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The Son's Entrance into the Heavenly World: The Soteriological Necessity of the Scriptural Catena in Hebrews 1.5-14

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 September 2010

Joshua W. Jipp
Department of Religion, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA. email:


Hebrews 1.5-14 has proved difficult to integrate within the author's larger literary project. More recent scholarship has emphasized rightly that the catena centers upon the Son of God's royal enthronement, but the question as to why the author should begin his argument this way has yet to be answered. In this essay I argue that the event which the catena describes, namely the Son's enthronement to the heavenly world, is critical for the entire logic of the author's argument regarding how humanity's salvation is accomplished. The likelihood of this conclusion is bolstered by the rarely recognized inclusio between 1.5-14 and 12.18-29. Finally, I briefly examine four texts which suggest that the author envisions the Son's narrative, particularly his entrance into God's heavenly realm as described in 1.5-14, as a soteriological necessity, and pattern, for humanity.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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1 Although it is not a matter of importance for this paper, I assume that the genre of Hebrews is a sermon. On the genre of Hebrews, see Koester, Craig R., Hebrews (AB 36; New York: Doubleday, 2001) 80–2Google Scholar.

2 For example, Hay, David (Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity [SBLMS 18; Nashville: Abingdon, 1973] 38)Google Scholar suggests that the catena may be a traditional early Christian testimonium which explains ‘the partial irrelevance of the passage’ to the author's broader argument. Likewise, Montefiore, Hugh (The Epistle to the Hebrews [BNTC; London: A & C Black, 1964] 43–4)Google Scholar thinks Heb 1.5-14 is taken over by the author from earlier tradition since the catena ‘seems ill-adapted to his purpose, [and] since only one of them in the LXX contains the actual word angels’. Similarly, see Attridge, Harold, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989) 50Google Scholar. Ellingworth, Paul (The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text [NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993] 109–10)Google Scholar has refuted the suggestion that the author has not integrated these verses into his epistle. Likewise, the catena is treated as central for Hebrews by Bauckham, Richard, ‘Monotheism and Christology in Hebrews 1’, Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism (ed. Stuckenbruck, Loren T. and North, Wendy E. S.; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2004) 167–85Google Scholar.

3 Many have supposed that the author, or the original source of the catena, was combating some form of angel-worship or angel-christology: Stuckenbruck, Loren T., Angel Veneration and Christology: A Study in Early Judaism and the Christology of the Apocalypse of John (WUNT 70; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1995) 119–39Google Scholar; Williamson, Ronald, Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews (Leiden: Brill, 1970) 194Google Scholar; Gieschen, Charles A., Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence (Leiden: Brill, 1998) 294314Google Scholar; Dey, L. K. K., The Intermediary World and Patterns of Perfection in Philo and Hebrews (SBLDS 25; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1975) 145–9Google Scholar. A dated but impressive list of scholars who see Heb 1.5-14 as polemically motivated is listed by Schröger, Friedrich, Der Verfasser des Hebräerbriefes als Schriftausleger (BU 4; Regensburg: Pustet, 1968) 75–7Google Scholar.

4 That the angel–Christ contrast functions within the author's contrast between the old and new covenants is argued for fruitfully by Schenk, Kenneth L., ‘A Celebration of the Enthroned Son’, JBL 123 (2001) 469–85Google Scholar, here 476, 482–4. See also, Lindars, Barnabas, The Theology of Hebrews (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1991) 37–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Lane, William L., Hebrews 1–8 (WBC 47A; Dallas: Word, 1991) 1933Google Scholar; Meier, John P., ‘Symmetry and Theology in the Old Testament Citations of Heb. 1:5-14’, Bib 66 (1985) 504–33Google Scholar; Hurst, L. D., ‘The Christology of Hebrews 1 and 2’, The Glory of Christ in the New Testament: Studies in Christology in Memory of George Bradford Caird (ed. Hurst, L. D. and Wright, N. T.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1987) 156CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Thompson, James W. (‘The Structure and Purpose of the Catena in Heb 1:5-13’, CBQ 38 [1976] 352–63)Google Scholar argues that the purpose of the catena has nothing to do with combating some form of heresy. Likewise, he sees the catena as primarily a celebration of the exalted royal Son.

6 This is argued for by Schenk, ‘A Celebration of the Enthroned Son’, 469–85. Also see the perceptive essay of Caneday, Ardel B., ‘The Eschatological World Already Subjected to the Son: The Οἰκουμένη of Hebrews 1.6 and the Son's Enthronement’, The Cloud of Witnesses (ed. Bauckham, Richard et al. ; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2008) 2839Google Scholar.

7 On the theological importance of the heavenly world to the author's argument, see Rissi, M., Die Theologie des Hebräerbriefs: Ihre Verankerung in der Situation des Verfassers und seiner Leser (WUNT 41; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1987) 3544Google Scholar.

8 On the exordium of 1.1-3 as prefiguring the author's Son of God Christology, see Mackie, Scott D., ‘Confession of the Son of God in the Exordium of Hebrews’, JSNT 30 (2008) 437–53Google Scholar, esp. 448–50. Meier, John P. (‘Structure and Theology in Heb 1,1-14’, Bib 66 [1985] 504–33)Google Scholar argues that the characteristics of the Son in 1.2-4 correspond structurally to the Septuagintal quotations in 1.5-14.

9 So, Mackie, Scott D., ‘Confession of the Son of God in Hebrews’, NTS 53 (2007) 114–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here 116–17; Thompson, ‘The Structure and Purpose of the Catena in Heb 1:5-13’, 355. Hahn, Scott W. (Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God's Saving Promises [New Haven: Yale University, 2009], 283)Google Scholar similarly argues that the name is given in v. 6—‘the firstborn son’. See, however, Richard Bauckham [‘Monotheism and Christology in Hebrews 1’, 175] who argues that the one who already exists as the Son inherits the divine name, the tetragrammaton, on parallel with Phil 2.9. Bauckham is clearly concerned to deny the claim that Jesus became the Son at the resurrection/ exaltation. See also, Bauckham, Richard, ‘The Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews’, The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (ed. Bauckham, Richard et al. ; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) 1536, esp. 21–2 and 34Google Scholar.

10 That verbal tense forms indicate not only aspect but also function to differentiate planes of discourse is argued by Stanley Porter, E., Idioms of the Greek New Testament (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1992) 22–5Google Scholar.

11 Gelardini, Gabriella (‘Verhärtet eure Herzen nicht’: Der Hebräer, Eine Synagogenhomilie Zu Be-Aw, Tischa [Leiden: Brill, 2007] 207)Google Scholar argues regarding Heb 1.5-14: ‘Die gerechte und ewig währende Sohn-/Herrschaft des in die Welt eingeführeten and erhöhten Sohnes wird der Dienerschaft der Engel gegenüber gestellt’.

12 On the NT usage of these verses, see: Johnson, Luke T., Septuagintal Midrash in the Speeches of Acts (Milwaukee: Marquette, 2002) 2935Google Scholar. Probably the most concise and helpful discussion of Pss 2 and 110 is in Grässer, Erich, An die Hebräer (Hebr 1–6) (EKK 17; Zürich: Benzinger; Neukirchen–Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1990) 74–5Google Scholar.

13 For detailed analyses of the Septuagintal context, tradition-history, and use in the NT of Ps 110:1, see Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity; Hengel, Martin, ‘“Sit at My Right Hand!”: The Enthronement of Christ at the Right Hand of God and Psalm 110:1’, Studies in Early Christology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1995) 119225Google Scholar; Loader, W. R. G., Sohn und Hoherpriester: Eine traditionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung zur Christologie des Hebräerbriefes (WMANT 53; Neukirchen–Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1981)Google Scholar; Loader, , ‘Christ at the Right Hand: Ps cx.1 in the New Testament’, NTS 24 (1977–78) 199217CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

14 That Hebrews assumes the resurrection of Jesus as necessary for its entire argument is shown convincingly by David M. Moffitt, ‘“If Another Priest Arises”: Jesus' Resurrection and the High Priestly Christology of Hebrews’, The Cloud of Witnesses (ed. Bauckham et al.) 68–79. Also, see Cockerill, Gareth E., ‘The Better Resurrection (Heb. 11:35): A Key to the Structure and Rhetorical Purpose of Hebrews 11’, TynBul 51 (2000) 215–34Google Scholar. One should not accept, therefore, the common sentiment articulated here by Strecker, Georg (Theology of the New Testament [trans. Boring, M. Eugene; Louisville: Westminster John Knox; Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2000] 609)CrossRefGoogle Scholar: ‘The Letter to the Hebrews does not know the idea of the rising or resurrection of Jesus from the dead’.

15 It is also possible, however, that Odes 2.43 (LXX) and 4QDt provide evidence of existing textual traditions which already contained the quotation of Heb 1.6. For more on this, see Karrer, Martin, ‘The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Septuagint’, Septuagint Research: Issues and Challenges in the Study of the Greek Jewish Scriptures (ed. Kraus, Wolfgang and Wooden, R. Glenn; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006) 335–53, esp. 349–53Google Scholar.

16 This is argued for by Son, Kiwoong, Zion Symbolism in Hebrews: Hebrews 12:18-24 as a Hermeneutical Key to the Epistle (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2005) 121Google Scholar.

17 Those who read this text in connection with Luke's account of Jesus' baptism include: H. Attridge, Hebrews, 55–6; Montefiore, Hebrews, 45; Bateman, H. W. (Early Jewish Hermeneutics and Hebrews 1:5-13 [New York: Lang, 1997] 222)Google Scholar. Those who have seen the verse as referring to Jesus' second coming include: Lane, Hebrews 1–8, 27; Michel, O., Der Brief an die Hebräer (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1984) 113Google Scholar; Peterson, David, Hebrews and Perfection: An Examination of the Concept of Perfection in the Epistle to the Hebrews (SNTSMS 47; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1982) 214CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ellingworth, , Hebrews, 117; Ernst Käsemann, The Wandering People of God: An Investigation of the Letter to the Hebrews (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984) 100112; GieschenGoogle Scholar, Angelmorphic Christology, 298–9.

18 So also, Schenk, ‘A Celebration of the Enthroned Son’, 478; Ardel B. Caneday, ‘The Eschatological World Already Subjected to the Son’, 30–6.

19 While the οἰκουμένη is still a future hope from the perspective of humanity, it is a present reality for the Son. So deSilva, David A., Perseverance in Gratitude: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle ‘to the Hebrews’ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 97Google Scholar.

20 So rightly, Vanhoye, Albert, ‘L'oikoumenē dans l'Épître aux Hébreux’, Bib 45 (1964) 248–53Google Scholar. Against, Caird, G. B., ‘Son by Appointment’, The New Testament Age (ed. Weinrich, William C.; Macon, GA: Mercer, 1964) 7381Google Scholar, here 75–6.

21 Caneday, ‘The Eschatological World Already Subjected to the Son’, 32.

22 The author of Hebrews uses πάλιν as a connective in his various Septuagintal strings of quotations. See in particular Heb 1.5-6; 2.13; 10.30. On the options and difficulties in deciding where to place πάλιν, see Grässer, An Die Hebräer (Hebr 1-6), 77.

23 Those who see an allusion to LXX Ps 88.28 in 1.6 are Luke Johnson, Timothy, Hebrews: A Commentary (TNTL; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006) 78–9Google Scholar; Bauckham, ‘Monotheism and Christology in Hebrews 1’, 178–9; Caird, ‘Son by Appointment’, 75.

24 This point is made in detail by Schenk, Kenneth L., Cosmology and Eschatology in Hebrews: The Settings of the Sacrifice (SNTSMS 143; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2007) 122–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

25 See Schenk, ‘A Celebration of the Enthroned Son’, 474.

26 So also, see Thompson, ‘The Structure and Purpose of the Catena in Heb 1:5-13’, 357–8.

27 Bauckham, ‘Monotheism and Christology in Hebrews 1’, 179.

28 Bauckham, ‘Monotheism and Christology in Hebrews 1’, 178.

29 Lindars, Barnabas (‘The Rhetorical Structure of Hebrews’, NTS 35 [1989] 382406CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here 402) refers to Heb 12.18-24 as the ‘grand finale’ of the author's argument. While ch. 13 is certainly critical to the composition as a whole, the author concludes the actual argument of his exhortation in 12.18-29. On the relation of Heb 13 to the rest of the epistle, see Filson, Floyd V., ‘Yesterday’: A Study of Hebrews in the Light of Chapter 13 (SBT 2/4; Naperville, IL: Allenson, 1967)Google Scholar. Koester (Hebrews, 201) suggests briefly that a relationship exists between 1.5-14 and 12.22-24. So also, see Schenk, Cosmology and Eschatology in Hebrews, 125–8.

30 I am sympathetic to Kiwoong Son (Zion Symbolism in Hebrews, 84–7) who sees an inclusio between Heb 12.18-29 and 1.1-4 and 2.1-4, but he inexplicably excludes 1.5-14 because he fails to see the overlapping motifs of 1.5-14 and 12.18-29. Vanhoye, Albert (Structure and Message of the Epistle to the Hebrews [SB 12; Rome: Editrice Pontificia Istituto Biblico, 1989])Google Scholar does not comment on the relationship between 1.5-14 and 12.18-29.

31 Note that the author again utilizes the language of ‘to come’ or ‘to enter’. See 4.14-16; 7.25; 10.1; 11.6. Much of the language in 12.18-19 derives from OT accounts of Sinai (Exod 19/Deut 4–5). See deSilva, Perseverance in Gratitude, 464–5.

32 Whether µɛτάθɛσις should be translated as ‘remove’ or ‘change’ is a difficult exegetical problem to resolve. Those inclining toward ‘remove’ are Attridge, Hebrews, 380–1; Ellingworth, , The Epistle to the Hebrews, 687–9; Edward Adams, The Stars will Fall from Heaven: Cosmic Catastrophe in the New Testament and its World (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2007) 189–91Google Scholar; deSilva, Perseverance in Gratitude, 471–2; Mackie, Scott D. (Eschatology and Exhortation in the Epistle to the Hebrews [WUNT 2.223; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2007], 6472)Google Scholar argues for the translation of ‘change’ by attempting to situate Heb 12.25-29 within a Jewish apocalyptic context.

33 This point is noted by Johnson, Hebrews, 330–1. Koester, however (Hebrews, 548–53) does not explore the importance of the language of ‘Zion’, ‘firstborn’, and other themes which relate back to Heb 1.5-14. On the theological significance of Zion for the author of Hebrews, see Kiwoong Son, Zion Symbolism in Hebrews, 29–103.

34 On which, see Juel, Donald, Messianic Exegesis: Christological Interpretation of the Old Testament in Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988) esp. 5988Google Scholar, 135–50.

35 On the heavenly Jerusalem, see Gal 4.22-31; Rev 21.1–22.5; 4 Esd 7.26; 8.52; 10.26-27; 13.36; 2 Apoc Bar 4.1-7; 1 En 14.8-25; and Test Lev 3.3-6.

36 It is important to emphasize that in 12.23 the referent is plural (πρωτοτόκων ἀπογɛγραμμένων). Gieschen (Angelmorphic Christology, 297–9) wrongly translates and makes observations on 12.23 as though the direct reference was to Jesus as the Firstborn Son.

37 The language is political. In 1.6 the Son enters into a royal kingdom or οἰκουμένη. He is, of course, the royal Son and the language of πρωτοτόκων echoes Ps 88 (1.6; 12.23). The language of ἀπογɛγραμμένων, likewise, is political or legal and is frequently used to speak of citizenship. See Koester, Hebrews, 545.

38 Attridge, Hebrews, 375; deSilva, Perseverance in Gratitude, 467.

39 Johnson, Hebrews, 332–3; Schenk, Cosmology and Eschatology in Hebrews, 179.

40 Isaacs, Marie E. (Sacred Space: An Approach to the Theology of Hebrews [JSNTSS 73; Sheffield: JSOT, 1992] 86–8)Google Scholar is attentive to what I refer to as the composition's bookends as well as to the fact that the author views salvation proleptically in 12.18-24 as Jesus is the forerunner of humanity in his entrance into God's presence.

41 I do not have space to defend my interpretation of the subject of 2.5-8 as anthropological in the first instance. For an incisive critique of exclusively christological interpretations of Ps 8.4-6 in Heb 2.5-9, see Craig L. Blomberg, ‘“But We See Jesus”: The Relationship between the Son of Man in Hebrews 2.6 and 2.9 and the Implications for English Translations’, The Cloud of Witnesses (ed. Bauckham et al.) 88–99. There is much to commend in Blomberg's critique, and I am sympathetic to his argument. He goes too far in excluding the fact that the author applies the text to Jesus in 2.9.

42 So Gelardini, ‘Verhärtet eure Herzen nicht’, 209–10.

43 Rissi (Die Theologie des Hebräerbriefs, 54) states it in this way: ‘Er, der unter die Engel erniedrigt wurde, hat die Herrschaft über die ganze Schöpfung übernommen. Das wissen wir zwar, sehen es aber noch nicht. Wir sehen nur, was am Christus geschah. Die Weltwirklichkeit ist für menschliche Augen dieselbe geblieben wie vorher’.

44 On this term, see Johnston, G., ‘Christ as Archegos’, NTS 27 (1980–81) 381–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

45 On the significance of Jesus' public declaration of his identification with humanity, see Mackie, , ‘Confession of the Son of God in Hebrews’, NTS 53 (2007) 114–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

46 Τɛλɛιο- language occurs in philosophical texts to speak of moral maturity, in texts referring to initiations into religious mysteries, and in the Septuagint often to refer to cultic ordination. For a good discussion of the religious background of this word group and its usage in Hebrews, see deSilva, Perseverance in Gratitude, 194–204.

47 Johnson (Hebrews, 144) rightly notes that the author's quotation of Ps 2.7 ‘triggers the hearers’ memory of the words of God that certified Jesus as the very Son who had been enthroned at God's right hand (Heb 1:3-4)'.

48 So deSilva, Perseverance in Gratitude, 188–9.

49 Schenk, Kenneth L., ‘Keeping his Appointment: Creation and Enthronement in Hebrews’, JSNT 66 (1997) 91117Google Scholar, here 96.

50 I translate ἐκ θανάτου ‘out of death’ instead of ‘from death’ in order to avoid a misreading of the passage that would suggest that Jesus prayed that he would be able to avoid death. Such an interpretation would stand in serious contradiction to Heb 2.5-18.

51 So, David M. Moffitt, ‘“If Another Priest Arises”’, 71.

52 So also, Johnson, Hebrews, 146–7.

53 See Isaacs, Sacred Space, 153-4.

54 So Bauckham, ‘The Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews’, 31.

55 So Hamm, Dennis, ‘Faith in the Epistle to the Hebrews: The Jesus Factor’, CBQ 52 (1990) 270–91Google Scholar, here 286–7.

56 See Croy, N. Clayton, Endurance in Suffering: Hebrews 12:1-3 in Its Rhetorical Religious and Philosophical Context (SNTSMS 98; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1998) 177–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Koester, Hebrews, 523–4.

57 One of the problems for those who would wish to interpret ἀντί as ‘instead of’ is the fact that the author uses the language of joy in a positive sense (10.34; 13.7). It becomes problematic, therefore, to interpret the joy set before Jesus in 12.2 as a reference to the fleeting pleasures of sin (such as in 11.24-26).

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