Hebrews – ‘Wrestling with Angels’

‘A more excellent name than angels’

Have you ever considered why the writer to the Hebrews seems to pay little attention to the communication of the prophets, Heb. 1. 1, yet, by contrast, dedicates a considerable amount of space to comparing angels with the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, Heb. 1. 5 - 2. 9? Apart from the numerous appearances of angels in the Old Testament,1 why, in fact, were angels so important to Judaism in general and specifically to these first-century Jewish Christians?

There are at least two reasons:

  1. Angels were described in the Old Testament as ‘sons of God’, Job. 1. 6; 38. 72 but Christ’s sonship is of a different kind to theirs and far superior. This argument is made by the writer in chapter 1 verse 4 by asserting that not only did the Son become greater than the angels by being more important or superior in authority to them, but God also caused Him to inherit a name that was greater than theirs.3 This sense of inheritance has already been touched upon earlier in the chapter as the writer states that the Son will ultimately come to possess all things that rightly belong to Him, Heb. 1. 2. The inheritance given to Christ by His Father is that of a name, ‘Son’, v. 4, and the use of the perfect tense here confirms that it is a permanent possession.4 It is also important to appreciate that as God has created all things through His Son, Ps. 33. 6; Prov. 8. 30, this must include angels, hence their inferiority to the Son of God.
  2. The association of angels with the giving of the law at Sinai was so important to Judaism. In fact, angels so affected Jewish consciousness that they could not think of the law without the disposition of angels. The crucial text for them was Deuteronomy chapter 33 verse 2 LXX, ‘on his right hand were His angels with Him’, thus highlighting their involvement in the giving of the law at Sinai, cp. Ps. 68. 17. In Stephen’s defence before the Jewish authorities, he refers to the angel who spoke to Moses, and the inference is that the law was being transferred to Moses from God through angelic facilitation, Acts 7. 38.5Paul also makes this point in Galatians chapter 3 verse 19, when he states that the law ‘was ordained by [or through] angels in the hand of a mediator’. The Greek word for ‘ordained’, diatageis, refers to the way in which the law was brought in, cp. Matthew chapter 11 verse 1 where the same word is used of the appointment of the twelve disciples, and in Acts chapter 18 verse 2 explaining why Aquilla and Priscilla were in Corinth, i.e., because of the decree of Claudius expelling Jews from Rome. So, God determined that the law should be conveyed by angels to Moses, but our writer will subsequently show that Christ’s superiority to the angels made Him far greater than the law mediated by them, Heb. 2. 2, 3.
Hebrews Old Testament Text Context Division Argument
1. 5 Ps. 2. 7
2 Sam. 7. 14}
1 Chr. 17. 13}
The enthronement of the Son of God Writings
God has never acknowledged an angel as His Son, nor enthroned one, but He has acknowledged and enthroned His unique Son. The background to the psalm is the quotation taken from 2 Samuel chapter 7 verse 14 and the parallel text, 1 Chr. 17. 13. Both these texts refer to the anointing of David as king over Israel and the establishment of the Davidic dynasty. But these texts look beyond David to David’s greater Son who, following His suffering and death and resurrection, has been exalted and enthroned at God’s right hand, the true Messiah -the Lord’s Anointed, waiting for the day when His enemies will be made the footstool of His feet, Ps. 110. 1. If the Son is addressed in this way, then He must be superior to angels.
1. 6, 7 Deut. 32. 43 LXX
Ps. 97. 7 LXX
Ps. 104. 4
The worship of the Son of God by angels as He is introduced to the inhabited universe Law
The enthronement of the Son, not angels, means that He has rule over all the universe. Angels are not only therefore subject to Him but carry out His will as they serve Him.
1. 8-12 Ps. 45. 6, 7
Ps. 102. 25-27
The eternal nature of the Son’s reign and His relationship to the universe Writings
By the very fact that the Son is eternal and has been exalted above angelic beings, He is the righteous, anointed king of the universe who will reign eternally. He brought the heavens and the earth into existence. Not only does He sustain them but one day He will fold up the material universe like clothing that is worn out, but the Son will remain eternally.
1. 13, 14 Ps. 110. 1
Ps. 104. 4(?)
The contrast between the Son’s enthronement and the service of angels Writings
God has never invited an angelic being to sit at His right hand, but He has installed His Son in that place of power and acknowledged Him to be Lord. Angels, however, have a subordinate role to the Son and have been divinely appointed to serve those who have become recipients of the Son’s saving work on their behalf.

The writer uses verse 4 of chapter 1 as a sort of hinge to connect the statements he has made in the earlier verses to develop his argument that the Son has greater authority than angels, 1. 5 - 2. 9. He does this by using a chain of texts,6taken from the three divisions of the Old Testament (Law, Prophets, and Writings) but mainly from the leading book in the Writings, viz., the Book of Psalms.7 The table (see left) brings together the wide range of texts that are quoted by the writer and shows how these are designed to prove his argument in chapter 1 verse 5 onwards as to why the Son is superior to angels.

George H. Guthrie suggests that ‘the difference between the allusion to Psalm 110. 1 found in Hebrews 1. 3 and the direct quote of this text at 1. 13 is that the quotation here (1. 13 -my insertion) includes the duration of the “sitting”: “until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”. The recitation of Psalm 110. 1 here, moreover, anticipates the author’s use of Psalm 8. 4-6 in Hebrews 2. 5-9, which also speaks of the subjection of all things under the feet of the Messiah’.8

The argument moves seamlessly into chapter 2 where the writer refers to the first of several warnings, which he includes at various critical points in his letter. In verses 1 to 4, he now makes a comparison between the Mosaic law communicated by angels and the message of saving faith communicated through the Son of God. If every infraction under the Mosaic law, which had been communicated by those who were inferior to the Son of God, received due punishment, how much greater will the punishment be for anyone who rejected or abandoned the Christian faith, which God has conveyed to the habitable world in the person of His own Son?

The writer concludes his argument in verses 5 to 9 where he shows that although angels had a lofty position before God, the world to come is not to be subject to them, but to man, as originally intended by God, Gen. 1. 26-28.9 Man was given dominion over the whole creation of God, Ps. 8. 6-8, but, because of the fall, man’s sovereignty was diminished, Heb. 2. 8. It therefore needed the Son of God to be made lower than the angels, Ps. 8. 5, through incarnation. In this state of humanity, He suffered and died for the sons of men and made restoration for all that was lost by the first man, including man’s sovereignty over the earth. By tasting death for all men, not angels, Heb. 2. 9, 16, God has now highly exalted His Son and given him glory and honour far above all principalities and powers, as well as angelic beings.

Therefore, no angelic being can be compared with the Son of God who is ‘over all, God blessed for ever. Amen’, Rom. 9. 5.



E.g., Gen. 16. 7; 19. 1; 32. 1; Judg. 2. 1; 6. 12; 13. 3; 1 Chr. 21. 16; Dan. 3. 28.


‘In most of the places LXX calls the “sons of God” angels’ (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New London Commentary on the New Testament, Murray, fn. 55, pg. 11).


It is important to appreciate in this context that Christ’s sonship ‘rests upon prior eternal sonship … what the Son was in himself before all time is now contrasted with what he has become (aorist genomenos) after his atoning work - seated at the right hand of God exalted above angels’. (David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary, Broadman and Holman, 2006, pg. 131).


The text could be translated, ‘The name that God said belonged to him’. ‘By introducing an expression such as “belonged to him,” one can do justice to the underlying meaning of the Greek, in which “inheritance” involves the concept of “coming into one’s rightful possession.”’ (Paul Ellingworth and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on the Letter to the Hebrews, American Bible Society, 1996, pg. 13).


In commenting on Acts chapter 7 verse 38, F. F. Bruce refers to a quotation from the Book of Jubilees, chapter 2 verse I, ‘an angel talked with Moses’ (The Acts of the Apostles (The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary), pg. 172). Josephus also suggests that the law was mediated through angels (or ambassadors) (The Antiquities of the Jews 15. 5.(136)) and Philo (Dreams 1. 140-44) also refers to angels in the same context.


This is known in Judaism as stringing pearls together like beads, and is based upon the Song of Solomon chapter 1 verse 10. The word for ‘pearls’, or ‘beads’, in that verse is charuzim, which is from the same root as ‘rhyming’, chorez. In the Patristic writings, these are known as a catena of texts and were used as a commentary on passages of scripture, which is precisely the intention of this New Testament writer to the Hebrews.


The writer quotes more times from the book of Psalms in his letter than any other part of the Old Testament.


George H. Guthrie, Hebrews, The NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, 1998, pg. 71.


Jews held the belief that God had placed angels over the nations of the earth in accordance with Deuteronomy chapter 32 verse 8. In commenting on this verse, Jeffrey H. Tigay states, ‘When God organized the government of the world, He established two tiers: at the top, He Himself, “God of gods (‘elohei ha-‘elohim) and Lord of lords” (10. 17), who reserved Israel for Himself, to govern personally; below Him, seventy angels “divine beings” (benei ‘elohim) to whom He allotted the other peoples’. (Deuteronomy, The JPS Torah Commentary, The Jewish Publication Society, 2003, pg. 303).


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