13 October 2015

Hebrews 2:5-13

“... but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (v. 9)

Psalm: Psalm 107:17-32


Now, at the risk of sounding a bit nerdy, we need to understand that there are some problems here with the translation of the biblical text. Today's passage begins with a slightly paraphrased quote from Psalm 8, which in the original Hebrew refers to the special created status of all humanity - made "a little lower than God, and crowned with glory and honour". But the Greek translation of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint) uses words which can be taken to refer either to one individual man or to the whole of humanity. Which did the writer of today's passage (written in Greek) have in mind? Is this passage about the specialness of all humanity, which the human Jesus shares with us, or is it just about the specialness of the uniquely divine man, Jesus? The NRSV, for example, goes for the former, while the NIV goes for the latter. And the NIV is probably right, because the argument in these opening chapters of Hebrews (which may seem a little odd to us today) is all about Jesus being 'superior to the angels'. So it's Jesus who is special, not the rest of us. That's certainly not what Psalm 8 originally meant, but that's what the writer to the Hebrews wants it to mean.

However, although the writer doesn't regard humans as created special, he does believe we can become special. Through his suffering Jesus "saves" and "sanctifies" (v. 11) us and makes us his "brothers and sisters" (v. 12) as children of his Father. Jesus shares some of his specialness with us, thus making us special too. The passage ends with supporting quotes from Psalm 22:22 and Isaiah 8:18, which the writer claims were words of Jesus, although there is no evidence for that in the four Gospels. But don't let that spoil a good sermon!

To Ponder

  • Are all humans created special in God's sight, or do they only become special when they are 'saved'? Are we all 'God's children', or only Christians? Why does this question matter?
  • Many New Testament writers (and many Christians still today) regard the Old Testament as referring quite specifically to Jesus, even though that was clearly not the original meaning of the text. Is there a danger of being disrespectful to what have been the Jewish scriptures for far longer than they have been the Christian 'Old Testament'? And why does this question matter too?
  • Who do you think should decide what the biblical text means? Can it mean different things to different people at different times? What problems might arise as a result?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Rhymer

The Revd David Rhymer has done a number of things over the last 40-odd years - including teaching (science), publishing (theology), full-time ministry (Baptist and Methodist) and national Methodist Team work (training & development officer for Cornwall). More recently he has been responsible for a part-time theology degree course at Exeter University, and until 2017, was involved with teaching students preparing for ministry in the south-west.