by another argument that Christ is above the angels, and that is because the angels are bidden to worship him. (Ps 97:7.) It hence follows that he is their head and Prince. But it may seem unreasonable to apply that to Christ which is spoken of God only. Were we to answer that Christ is the eternal God, and therefore what belongs to God may justly be applied to him, it would not perhaps be satisfactory to all; for it would avail but little in proving a doubtful point, to argue in this case from the common attributes of God.
The subject is Christ manifested in the flesh, and the Apostle expressly says, that the Spirit thus spoke when Christ was introduced into the world; but this would not have been said consistently with truth except the manifestation of Christ be really spoken of in the Psalm. And so the case indeed is; for the Psalm commences with an exhortation to rejoice; nor did David address the Jews, but the whole earth, including the islands, that is, countries beyond the sea. The reason for this joy is given, because the Lord would reign. Further, if you read the whole Psalm, you will find nothing else but the kingdom of Christ, which began when the Gospel was published; nor is the whole Psalm anything else but a solemn decree, as it were, by which Christ was sent to take possession of His kingdom. Besides, what joy could arise from His kingdom, except it brought salvation to the whole world, to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews? Aptly then does the Apostle say here, that he was introduced into the world, because in that Psalm what is described is his coming to men.
The Hebrew word, rendered angels, is Elohim — gods; but there is no doubt but that the Prophet speaks of angels; for the meaning is, that there is no power so high but must be in subjection to the authority of this king, whose advent was to cause joy to the whole world.
7. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.
7. Et ad angelos quidem dicit, Qui facit angelos suos spiritus et ministros suos flamman ignis.
8. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom.
8. Ad Filium vero, Thronus tuus, O Deus, in seculum seculi; virga directionis, virga regni tui:
9. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
9. Dilexisti justitiam et odisti iniquitatem; propterea unxit te Deus tuus oleo laetitiae prae consortibus tuis.
7. And to the angels, etc. To the angels means of the angels. But the passage quoted seems to have been turned to another meaning from what it appears to have; for as David is there describing the manner in which we see the world to be governed, nothing is more certain than the winds are mentioned, which he says are made messengers by the Lord, for he employs them as his runners; so also, when he purifies the air by lightnings, he shows what quick and swift ministers he has to obey his orders. But this has nothing to do with angels. Some have had recourse to an allegory, as though the Apostle explained the plain, and as they say, the literal sense allegorically of angels. But it seems preferable to me to consider this testimony is brought forward for this purpose, that it might by a similitude be applied to angels, and in this way David compares winds to angels, because they perform offices in this world similar to what the angels do in heaven; for the winds are, as it were, visible spirits. And, doubtless, as Moses, describing the creation of the world, mentioned only those things which are subject to our senses, and yet intended that higher things should be understood; so David in describing the world and nature, represented to us on a tablet what ought to be understood respecting the celestial orders. Hence I think that the argument is one of likeness or similarity, when the Apostle transfers to angels what properly applies to the winds. 22
8. But to the Son, etc. It must indeed be allowed, that this Psalm was composed as a marriage song for Solomon; for here is celebrated his marriage with the daughter of the king of Egypt; 23 but it cannot yet be denied but that what is here related, is much too high to be applied to Solomon. The Jews, that they may not be forced to own Christ to be called God, make an evasion by saying, it at the throne of God is spoken of, or that the verb “established” is to be understood. So that, according to the first exposition, the word Elohim, God, is to be in construction with throne, “the throne of God;” and that according to the second, it is supposed to be a defective sentence. But these are mere evasions. Whosoever will read the verse, who is of a sound mind and free from the spirit of contention, cannot doubt but that the Messiah is called God. Nor is there any reason to object, that the word Elohim is sometimes given to angels and to judges; for it is never found to be given simply to one person, except to God alone. 24
Farther, that I may not contend about a word, whose throne can be said to be established forever, except that of God only? Hence the perpetuity of his kingdom is an evidence of his divinity.
The scepter of Christ’s kingdom is afterwards called the scepter of righteousness; of this there were some, though obscure, lineaments in Solomon; he exhibited them as far as he acted as a just king and zealous for what was right. But righteousness in the kingdom of Christ has a wider meaning; for he by his gospel, which is his spiritual scepter, renews us after the righteousness of God. The same thing must be also understood of his love of righteousness; for he causes it to reign in his own people, because he loves it.
9. Wherefore God has appointed him, etc. This was indeed truly said of Solomon, who was made a king, because God had preferred him to his brethren, who were otherwise his equals, being the sons of the king. But this applies more suitably to Christ, who has adopted us as his joint heirs, though not so in our own right. But he was anointed above us all, as it was beyond measure, while we, each of us, according to a limited portion, as he has divided to each of us. Besides, he was anointed for our sake, in order that we may all draw out of his fatness. Hence he is the Christ, we are Christians proceeding from him, as rivulet from a fountain. But as Christ received this unction when in the flesh, he is said to have been anointed by his God; for it would be inconsistent to suppose him inferior to God, except in his human nature. 25
10. And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:
10. Et tu ab initio, Domine, terram fundasti; et opera manuum tuarum sunt coeli:
11. They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;
11. Ipsi peribunt, tu autem permanes; et omnes quasi vestimentum veterascent;
12. And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.
12. Et tanquam amictum involves eos, et mutabuntur: tu autem idem es, et anni tui non deficient.
13. But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?
13. Ad quem vero angelorum dixit inquam, Sede a dextris meis, donec ponam inimicos tuos scabellum pedum tuorum?
14. Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?
14. Annon omnes sunt administratorii spiritus, qui in ministerium emittuntur propter eos qui haereditatem capiunt salutis?
10. And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning, etc. This testimony at first sight may seem to be unfitly applied to Christ, especially in a doubtful matter, such as is here handled; for the subject in dispute is not concerning the glory of God, but what may be fitly applied to Christ. Now, there is not in this passage any mention made of Christ, but the majesty of God alone is set forth. I indeed allow that Christ is not named in any part of the Psalm; but it is yet plain that he is so pointed out, that no one can doubt but that his kingdom is there avowedly recommended to us. Hence all the things which are found there, are to be applied to his person; for in none have they been fulfilled but in Christ, such as the following, — “Thou shalt arise and have mercy on Sion, that the heathens may fear the name, and all the kings of the earth thy glory.” Again, — “When the nations shall be gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the Lord.” Doubtless, in vain shall we seek to find this God through whom the whole world have united in one faith and worship of God, except in Christ.
All the other parts of the Psalm exactly suit the person of Christ, such as the following, that he is the eternal God, the creator of heaven and earth, that perpetuity belongs to him without any change, by which his majesty is raised to the highest elevation, and he himself is removed from the rank of all created beings.
What David says about the heavens perishing, some explain by adding, “Were such a thing to happen,” as though nothing was affirmed. But what need is there of such a strained explanation, since we know that all creatures are subjected to vanity? For to what purpose is that renovation promised, which even the heavens wait for with the strong desire as of those in travail, except that they are now verging towards destruction?
But the perpetuity of Christ which is here mentioned, brings no common comfort to the godly; as the Psalm at last teaches us, they shall be partakers of it, inasmuch as Christ communicates himself and what he possesses to his own body. 26
13. But to whom of the angels, etc. He again by another testimony extols the excellency of Christ, that it might hence be evident how much he is above the angels. The passage is taken from Ps 110:1, and it cannot be explained of any but of Christ. For as it was not lawful for kings to touch the priesthood, as is testified by the leprosy of Uzziah; and as it appears that neither David, nor any other of his successors in the kingdom, was ordained a priest, it follows, that a new kingdom as well as a new priesthood is here introduced, since the same person is made a king and a priest. Besides, the eternity of the priesthood is suitable to Christ alone.
Now, in the beginning of the Psalm he is set at God’s right hand. This form of expression, as I have already said, means the same, as though it was said, that the second place was given him by the Father; for it is a metaphor which signifies that he is the Father’s vicegerent and his chief minister in exercising authority, so that the Father rules through him. No one of the angels bears so honorable an office; hence Christ far excels all.
Until I make, etc. As there are never wanting enemies to oppose Christ’s kingdom, it seems not to be beyond the reach of danger, especially as they who attempt to overthrow it possess great power, have recourse to various artifices, and also make all their attacks with furious violence. Doubtless, were we to regard things as they appear, the kingdom of Christ would seem often to be on the verge of ruin. But the promise, that Christ shall never be thrust from his seat, takes away from us every fear; for ho will lay prostrate all his enemies. These two things, then, ought to be borne in mind, — that the kingdom of Christ shall never in this world be at rest, but that there will be many enemies by whom it will be disturbed; and secondly, that whatever its enemies may do, they shall never prevail, for the session of Christ at God’s right hand will not be for a time, but to the end of the world, and that on this account all who will not submit to his authority shall be laid prostrate and trodden under his feet
If any one asks, whether Christ’s kingdom shall come to an end, when all his enemies shall be subdued; I give this answer, — that his kingdom shall be perpetual, and yet in such a way as Paul intimates in 1Co 15:25; for we are to take this view, — that God who is not known to us in Christ, will then appear to us as he is in himself. And yet Christ will never cease to be the head of men and of angels; nor will there be any diminution of his honor. But the solution of this question must be sought from that passage.
14. Are they not all, etc. That the comparison might appear more clearly, he now mentions what the condition of angels is. For calling them spirits, he denotes their eminence; for in this respect they are superior to corporal creatures. But the office (λειτουργία) which he immediately mentions reduces them to their own rank, as it is that which is the reverse of dominion; and this he still more distinctly states, when he says, that they are sent to minister. The first word means the same, as though ale had said, that they were officials; but to minister imports what is more humble and abject. 27 The service which God allots to angels is indeed honorable; but the very fact that they serve, shows that they are far inferior to Christ, who is the Lord of all.
If any one objects and says, that Christ is also called in many places both a servant and a minister, not only to God, but also to men, the reply may be readily given; his being a servant was not owing to his nature, but to a voluntary humility, as Paul testifies, (Php 2:7;) and at the same time his sovereignty remained to his nature; but angels, on the other hand, were created for this end, — that they might serve, and to minister is what belongs to their condition. The difference then is great; for what is natural to them is, as it were, adventitious or accidental to Christ, because he took our flesh; and what necessarily belongs to them, he of his own accord undertook. Besides, Christ is a minister in such a way, that though he is in our flesh nothing is diminished from the majesty of his dominion. 28
From this passage the faithful receive no small consolation; for they hear that celestial hosts are assigned to them as ministers, in order to secure their salvation. It is indeed no common pledge of God’s love towards us, that they are continually engaged in our behalf. Hence also proceeds a singular confirmation to our faith, that our salvation being defended by such guardians, is beyond the reach of danger. Well then has God provided for our infirmities by giving us such assistants to oppose Satan, and to put forth their power in every way to defend us!
But this benefit he grants especially to his chosen people; hence that angels may minister to us, we must be the members of Christ. Yet some testimonies of Scripture may on the other hand be adduced, to show that angels are sometimes sent forth for the sake of the reprobate; for mention is made by Daniel of the angels of the Persians and the Greeks. (Da 10:20.) But to this I answer, that they were in such a way assisted by angels, that the Lord might thus promote the salvation of his own people; for their success and their victories had always a reference to the benefit of the Church. This is certain, that as we have been banished by sin from God’s kingdom, we can have no communion with angels except through the reconciliation made by Christ; and this we may see by the ladder shown in a vision to the patriarch Jacob.
The absence of the definite article before ὑιῷ is not unusual in the New Testament, it being often omitted before all sorts of nouns. In many instances it is Hebrewism, and so here; for Chrysostom in his comment supplies it, and mentions that ἐν here is διὰ, which is another Hebrewism. — Ed.
Some of the fathers, such as Chrysostom, regarded the two words as meaning the same thing; but there is no reason for this. On the contrary, each word has a distinct meaning; one expresses a variety as to parts or portions, and the other variety as to the mode or manner. The “parts” clearly refer to the different portions of revelation communicated to “holy men” in different ages of the world. Hence the meaning, though not the literal rendering, is given in our version, “at sundry time;” or “often”, as by Stuart; or “at many times”, as by Doddridge. A more literal version is given by Macknight, “in sundry parts”.
Most agree as to the second word, that it designates the various modes of communication, — by visions, dreams, interposition of angels, and speaking face to face, as the case was with Moses; see Nu 12:6-8. And there was another variety in the manner, sometimes in plain language, and at another time in similitudes and parables. — Ed.
It is said that the MSS, are in favor of ἐσχάτου “in the last of these days.” Were it not for “these”, this might be allowed, as the literal rendering of these Hebrew words often used, באחרית המים, “at the extremity of the days”, (see Isa 2:2; Ho 3:5, etc.) but the sentence, as changed by Griesbach and others, makes no sense, and is inconsistent with the words as elsewhere used by Paul; see 2Ti 3:1. A mere majority of MSS, is no sufficient authority for a reading. — Ed.
That is, heirship and creation.
The fathers and some modern divines have held that these words express the eternal relation between the Father and the Son. But Calvin, with others, such as Beza, Dr. Owen, Scott and Stuart, have regarded the words as referring to Christ as the Messiah, as the Son of God in human nature, or as Mediator, consistently with such passages as these, — “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” Joh 14:9; “He that hath seen me hath seen him that sent me.” (Joh 12:45). By this view we avoid altogether the difficulty that arises from the expressions, “the impress of his substance,” or essence, he being so, not as to his eternal divinity, but as a Mediator. — Ed.
The remarkable wisdom of the preceding remarks must be approved by every enlightened Christian. There is an “Excursus” in Professor Stuart’s Commentary on this Epistle, on the same subject, which is very valuable, distinguished for caution, acuteness, and sound judgment. Well would it be were all divines to show the same humility on a subject so remote from human comprehension. The bold and unhallowed speculations of some of the fathers, and of the schoolmen, and divines after them, have produced infinite mischief, having occasioned hindrances to the reception of the truth respecting our Savior’s divinity, which would have otherwise never existed. — Ed.
See Appendix A.
Stuart following Chrysostom, renders the words φέραν, “controlling” or governing, and so does Schleusner; but the sense of “upholding” or sustaining, or supporting, is more suitable to the words which follow — “by the word of his power,” or by his powerful word. Had it been “by the word of his wisdom,” then controlling or governing would be compatible; but as it is “power”, doubtless sustension or preservation is the most congruous idea. Besides, this is the most obvious and common meaning of the word, and so rendered by most expositors; among others by Beza, Doddridge, Macknight and Bloomfield.
Doddridge gives this paraphrase, — “Upholding the universe which he hath made by the efficacious word of his Father’s power, which is ever resident in him as his own, by virtue of that intimate but incomparable union which renders them one.” This view is consistent with the whole passage: “his substance” and “his power” corresponds; and it is said, “by whom he made the world,” so it is suitable to say that he sustains the world by the Father’s power. — Ed
The word here used means properly “purification,” but is used for expiation by the Sept.; see Ex 30:10. The same truth is meant as when in chapter 10:12, that Christ, “after he had offered on sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God.” The reference here cannot be to the actual purification of his people; for what was done by Christ when he died is what is spoken of, even when he “put away sin” as it is said in chapter 9:26, “by the sacrifice for himself.” The word then, may be forgiveness proceeds from the atonement: see 1Jo 1:9.
Dr. Owen gives three reasons for considering the word in the sense of expiation or atonement, — It is so rendered in some instances by the Septuagint; the act spoken is past, while cleansing or purification is what is effected now; and “himself” shows that it is not properly sanctification as that is effected by means of the word, (Eph 5:26,) and by the regenerating Spirit. (Titus 3:5)
The version of Stuart is, “made expiation for our sins,” which is no doubt the meaning. — Ed.
It has been observed by some that in these verses the three offices of Christ are to be found: the Father spoke by him as a prophet; he made expiation for our sins as a priest; and he sits at God’s right hand as a king. — Ed.
Some by “name” understand dignity, but not correctly, as it appears from what follows; for the name, by which he is proved here to be superior to angels, was that of a Son, as Calvin here states. — Ed.
“If it be objected,” says Stuart, “that angels are also called sons, and men too, the answered is easy: No one individual, except Jesus, is ever called by way of eminence, the Son of God, i.e., the Messiah or the King of Israel,” Joh 1:49. By “The Son of God” is to be understood here His kingly office: He was a Son as one endowed with superior power and authority; and angels are not sons in this respect. — Ed.
The foregoing is a sufficient answer to Doddridge, Stuart, and others, who hold that the texts quoted must refer exclusively to Christ, else the argument of the Apostle would be inconclusive. David is no doubt called a son in the 2nd Psalm, but as a king, and in that capacity as a type of Christ; and what is said of him as a king, and what is promised to him, partly refers to himself and to his successors, and partly to Christ whom he represented. How to distinguish these things is now easy, as the character of Christ is fully developed in the New Testament. We now see the reason why David was called a son, and why Solomon, as in the next quotation, was called a son; they as kings of Israel, that is, of God’s people, were representatives of him who is alone really or in a peculiar sense the Son of God, the true king of Israel, an honor never allotted to angels. (See Appendix B) — Ed.
Many have interpreted to-day as meaning eternity; but there is nothing to countenance such a view. As to the type, David, his “to-day” was his exaltation to the throne; the “to-day” of Christ, the antitype, is something of a corresponding character; it was his resurrection and exaltation to God’s right hand, where he sits, as it were, on the throne of David. See Acts 2:20, Acts 5:30, 31, Acts 13:33. — Ed.
See Appendix C.
Many have been the explanations of this sentence; but this is the most suitable to the passage as it occurs in Ps 104:4, and to the design of the Apostle; it is the one adopted by Doddridge, Stuart, and Bloomfield.
The meaning would be thus more apparent, — “Who maketh like his angels the winds, and like his ministers the flaming fire,” that is, the winds are subject to him as the angels are, and also the flaming fire as his ministers or attendants. The particle ב is sometimes omitted in Hebrew. — Ed.
It is generally admitted to be a kind of epithalamium, but not on the occasion here specified, as there was nothing in that marriage that in any degree correspond with the contents of the Psalm. Such was the opinion of Beza, Dr. Owen, Scott, and Horsley. — Ed.
The Hebrew will admit of no other construction than that given in our version and by Calvin. The Greek version, the Sept., which the Apostle adopts, seems at first view to be different, as “God” is in the nominative case, ὁ Θεὸς; but the Sept. used in commonly instead of the vocative case. We meet with two instances in the seventh Psalm, Ps. 7:1, 3, and in connection with “Lord,” κύριε in the vocative case. See also Ps. 10:12, Ps. 41:1, etc.
The Vulgate, following literally the Sept., without regarding the preceding peculiarity, has rendered “God” in the nominative, “Deus,” and not “O Deus.” — Ed.
He is evidently throughout spoken of in his mediatorial character. To keep this in view will enable us more fully to understand the chapter. It is more agreeable to this passage, to regard “the anointing,” not that of consecration, but that of refreshment to guests according to a prevailing custom, see Lu 7:46. The word “gladness” favors this, and also the previous words of the passage; Christ is addressed as already on his throne, and his administration is referred to; and it is on account of his just administration, that he is said to have been anointed with the perfuming oil of gladness, see Ac 10:38.
The words, “above thy fellows,” are rendered by Calvin, “above thy partners,” and by Doddridge and Macknight, “above thine associates.” Christ is spoken of as king, and his associates are those in the same office; but he is so much above them that he is the “king of kings;” and yet his superior excellencies are here represented as entitling him to higher honors. — Ed.
See Appendix D.
There is no doubt a distinction between the two words here used, but not exactly that which is intimated; the first, λειτουργικὰ refers to an official appointment; and the other, διακονίαν, to the work which was to be done. Angels are said to be officially appointed, and they are thus appointed for the purpose of doing service to the heirs of salvation; “Are they not all ministrant (or ministerial) spirits, sent forth for service, on account διὰ of those who are to inherit salvation?” Then they are spirits, having a special office allotted them, being sent forth to do service in behalf of those who are heirs of salvation. It hence appears that they have a special appointment for this purpose See Acts 5:19, Acts 12:7. — Ed.
See Appendix E.