God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 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; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his being, 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; Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. (Heb 1:1-4 KJV).
The Issue: Whether the Trinitarian interpretation is valid.
Trinitarians claim this verse is indicating 'Jesus is God' since he is the "exact representation" or "express image" of God's being.
What the Evidence will Show
The facts will show that the writer of Hebrews is referring to the nature of Jesus' bodily resurrection and the image of God's being is God's nature - Spirit.
Examination of the Evidence
The Greek Vocabulary
The above translation is not exactly literal. However this is somewhat understandable since the writer of Hebrews uses a unique vocabulary and a writing style that creates difficulties for translation into English. The word tithemi translated as "appointed" does not really mean "appointed" but simply "to place" or "to set." A similar idea is found at Romans 1:4 where our English has to translate that God's son was "fixed" son of God in power. The word there is a stronger word, horizo, which means to permanently set or fix something as one one set or fix a boundary. The word translated as "worlds" in the KJV is not what we think in English with the word "worlds," referring to objects in space, but is the Greek word for "ages." The word translated as "brightness" is appropriate but is a weak English word that misses some of the ideas borne in the Greek word. The Greek word means a bright or radiant emanation of light like a sunbeam or a ray of light. The word translated as upholding simply means "to bear" in Greek and is often used of carrying things. The word translated as "purged" is appropriate but archaic. The Greek work means to purify or cleanse. And the word translated as "obtained" is way too weak here and does not reflect the writer's full intentions. This Greek words means "to inherit" and reflects back to the previous statement that God's son has been "set/placed heir of all things." And the word translated as "majesty" is appropriate although the Greek word doesn't quite mean "majesty." The word simply means "greatness" but is used here to refer to the noble greatness of Christ's exalted position. The translation which follows is more literal.
In many places and various ways of old God spoke to our fathers in the prophets; in these last days he has spoken to us in a son through whom he set heir of all things through whom also he made the ages who being the radiance of the glory and character of his substance bearing all things by the word of his power he having made cleansing for our sins sat down on the right hand of the majesty in high having become so much better as much as he has inherited a better name than them.
Now the key word in question here is the word variously translated as "the impress" or "express image" or "the very stamp of" or "exact imprint" or "the very image of" or "exact representation." All the these translations are reasonable as they attempt to convey the idea expressed in the Greek. The idea is one of a reflection of an image. The Greek word here is charakter and is the word from which we get our English word "character." The word was used to describe the stamp or impression or image made on coins and other objects. The intent of the Greek is really "express impression" or "impress expression" or "definite expression." I personally like the word "character" to translate the word "charakter" as it seems very appropriate. The idea is to convey that the risen Son has the same character or nature as God.
False Interpretations by Non-Trinitarians
There are some folks who do not believe the Son was a person before he was incarnated. So here they see that in the Old Testament times God spoke through the prophets but now he has spoken to us through a Son. Thus they conclude this proves that the Son was not a personal being prior to his incarnation. This is naively incorrect. This passage is about the risen Christ. The phrase "Today I have begotten you" in verse 5 refers to the Son's resurrection (see also Acts 13:33). When the writer says that today God has spoken to us in a Son he is not referring to Jesus of Nazareth's teaching when he walked in Israel. He is referring to Jesus' exalted glory. In fact, "these last days" did not commence until Jesus died and rose again. The cross is the turning point of the ages. Hence, we cannot conclude from this particular passage that he was not a person before his resurrection so neither can we conclude he was not a person before he was born in Bethlehem.
Trinitarians foist their preconceived notions upon the text. Nothing in the text suggests that being the express image of God's being means you ARE God's being or that you ARE God. But Trinitarians insist upon wishfully thinking their favorite ideas into passages such as these.
The Trinitarian Error
Trinitarians falsely presume that if Jesus has the same nature as God then he is also "God" by identity. This is flatly incorrect. Having the same nature as Adam does not make us Adam. The reason the Father is "God" and the Son is not "God" is because of the qualities and position he possesses and the Son does not possess. Indeed, in our resurrections, we ourselves will be conformed into the image of Christ who is the image of God (1 Cor 15:45; Col 1:15). We are already "partakers of the divine nature" and in our resurrections we will become that divine nature. And this will not make us "God" anymore than it made Jesus "God."
The Risen Jesus
The writer of Hebrews is referring to the risen Jesus in the present tense. He would not have made this same statement about the unrisen Jesus and desiring that he would will not make it so. He is referring to the nature of the Son's exalted glory and that is what this entire chapter is about. Notice that he is speaking of what Jesus Christ has inherited. He is referring to Jesus' risen nature of divinized, glorified, humanity.
We find a statement made by Paul at Colossians 1:15-19 that is similar to the idea here in Hebrews 1:3. There Paul says the Son is "the image of the invisible God." He makes a similar statement at 2 Corinthians 4:4 where he says Christ is the "image of God." Paul also tells us that the faithful will be conformed into the image of Christ (1 Cor 15:45,49; cf. Rom 8:29) who is in the image of God. Paul also tells us just how this is all true. He tells us that all the "fullness" of God was pleased to dwell in the "firstborn of the dead" (Col 1:19). He later reemphasizes this point again at Colossians 2:9 where he says, "all the fullness of deity dwelt in him bodily." He is referring to Jesus' risen glory. God is the substance of spirit (Jn 4:24) and when Jesus rose from the dead, Paul tells us he was glorified into "life-giving" Spirit (1 Cor 15:45) and this is how a human body is glorified (15:40-42). Here is how he came to inherit the character of the substance of God being discussed at Hebrews 1:3 and this is what it means that he inherited the name above every name, the glory of his Father. Indeed, we find Jesus praying in Gethsemane to the Father that he would be glorified with the Father's glory that he previously had with him before the creation of the world (17:5,24) before he had emptied himself of the glory of his deity (Php 2:5-7). And we also find that Paul teaches us that we will bear that same image of Christ in our own bodily resurrection (1 Cor 15:49). Angels are spirit (Heb 1:4) and for this reason they are immortal and so Jesus teaches when we are resurrected we too will be immortal like the angels (Luke 20:34-36). The resurrection body of glory is a new creation of Spirit and flesh as one without horizon where mortal flesh of death is swallowed up in immortal Spirit of victory. This is the Great Wedding Supper at the end of the age. God will consume us with his glory at the consummation of the ages.
If we look back at Colossians 2:9-10, Paul teaches the Colossians that the fullness of deity that was pleased to dwell in Christ bodily was also enjoyed by them as well because they shared in Christ's death and resurrection (2:11-15). Now they did not enjoy this fullness bodily but by the Spirit poured into their hearts. But Paul also tells us that we will share this fullness of glory upon our resurrection. And just as this fullness does not make Jesus "God" it does not and will not make us "God" either. As Paul says, "if we endure with him, we will "reign" with him. It simply means that we will bodily share the exact nature of God which is Spirit.
Having the same divine nature of God does not make one "God" by identity anymore than having the same human nature of the President of the United States makes you President of the United States. The writer of Hebrews is discussing here the nature of Jesus' risen bodily glory. His selfsame physical body of humiliation was raised up into "life-giving" Spirit and as such he bodily has the character of God who is Spirit. Mortality was swallowed up by immortality, mortal flesh swallowed up by the Spirit of life and this is what Hebrews 1:3 is discussing. Hebrews 1:3 simply does not support Trinitarian concepts.
Summation of the Facts
- Trinitarians are eisegetically reading their preconceived notions into the text when there is no justification for doing so
- The entire passage is referring to the risen Jesus who has become better than the angels having inherited a better name than them. This is an obvious reference to his resurrection glory.
- The express image of God's being in this passage is Jesus' resurrection glory, his divinized humanity.
- Having the nature of God does not make one God by identity anymore than having the nature of Adam makes one Adam by identity.
Call for Discernment
Trinitarians are reading their notions into this passage without warrant. The verse is a reference to the inheritance of Jesus' resurrection glory. In his resurrection he was clothed with the glory of God and as such his body was divinized to having the same nature as God.