Trinitarians claim this passage means that all God's angels were to worship the incarnated and yet unrisen Jesus and this worship indicates he is God.
Examination of the Evidence
There are two key issues with Trinitarian interpretations of this passage. First, this verse refers to bowing down (proskyneo) before Jesus. Secondly, Trinitarians misinterpret the Greek word oikoumene as referring to this geographical world. This ultimately results in an extremely misguided misinterpretation which claims that Jesus of Nazareth, before he was crucified, was worshiped by the angels.
1. WHEN Jesus came to be Above and Superior to the Angels
It is very important to see that Jesus, having made purification for sins, then BECAME better than the angels having INHERITED a better name than the angels. The Hebrew's writer tells us explicitly when Jesus became superior to the angels.
Having made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than them.
The reason the angels are to bow down before Jesus is because in sitting down at the right hand of God he had become superior to the angels. But he was not always superior to the angels. Before his resurrection he was lower than the angels. In verses 3-4, we read that Jesus, having made purification for sins became better than the angels having inherited a better name than them. The next chapter, chapter 2, says God had been made Jesus lower than the angels but is now crowned with glory and honor.
It has been testified somewhere, "What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that You care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels, you have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put everything in subjection under his feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing that is not subject to him. But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings(Hebrews 2:6-10).
Notice carefully that Jesus the human being was made lower than the angels but because of the suffering of his death he is now is crowned with glory and honor, a reference to the risen Jesus. And the writer further claries this by saying all things were put in subjection to him who had suffered death for everyone. That includes the angels.
Jesus has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him. (1 Peter 3:22).
2. Everything was put under his feet, including the angels, when he was crowned with glory.
In chapter one, the writer of Hebrews is emphasizing the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In verse 1:3 that Jesus, having already made purification for sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High, that is, at the right hand of the throne of God in the heavens. In verse 4, the passages says that Jesus had become better than the angels because he had inherited a much better name than the angels. Now when did this happen? If we look ahead to chapter 2, we will see the writer expand on this idea and how Jesus, being a man, was made a little lower than the angels. In the ancient mind, the human being was a commoner in contrast to the nobility of the angels also known as the sons of God. Heavenly beings were noble in contrast to earthly beings. Humanity is a state of humiliation and servanthood as is also seen at Philippians 2:5-9 and 3:20-21. But Jesus rose again and ascended through the heavens and above all men, and not only above all men, but also above the angelic rule to the very throne at the right hand of God and as such is above all angelic rule and all things are now therefore subject to him as Lord of all (see also Mt 28:18; Acts 2:36; 1 Peter 3:22). Upon his resurrection, the man Jesus inherited a much better name than the angels since God then gave him the name above every name. He had become better than the angels. The same idea is expressed at Philippians 2:5-11. And it was at this moment in time the angels were to bow down before Jesus. He had ascended to the throne of God and sat down on his Father's throne.
3. The Context: Jesus Begotten, the Firstborn out of the Dead
Now in , Hebrews 1:5, the writer continues in the same vein of thought. The verse says, "You are my Son, Today I have begotten you" refers not to his incarnation, nor to God begetting Jesus in eternity, but to begetting Jesus at his resurrection. The very same idea is found at Acts 13:30-33 which says:
""But God raised Him from the dead....God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, just as it is also written in the second Psalm, 'You are my Son, Today I have begotten you.'" (Acts 13:30-33).
Jesus is the first begotten out of the dead. The very same idea is presented later right here in Hebrews chapter 5. Notice how "today I have begotten you" is paralleled with becoming a priest after the order of Melchizedek.
So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you; as he says also in another place, "You are a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek." In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (5:5-10).
It is rather obvious Hebrews 1:5 refers to Jesus' resurrection. The entire passage is about Jesus' resurrection glory. A similar idea concerning our own resurrection sonship is found at Romans 8:14-23.
Notice the previous verse. The concept portrayed in verse 5 reflects verse 4 which says, "having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they," an obvious reference to his resurrection. Being begotten out of the dead, he became better than the angels having inherited a better name than them in his resurrection glory.
4. Oikoumene: Not planet earth but "the world/economy TO COME"
Now Trinitarians very seriously blunder at Hebrews 1:6, where they perceive the incarnation is in view by the phrase "when God brings his firstborn into the world." This is a most unfortunate translation. The "firstborn" or "firstbegotten" term here refers to the very same idea presented in verse 5, Jesus being begotten out of the dead in his resurrection. The entire chapter is about the exaltation of Jesus and to wrench in an interpretation here that says Jesus' incarnation is in view, and angels were to bow down to baby Jesus, is totally ridiculous.
When we are referring to a geographical place, the word for "world" in Greek is either "ge (earth) or "kosmos" (world). This is not the Greek word that is used here. The word used at Hebrews 1:6 is oikoumene and it means something like "community" or "population" in a large scale sense. It is where we get our English word "ecumenical" and is a cognate of the word oikonomia where we get our English word "economy." The Greeks used this word in a way similar to our English word "population" or "community" and it refers to people. Oikoumene comes from the words oikos which means "dwelling" and the present passive participle of oikoumenos from oikeos which means "to inhabit/dwell," "to reside." The cognate word oikonomos is usually translated as "household."
Oikoumene essentially means "the community of residents" and is something like saying "the population." It is often translated very loosely as "world" into English since we really do not have an exact equivalent word in English to match the Greek. However, the English word "world" can be very misleading here. Now if we take a look just ahead a little at Hebrews 2:5, the writer tells us point blank what he means by this word, "For not to angels did He subject the coming oikoumene, concerning which we are speaking." He tells us plainly that he is not referring to this geograhical world as the earth but the "world to come." More specifically, this refers to the economy to come, that is, the community of God and His angels in heaven.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven. (Hebrews 12:22-23).
Now it gets very, very interesting at this point. The word oikoumene is derived from oikonomia which is from oikonomos, "household" from oikos "house." Now if we look at Hebrews 3:1-5, we will note that the writer emphasizes that Jesus has been appointed as ruling steward of God's household. Indeed, the passage says Jesus was faithful to God who made (poieo) him. The reference here is to God who made him flesh and blood, lower than the angels. Hebrews 1:14, indicating angels are servants, is intended to contrast between servanthood and sonship just as Moses was a servant and Christ a Son (also see Hebrews 2:16). The writer tells us that because Jesus was faithful, God appointed him the stewardship of ruling over God's household and as such he is over the angels who are simply servants of that household. As the risen Jesus is greater than Moses, Jesus is greater than the angels. So what is intended here is the household of God and his angels in heaven.
5. First begotten out of the dead
Jesus is the firsborn of the dead (Rom 8:29; Col 1:18: Rev 1:5) by his resurrection and when God brought this firstborn, the firstfruit (1 Cor 15:23) of many brothers (Rom 8:18-29), into the heavenly economy or community, he said "Today I have begotten you," and "let all God's angels worship him." The angels must now bow down to him because the Father has given him all authority and power and the angels are subjected to him (Mt 28:18; Acts 2:36; 1 Pet 3:22) and as the writer is showing us here he is seated at the right hand of the throne of God and as such angels are obligated to bow down to him. Indeed, this very passage emphasizes it over and over again. Later it says, "It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking" (2:5) and "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (2:9). Again and again, the message is repeated that since Jesus suffered and died for our sins and has risen to the throne of God, he is above the angels, because he, not the angels, sits at the right hand of God.
So now when we look at Hebrews 1:6, we must bear all this in mind and understand that the writer is saying that Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels who are servants, is begotten a Son upon his resurrection, and as such has inherited a better name than the angels, and when God brought his Son into his household of heaven, the household of he and his angelic community, he says "Let's all God's angels worship him" because he is ruling steward over all God's house since he sits at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 1:6 is not a reference to Jesus' incarnation as "God bringing his firstborn son into this earth" but a reference to "God bringing his son into the economy or household" of God in his resurrection and the context demands it. The theme of Hebrews 1 is to contrast the risen Jesus and angels. Since angels are but servants and Jesus is fixed as God's son in power upon his resurrection, the angels are subject to Jesus according to nobility rank. The angels do serve in God's house but they are not sitting at the right hand of God.
6. Proskyeno "Worship"
Now the Greek word we translate here as "worship" does not precisely mean the same thing as our English word "worship." We English speaking humans tend to use this word only in reference to worshiping a divine being. Sometimes Trinitarians will claim that bowing down to someone implies that someone is God. But this is simply not true. The Greek word proskyneo simply means to "bow down before" a higher authority and subject one's self to that higher authority. Throughout their history, the chosen people of God bowed down before earthly Kings. In the Old Testament, there are numerous examples of many individuals who bowed down before others in this respect and it was not understood to be a bad thing to do. Lot bowed down before the angels (Genesis 19:1-2). What God's people are not to do is bow down before anyone else as God but God Himself. In other words, we are not to worship other gods or any other being as god since that would be adulterous idolatry. But bowing down before Lords and Kings who have authority over us is not considered to be a wrong thing for God's people to do. Abraham bowed down before the Hittites and David bowed down before the Temple. The problem is not bowing down before someone like a King or higher authority. Respecting the authority of the King in this way was not a problem. The problem is bowing down before other gods which would signify that you you acknowledge their authority as gods. The Magi came to bow down before Jesus not because they had an idea he was God but because they came to bow down before the King of the Jews. The Magi were not Trinitarians who believed Jesus was God Almighty.
A good example of this can be found at 1 Chronicles 29
Then King David said to the entire assembly, 'My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen'... Then David said to all the assembly, "Now bless YAHWEH your God." And all the assembly blessed YAHWEH, the God of their fathers, and bowed low and worshiped YAHWEH and the King.... Then Solomon sat on the throne of YAHWEH as King instead of David his father; and he prospered, and all Israel obeyed him. All the officials, the mighty men, and also all the sons of King David submitted to King Solomon. YAHWEH highly exalted Solomon in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed on him royal majesty/glory which had not been on any King before him in Israel.
The people "worshiped" Yahweh and King David. The reason for this is because King David sat on the throne of Yahweh. Then we read that David's son sat on the throne of YAHWEH. This is precisely what Hebrews 1 is all about, Jesus was exalted to the right hand of the throne of God and sat down on God's throne (v. 8). In fact, the writer quotes 2 Sam 7:14, "I will be a Father to him and he will be a son to me," which is taken in the Old Testament to be a reference to Solomon but here a reference to Jesus. The people of Israel bowed down before God and King David because David sat on YAHWEH's throne. The same is true for Jesus except with much higher authority. He has sat down on YAHWEH's throne and so all the angels are to bow down before him.
Now because Jesus is exalted to a position above all the angels by his resurrection, all the angels are to bow down before him and subject themselves to him. This is the same idea as that presented by Peter.
The sense of the passage is plain. It is intended to mean, "when He brings his firstborn out of the dead into the community of heaven, let all God's angels worship him."
Summary of the Facts
The theme of this entire chapter is about Jesus, being once lower than the angels, has now become better than the angels having inherited a better name than the angels. Only after he was glorified did God put everything under his feet. This is an obvious reference to his resurrection glory.
The Greek word Trinitarians translate as "worship" simply means "to bow down before." Bowing down to Jesus does not indicate he is God. It only indicates he has authority over the angels. There are numberous examples of men bowing down before higher authorities.
The word "first-begotten" refers to the concept that Jesus is the firstborn out of the dead. This is verified by the context which is about Jesus' resurrection, by the preceding verse which parallels the concept conveyed at Acts 13:30-33 and by Hebrews chapter 5 which again conveys the same idea.
The Greek word Trinitarians translate as "world" simply means "community of residents." The community in view is God and all his angels in heaven.
The verse is obviously intended to mean "when He brings his firstborn out of the dead into the community of heaven, let all God's angels worship him."
Once again we have a situation where Trinitarians are not being honest with the facts. It is quite plain that this chapter is referring to Jesus' resurrection glory and ascension to the right hand of the throne of God. Having become better than the angels in this way, and having inherited a better name than them in his resurrection, they must bown dow before him since they are now subject to him as he who was once lower than the angels is now a higher authority. He sits on the throne of God and this is the reason the angels are to now bow down before him.
[Jesus] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. (1 Peter 3:22).
Last Updated: March 24, 2011