Hebrews 1 – Worship Jesus, the Firstborn

In Hebrews 1:6 the author says that God commands the angels to worship Jesus, his firstborn son.  The command to worship is drawn from the LXX of Deut 32:43 but seems to be blended with Psalm 97:7 (LXX Ps 96:7) and Psalm 89:27 (LXX 88:28). Ellingworth suggests Odes of Solomon 2:43b and 4QDt 32:43b are possible sources as well, although these two texts are probably alluding to the same texts as the author of Hebrews. The phrase “let all the sons of God/angels worship him” is missing in the Hebrew text, so the writer of Hebrews either is following the Greek of Deuteronomy or only has the Psalm in mind.

There are two issues with this verse that need to be addressed that have a bearing on Christology. First, the quote is introduced by a phrase calling Christ the “firstborn of God.”  The word “firstborn” could be taken to mean that Jesus was created or generated by God, so that Jesus was similar to God, but not the same substance as God himself. In fact, the Greek word πρωτότοκος (prototokos) does mean “first born,” but it often refers to the legal status as heir rather than birth order.

Rembrandt_AqedahIt is possible for the “first born” to be the literal first born child, but that is not necessarily the case. Jacob can be called the first born, even though he was not the literal first born, because he was the son of the blessing over his older brother. More importantly for the writer of Hebrews, the word πρωτότοκος was applied to David in Psalm 89:27 (LXX 88:28).

The second issue is the command to worship Jesus. In the original context of Psalm 97:7, worshipers of idols are put to shame by the glory of God revealed in creation. Since the idols are worthless, the gods/angels are commanded to worship God. The Hebrew Bible has כָּל־אֱלֹהִֽים, “all the gods,” the Greek of the Psalm has πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτοῦ, “all his angels.” It is probably the case that the translator took the “gods” as “sons of God” and translated the phrase “angels,” a similar case is found in Psalm 8.

The important point is what the quote says: all the angels should (now) worship the Son. In this present age, the firstborn son ought to receive the worship that was reserved for God in the previous age. This would create a problem for a monotheistic Jewish thinker – how can Jesus be worshiped as God? God is commanding his angels to worship something other than himself, a violation of his own Law. The shema, after all, says that there is one God. The angels can only worship God himself, so the author of Hebrews is pointing to the fact that the Son is to be worshiped because he is God.

Is this a valid inference from the text of Hebrews? If a reader sets aside their views on the Trinity (either for or against it), does the writer of Hebrews intend to equate Jesus and God in some real way in this verse? What else is there in Hebrews 1 to support this assertion?

34 thoughts on “Hebrews 1 – Worship Jesus, the Firstborn

  1. I don’t think that such worship was understood to be violating God’s commandment, any more than the worship of the king when seated on Yahweh’s throne was thought to in 1 Chronicles 29.

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    • 1 Chronicles 29:20
      And David said to all the congregation, Now bless the LORD your God. And all the congregation blessed the LORD God of their fathers, and bowed down their heads, and worshipped the LORD, and the king. (KJV)

      Hello James,
      In the above passage the king is not being worshiped. There are other passages in 2 Chronicles where the author uses the same construction which demonstrates that only God is being rendered worship in 1 Chronicles 29:20.
      2 Chronicles 31:8
      When Hezekiah and the rulers came and saw the heaps, they blessed the LORD and His people Israel. (NASB)
      Blessing the Lord means offering Him worship, but that doesn’t mean Hezekiah and the rulers rendered worship unto the people of Israel.
      2 Chronicles 35:3
      He also said to the Levites who taught all Israel and who were holy to the LORD, Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David king of Israel built; it will be a burden on your shoulders no longer. Now serve the LORD your God and His people Israel. (NASB)
      Josiah (cf. 2 Chronicles 35:1) did not mean that the service (worship) that ought to be given unto God was also to be done unto the people of Israel.

      In all three passages (1 Chronicles 29:20; 2 Chronicles 31:8 and 2 Chronicles 35:3) worship is only offered unto God. Furthermore, the ending of 2 Corinthians 8:5 ought also to be considered for it reads: but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God (NASB). When one “gives” themselves to the Lord it entails worshiping the Lord, but not so when it comes to other people in this passage.

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      • Sorry for taking so long to reply. I discuss the range of forms of “worship” in my book The Only True God. The one that was a make-or-break issue for most Jews (and other Israelites) was sacrificial worship. Prostration before another figure could be appropriate, provided that the figure was not someone understood to be setting themselves up over against the one God. In this text, it explicitly says later on that sacrifices were offered to Yahweh alone. The worship that both received was presumably prostration, the recognition of the authority of the one God and his anointed one.

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      • 1 Chronicles 29:20 then does not at all detract from the worship properly rendered unto the Lord Jesus in Hebrews 1:6 – nor does it do so anywhere else.
        Worship due only unto God also encompasses worship that did not involve offering sacrifices spelled out in the Law. Anytime one prayed it was (and is) an act of worship. And there are plenty of examples of prayer to the Lord Jesus in the New Testament.

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      • Yes, there definitely was a broader array of practices which could have human and/or angelic figures as their focus, in addition to practices like sacrificial worship which were felt to be appropriate only to the one God.

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      • The same thing can be said to your approach in that you seek to detract from the divinity of Jesus in that you are not focused on how the words of the Bible are properly defined.

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      • Nice try, but it is clear that even after acknowledging the existence of evidence showing that there were Jews who did not think prayer/invocation/prostration were inappropriate if offered to a divine agent, you still insist that on some basis you have not specified, you can decide that doing these things with Jesus as the object in the New Testament nonetheless indicates that they clearly put him in a category other than that of divine agent. Instead of just offering a rhetorical comeback without substance, why not discuss the evidence that has already been brought into the discussion?

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    • Prayer would be appropriate only unto the one true God.
      1. New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis: To pray is an act of faith in the almighty and gracious God who responds to the prayers of his people (4:1062, Prayer, P. A. Verhoef).
      2. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology: In prayer we are never to forget whom we are addressing: the living God, the almighty one with whom nothing is impossible, and from whom therefore all things may be expected (2:857, Prayer, H. Schonweiss).

      Since the Lord Jesus is the proper recipient of prayer demonstrates that He is God.

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    • People may disagree with the 2 citations I have cited but that doesn’t necessitate that it ought to be done. Indeed, I see no evidence from the Bible that prayers to angels was an accepted practice for God is the Hearer of prayer (Psalm 65:2).[*1] Furthermore, 1 Kings 8:38-39 connects the hearing of prayer with His omniscience. It reads:
      whatever prayer…is made…then hear in heaven…for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men. (NASB)

      [*1] Allen Ross: The use of the participle stresses that this is a characteristic of God – he is a prayer-answering God (A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 2, page 413).

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      • The question is not about organizing “what the Bible says” into a system, but about the range of practices that existed in first century Judaism which were the milieu of the development of early Christian thought about Jesus.

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    • I agree that others at that time can run contrary to what the Bible teaches. This is to be expected for it has been happening even up to today. Even James Dunn (correctly) asserts that “at the time of Jesus…prayers of adoration, of penitence and confession, of petition and intercession, all indicating the dependence of the inferior (creature) upon the all-powerful Creator, Saviour and Lord” (Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?, page 30).
      If the Lord Jesus was the proper recipient of of just one prayer this would demonstrate that He is the “all-powerful Creator.” The fact that Scripture teaches that He is the proper recipient of prayer in far more than jut one instance is more than enough evidence to convince the honest and diligent seeker of His rightful place as the Almighty Creator.

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      • So you are interested in trying to make a theological case for the divinity of Jesus, and not focused on what the historical evidence says about the likely meaning of the New Testament texts in their historical context.

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      • Why do you refuse to focus on how “prayer” is properly defined?
        Would this carry over into how other words of the Bible are properly defined as well?

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      • Where did I refuse to do that, or anything else? My entire effort here has been to get you to understand the beliefs and practices that appear to have defined the varieties of first century Judaism, how they are different from your own beliefs about what you think ought to be the case, and how the former are crucial to an accurate contextual interpretation of the meaning of the New Testament writings.

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      • “Prayer” has been properly defined in two different sources. Yes, there were some ancient Jews who disagreed with what these definitions but they were certainly not in accord what what the biblical text affirms. I have already cited both 1 Kings 8:38-39 as well as Psalm 65:2. In fact, when defining “Monotheism” the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901) affirms that it entails the “worshipers of the one God and of Him alone.” (See the first paragraph)
        https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tje/m/monotheism.html

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      • Are you suggesting that first-century Jews had not read their own scriptures, or just that you understand them better than they did? And given our discussion thus far higlighting the diversity of Judaism, why are you assuming that citing a couple of texts that at most lean in the direction of emphasizing what you think ought to be normative somehow negates the fact that there were a range of views and practices?

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      • Also, you must realize that the phenomena we are talking about are precisely the reason there has been so much debate about what is meant by first-century Jewish monotheism, with some even arguing that the term is not appropriate at all.

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      • First, I was wondering if you still stand by your assertion that the king was being worshiped in 1 Chronicles 29:20?
        Second, I cited a source what Jews believe and previously believed concerning the worship of God. Even today you may have some people who claim to be Christians yet forbid the worship of Jesus. This demonstrates that they aren’t Christians.
        Third, you simply refuse to address the passages I have cited in any kid of meaningful way.

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      • You talk about “what Jews believe” as though in the first century there were a monolithic orthodoxy, and you approach Christianity the same way, denying that anyone who disagrees with you is a Christian. You are clearly not approaching this as a matter of scholarly historical study, but merely seeking to advocate your own contemporary theological viewpoint.

        I wish I had realized that you weren’t addressing the topic of the original post sooner.

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      • B. B. Warfield: the mark of Christians from the beginning was obviously that they looked to Jesus as their “Lord” and “called upon His name” in their worship (The Lord of Glory, page 256).

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    • Your original assertion was that the king was being worshiped. This is in reference to 1 Chronicles 29:20, and I have already shown from the syntax elsewhere that your assertion is without foundation.

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      • In fact, the examples you quoted show the opposite to what you claim. The rulers bless both God and their fellow Israelites. The Levites serve both God and nation. Not in the same way, to be sure, but no one was suggesting that prostration before God and the king equated the two. Indeed, the whole point was that it doesn’t have that implication.

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      • I am surprised you finally addressed what you originally asserted. It took quite some time.
        My examples demonstrate that people were not being worshiped. So your assertion that they “show the opposite to what you claim” is fallacious.

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      • Since Hebrews 1:6 is the topic of this discussion this is how the “worship” being rendered unto the Lord Jesus is properly defined.
        1. BDAG (3rd Edition): Citing Hebrews 1:6 it reads “of deity in monotheistic cult” (proskyneō, page 882).
        2. Joseph Thayer: Citing Hebrews 1:6 it reads “absol. (our to worship)” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, proskyneō).
        http://biblehub.com/greek/4352.htm

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      • Hebrews 1:6 is used in reference to the definitions I cited.

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  2. I believe that this is a correct way to interpret this verse. Not only because of this verse but because we see in v.3 that “…the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” I think that putting these two verses together help us see that the author of Hebrews is making a case for Jesus being God. I think that Jobes gives a great idea of what this means and looks like, “The character wasn’t just similar to the mold from which it was stamped; it was identical except it existed in a separate form (e.g. clay or ink) from the mold” (84). This helped me understand that Jesus wasn’t just another prophet or a good man, Jesus was God in the form of man.

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  3. As we read through the Old Testament, i am amazed as to the jealously of God. He is constantly proving that he is God to the Israelites (Think of the 10 plagues and parting of the Red Sea in Exodus). Of all of the sins that Israel commits as a people in the Old Testament, Idolatry is the most used and punished. We even have a chart used to describe the cycle of sin in Judges that goes peace-idolatry-slavery-Israel cries out- God raises a judge- the people are delivered. It is funny to think that this happened over a handful of times, but the people of Israel fell into idolatry over and over… and God shows that this is one of the biggest things that he despises. It is in the 10 commandments for Pete’s sake! Exodus 20:3 says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” So when we see God telling His angels in Hebrews 1:6 to worship Jesus, it would seem to be a direct contradiction in the character. As for your comment James, i am not exactly sure where you’re coming from. No where in 1 Chronicles do we find worship of a king, unless that king is God himself. In that passage we see David talking about building the temple to glorify God, whereas all the people bow down and praise God. Not David or Solomon. In verse 23 and 24 of that 1st Chronicles passage we see Israel obeying and submitting to both David and Solomon, but no worship. Jesus cannot simply be a human, or divine being above the angels without being God. God the Father only allows for worship of the one true God, and as it appears in this passage, Jesus is included in the Godhead. When he is called the Son of God or the firstborn, this is not referring to our human ideas of what a son is. “Hebrews describes the Son with the Greek word character of God, translated “exact representation”..It was used to describe something that was an exact representation of its source, bearing all of its distinctive traits” (Jobes* 84). We are not looking at a different type of being, but at God in a different capacity and yet still connected as one. I believe that this passage pushes us towards the Deity and high Christology of Jesus as part of the Trinity.

    *Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles

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  4. Pierpont and Renberg are on point as they refer to Jesus as the “exact representation of his being”. One could argue this equality from the beginning where Genesis records God(s) saying, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” (Gen 1:26). The plurality of this statement reveals God with separate entities. However, upon the creation of humankind God ensures to create a being that represents him fully – not just partially. That his entirety be included with the formation of man demonstrates the equality of God’s entities from the beginning. Thousands of years later the Hebrew author maintains that Jesus is equal to God himself and deserves just as much praise, worship, and admonition as any part of the Godhead.

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  5. Another Another portion of Hebrews 1 that supports the assertion that the author of Hebrews was equating Jesus with God is in verse 2, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” The last part of the verse is something that can only be attributed to God. This is similar to what Jon was talking about in the previous post, and what is said in John 1. Jesus was present and active in the creation of the world. Jesus is established as being superior to angels in Hebrews, he is the firstborn and heir of all things, he is the radiance of the glory of God, and the writer affirms the idea that Jesus was at the beginning. If the writer is not asserting that Jesus is God, then I have no idea what he is implying.

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  6. In the context of Heb 1, “firstborn” is a variation of “son”, but it carries with it a nuance of pre-eminence (cf. Exod 4:22; Jer 31:8; Ps 89:28; 4Q418 81 5; 4 Ezra 6:58), which the term “son”, in and of itself, does not (although, in the context of Heb 1, even the term “son” is defined in a pre-eminent way). In view of this, and since the son is described as both the secondary (1:2) and primary (1:10) cause of creation, it is unlikely that the term “firstborn” is intended as a literal reference to his origins/creation.

    As for “worship” it is important to note that the term can denote different kinds/degrees of devotion in these ancient Jewish and Christian texts. The term itself can denote anything from the respectful acknowledgment of one’s superior (e.g. Matt 18:26) to the exclusive devotion that is due the God of Israel (e.g. Matt 4:10). There are also a number of examples of “worship” that are clearly greater than the former but which do not compromise the latter (e.g. Isa 45:14; 1 En. 48:5; Rev 3:9; 3 Bar. 11:6; L.A.E. 12–16). The question that needs to be answered, therefore, is what kind of worship is envisioned in Heb 1:6? As I have argued elsewhere this worship was not thought to compromise the worship that is due to God alone (since it is God who decrees it) yet the worship that the firstborn receives here (he is enthroned in heaven worshipped by all the angels) seems to be the sort of worship is that is normally received by God alone (see Barnard, Mysticism of Hebrews, 247–52).

    [Just to clarify, Ellingworth is not referring to the Odes of Solomon, but to the collection of biblical Odes found after the Psalms in Rahlfs edition of the Septuagint. Ode 2 comes from Deut 32. Also, when you say that the phrase utilized in Heb 1:6 is “missing in the Hebrew text” you mean the Masoretic Text; as you note an equivalent is present in one ancient Hebrew text, namely 4QDeut]

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