The Angels, Sonship And Birthright In The Letter To The Hebrews -- By: J. Daryl Charles

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 33:2 (Jun 1990)
Article: The Angels, Sonship And Birthright In The Letter To The Hebrews
Author: J. Daryl Charles

The Angels, Sonship And Birthright In The Letter To The Hebrews

J. Daryl Charles*

The reader of the letter to the Hebrews is struck by the abrupt fashion with which the writer opens. Immediately he is off and running, describing the import of the Son’s manifestation. The reader is further struck by the almost immediate introduction of angels. In the first two chapters hoi angeloi appears ten times.1 Apart from 12:22 and 13:2, angels in Hebrews are presented almost uniformly in juxtaposition to Jesus. Although contrast constitutes a crucial tool of argumentation in much of the book2 Jesus is compared in chap. 3 to Moses, in chap. 5 to the high priest, in chaps. 5–7 to Melchizedek, in chaps. 8–9 to the priesthood—the comparison of Jesus to the angels is protracted. Such absorption speaks significantly to the occasion of the letter.

Why does the writer find such an extensive need for demonstrating that Jesus is superior (kreissōn and diaphoros, v. 4) to the angels? One is left with the impression that the audience was suffering from a deficient Christology, whether due to insufficient appreciation of Jesus’ glorification or to a conscious and unusually exalted view of angelic powers themselves. If the readers’ conception of angels precipitated a lower view of Jesus’ person and ministry, he would end up being lost in the maze of innumerable cosmic principalities and powers.3 There were no doubt many converts to the Christian faith in the first century who brought with them, or were influenced by, particular strains of sectarian Judaism. Not insignificantly, one such feature that proliferated in late intertesta-mental apocalyptic and extended into the Christian era was speculation with regard to the identity and role of angels.4

* J. Daryl Charles is a doctoral candidate at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

I. Angelology Of Sectarian Judaism

1. Apocalyptic angelology. Described as the “staple” of the Qumran Essenes,5 1 Enoch serves as a highly elaborate paradigm for the development of intertestamental angelology. The chief angels in heaven’s multit...

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