Messianic jews, Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern

chapter 1
1. In days gone by, God spoke in many and varied ways to the Fathers through the prophets.
This letter and those of Ya'akov, Kefa, Yochanan and Y'hudah are known as the General Letters, since they are thought of as being written to the entire Messianic Community, rather than to Gentiles only (like the majority of Sha'ul's) or to individuals (like the four Pastorals). However, there is a stream of biblical scholarship which holds that of these eight letters, all but Yochanan's three were written to Messianic Jews. For the present letter the argument is overwhelming.

Its Greek title, found on several of the oldest manuscripts, "Pros Ebraious" ("To Hebrews"), is not part of the original document but must nevertheless be very early. Clearly it is meant to indicate that the book concerns itself with topics of interest to believers in Yeshua who are Jewish — the cahanui ("priesthood"), the sacrificial system, angels, Malki-Tzedek (Melchizedek), Avraham (Abraham), Moshe (Moses), the Israelites in the wilderness, the biblical covenants, the Tanakh's men of faith, the role of Torah in the New Covenant, and so on. More specifically, the author wrote to a particular community of Jewish believers whom he knew well and whose spiritual condition he monitored (5:11-12, 6:9-10, 10:32-34, 13:18-24). For these reasons and because in general my translation into modern English avoids archaisms and "churchy" language, I render the title as I do, "To a Group of Messianic Jews" (today one rarely hears Jews called "Hebrews"). For the following reasons I do not name its author.

Clement of Alexandria (around 200 C.E.) is quoted in Eusebius' History of the Church (324 C.E.) as stating "that the letter is Paul's and that it was written to Hebrews in the Hebrew language and translated [into Greek] by Luke." There is no other early evidence that Sha'ul wrote the letter or that it was originally written in Hebrew. Actually the Greek of Messianic Jews is the most elegant in the New Testament, and the most obvious use of this fact is to support the proposition that Greek is the language in which it was written. But it could mean only that the translator, whether Luke or another, had a good command of Greek. The fact that the diction differs from that of Romans and Corinthians could mean, not that Sha'ul didn't write this letter, but that he wrote it in Hebrew and the translator used his own polished style rather than Sha'ul's simpler one when rendering it into Greek.

Eusebius also quotes Origen (c. 280 C.E.), who was of the opinion that the ideas were Sha'ul's but not the authorship:
"...the thoughts are those of the emissary, but the language and composition that of one who recalled from memory and, as it were, made notes of what was said by his master."

The German Messianic Jew Dr. Joiachim Heinrich Biesenthal (1804-1886) wrote commentaries on the Gospels, Acts and Romans. In 1878 he published a commentary on this letter called Das Trostschreiben des Apostels Paulus an die Hebriier, in which he expressed the view that Sha'ul wrote it "in the dialect of the Mishna, the language of the schools," i.e., Hebrew. The Messianic Jewish commentator Yechiel Lichtenstein (see 3:13N) agreed, pointing out that Sha'ul's approach and subject matter in this letter differ from those in his other letters precisely because in those he wrote to Gentiles and in this to Jews; he was following his own advice in "becoming a Jew to the Jews" (1С 9:19-22&NN).

The majority of modem scholars believe Sha'ul did not write it. One reason is that in Rome, where the letter was known from an early date, Pauline authorship was rejected; additional reasons are well presented in other studies. I will mention only one piece of internal evidence, 2:3b, where the author writes, "This deliverance, which was first declared by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him." It is thought that Sha'ul could not have written these words, since he heard and saw Yeshua himself (Ac 9:3-6, 1С 15:8). But Sha'ul's advocates could answer that he was referring to the kind of "confirmation" he himself spoke of in Ga 2:1-2,6-10, or that "those who heard him" refers to his earthly lifetime, not post-resurrection appearances.

Authorship candidates for whom there is no conflict with 2:3b include Apollos, an educated, courageous Hellenistic Jew who was clearly a charismatic leader (Ac 18:24-19:1; 1С 1:12,3:4-5); Priscilla, who is mentioned in the New Testament before her husband Aquila four times out of six, notably in connection with teaching when "they took Apollos aside and explained to him the Way of God in greater detail" (Ac 18:26; also Ac 18:18, Ro 16:3, 2 Ti 4:19); Clement and Luke. Some believe the letter was written in the 60's, shortly before the destruction of the Temple (if Sha'ul wrote it, it could not have been any later). Others date it anywhere from 70 to 100 C.E. The letter's references to the cultus allude not to the Temple but the earlier Tent of Meeting or Tabernacle. If the readers came from an Essene, Qumran or similar group who regarded the Temple establishment (the Sadducees and Pharisees) as corrupt and therefore centered their thoughts on the Tent of Meeting rather than the Temple, the author might have done this to take their sensitivities into account. But he might have done it because the Temple no longer existed. On the other hand, he writes of the Le vitical vahanut as if it were still functioning (9:6-9), which it ceased to do in 70 C.E.

In days gone by, when the Tanakh was being written, God spoke: "Thus saith the Lord!" Some people claim to believe in God but not that he "spoke." A moment's reflection will cast a shadow on the viability of this position. If God did not "speak," if he has not revealed anything specific, if there are none of his words extant which can guide a person toward true knowledge about God, humanity and the relationship between them, then God is unconnected with life, irrelevant. Many secular people, agnostics and atheists seem willing to accept the hopelessness and meaninglessness of such a conclusion. I think they are wrong but closer to facing reality than those who believe in a God who has not spoken.

God spoke in many and varied ways, directly and indirectly, in dreams and stories, history and prophecy, poems and proverbs, to the Fathers of the Jewish people through the prophets from Moses to Malachi, and, before Moses, to Avraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. 

2. But now, in the acharit-hayamim, he has spoken to us through his Son, to whom he has given ownership of everything and through whom he created the universe.
3. This Son is the radiance of the Sh’khinah, the very expression of God’s essence, upholding all that exists by his powerful word; and after he had, through himself, made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of (Psalm 110:1) HaG’dulah BaM’romim.
According to Jewish tradition Malachi was the last of the Tanakh prophets. For the next four centuries, to use the remark of an earlier prophet, 'The word of Adonui was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision" (1 Samuel 3:1). But in the acharit-hayamim, the Tanakh's "latter days," which the New Testament regards as already here (1С 10:11&N), he has spoken again, not to Fathers long dead (v. 1), but to us in the 1st century C.E. (see 2:3N), through his Son (literally, "a son").

By implication, his Son is better than "the Prophets" (v. 1). A major purpose of the author is to show that Yeshua and everything connected with him are better than what was available previously. He uses this word, "better," twelve times in Messianic Jews to compare the Messiah and his era with what there was before. It appears first in v. 4, and last at 12:24, as the author summarizes this comparison of old and new (12:18-24).

There follow in vv. 2-3 seven features of God's Son which demonstrate his superiority:
(1) God has given him ownership of everything (compare Co 1:15b). Literally, God "has made him heir of all things." "Ask of me, and I will give you nations as an inheritance and the ends of the earth as your possession" (Psalms 2:8); compare Ml 4:8-9,21:38; Ac 1:8. On the application of Psalm 2 to the Messiah, see v. 5aN below.

(2) God created the universe through him, as taught also at Yn 1:3, Co 1:16. That the universe was created through an intermediary — the Word (Yn 1:1-3), the Sh 'khinah (see below). Wisdom, the Torah — is not an idea alien to Judaism, as shown by this quotation from Rabbi Akiva in the Mishna:

"He used to say, '...God loves Israel, because he gave them a precious instrument [Hebrew kli, "instrument, vessel"]. But he enhanced that love by letting them know that the precious instrument they had been given was the very one through which the universe was created — as it is said, "For I give you good doctrine; do not forsake my Torah" (Proverbs 4:2).'" (Avot3:14)

(3) This Son is the radiance of, literally, "the glory," best rendered Jewishly as the Sh'khinah. which the Encyclopedia Judaica article on it (Volume 14, pp. 1349-1351) defines as

"the Divine Presence, the numinous immanence of God in the world,... a revelation of the holy in the midst of the profane...."

The article continues:
"One of the more prominent images associated with the Shekhinah is that of light. Thus on the verse, '...the earth did shine with His glory' (Ezekiel 43:2), the rabbis remark, 'This is the face of the Shekhinah' {Avot diRabbi Natan [ 18b-19a]; see also Chullin 59b-60a). Both the angels in heaven and the righteous in olam ha-ba ('the world to come') are sustained by the radiance of the Shekhimh (Exodus Rabbah 32:4, B'rakhot 17a; cf. Exodus 34:29-35)...

"According to Saadiah Gaon [882-942 C.E.], the Shekhinah is identical with kevod ha-Shem ('the glory of God'), which served as an intermediary between God and man during the prophetic experience. He suggests that the 'glory of God' is the biblical term, and Shekhinah the talmudic term for the created splendor of light which acts as an intermediary between God and man, and which sometimes takes on human form. Thus when Moses asked to see the glory of God, he was shown the Shekhinah, and when the prophets in their visions saw God in human likeness, what they actually saw was not God Himself but the Shekhinah (see Saadiah's interpretation of Ezekiel 1:26, 1 Kings 22:19, and Daniel 7:9 in Book of Beliefs and Opinions 2:10)."

The point of these citations is not to suggest that Yeshua is a "created splendor of light," but to convey some of the associations of the expression, "the brightness of the glory" or the radiance of the Sh'khinah. See also 2C 3:6-13&N, Rv 21:23. On the etymology of "SA'khinah" see Rv 7:15&N.

(4) The Greek word "character" ("very expression"), used only here in the New Testament, delineates even more clearly than "eikon' ("image," 2C 4:4, Co 1:15a) that God's essence is manifested in the Messiah (Yn 14:9). Compare Numbers 12:8: Moses, unlike Miriam and Aaron, saw the / 'munah ("likeness, representation"; in modern Hebrew, "picture") oiAdonai.

Raphael Patai brings the following extraordinary paragraph from the works of the Alexandrian Jew Philo (20 B.C.E - 50 C.E.), noting that he "does not mention the Messiah by this name, but speaks of the 'Shoot' (rather infelicitously rendered in the Loeb Classical Library edition as the 'rising'),... who — remarkable words in the mouth of a Jewish thinker — 'differs not a whit from the divine image,' and is the Divine Father's 'eldest son'...." My own comments and references are in brackets.

"I have heard also an oracle from the lips of one of the disciples of Moses which runs thus: 'Behold a man whose name is the rising' [more accurately, "shoot, sprout," Isaiah 11:1, Zechariah 6:12], strangest of titles, surely, if you suppose that a being composed of soul and body is here described. But if you suppose that it is that Incorporeal One [Yn 1:1, Pp 2:6], who differs not a whit from the divine image [the present verse; Co 1:15, 17], you will agree that the name 'rising' assigned to him quite truly describes him. For that man is the eldest son [Mk 6:3], whom the Father of all raised up [Ac 2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; Ro 8:11, 34], and elsewhere calls him his firstborn [Mt 1:25; Lk 2:7; Ro 8:29; Co 1:15,18], and indeed the Son [Mt 2:15] thus begotten [Yn 3:16] followed the ways of his Father [Yn 5:17-26,36], and shaped the different kinds [Yn 1:3, Co 1:16-17], looking to the archetypal patterns which that Father supplied [MJ 8:1-5]." (Philo, De Confusione Linguarum 4:45, as cited in Rafael Patai, The Messiah Texts, pp. 171-172)

(5) Yeshua not only is the Word (Yn 1:1), but he has (says) a powerful word which "holds everything together" (Co 1:17&N), which upholds (or: "bears up under." "suffers") all that exists.

(6) The writer turns from the Messiah's cosmic functions to his functions in relation to humanity: through himself, he made purification for sins, which, as explained a little at a time throughout the rest of the book, no one else and nothing else could do.

(7) Finally, after that, he sat down at the right hand of God. Psalm 110:1 is quoted frequently in this book and elsewhere in the New Testament; see v. 13N and Mt 22:44&N. In the Hebrew of Psalm 110:1, as quoted in part at v. 13, it is God speaking: "YHVH said to my Lord, 'Sit at my right hand.'" "The right hand of God" is not a place but refers to the Messiah's exalted status and to his intimate involvement with God as cohen gadot interceding for those who trust in him (7:25-26).

God is referred to by a euphemism, "HaG'dulah BaM'romim" ("the Greatness in the heights"; KJV, "the majesty on high"). Long before Yeshua's time it became customary in Judaism not to use the personal name of God, YHVH, and the practice remains to this day. The phrase used here draws on 1 Chronicles 29:11, "For thine, YHVH, is the greatness (HaG'dulah) and the power (HaG'vurah) and the glory (HaTif'eret)" also echoed in a similar phrase at Mk 14:62 and in the Lord's Prayer (Mt 6:13&N). Moreover, in Greek both "YHVH" and "lord" would normally be rendered by the word "kurios" (see Mt l:20N); by using a more elaborate expression than "kurios" the author signals clearly that he is speaking of YHVH and not an earthly lord. When he quotes Psalm 110:1 again at 8:1, he shortens the expression to "HaG'dulah." At 12:2 he uses a circumlocution, "the throne of God," and at 10:12, simply "God." 

4. So he has become much better than angels, and the name God has given him is superior to theirs.
5. For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father"? (Psalm 2:7) Also, God never said of any angel, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son" (2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:13).
So, it is evident, since he is at God's right hand, that he has become much better than angels — even though "he was made, for a little while, lower than the angels" (2:9). Although today some non-Messianic Jews, reacting against Christianity, insist that Judaism has never expected the Messiah to be different from any other man, there can be no question that in the first century many Jews, both those attracted to Yeshua and those repelled by him, understood that the Messiah would be more than human. But how much more? As much as angels? Which angels? — Jewish angelology had become very complex during the six centuries before Yeshua; where among the angelic orders did the Messiah fit? The decisive answer given here is: nowhere. He is above them all — as the verses from the Tanakh cited in the rest of the chapter are intended to prove.

In one midrash the rabbis portray righteous people as better than angels (Genesis Rabbah 78:1), and this picture fits Yeshua well because "he did not sin" (4:15). But in another midrash the Messiah himself is so described — and, incidentally, it is also an instance of a Jewish application of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 to the Messiah:

"'Behold, my servant shall (deal wisely) prosper.' This is King Messiah. 'He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.' He shall be exalted beyond Avraham, and extolled beyond Moses, and raised high above the ministering angels." (Yalkul Shim'oni 2:53:3, on Isaiah 52:13; quoted in B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 16)

Yalkut Shim'oni itself is a collection of some 10,000 stories and comments from the Talmud and midrashim, arranged in biblical order in the 13th century by Rabbi Shim'on HaDarshan (Simon the Expositor, or Simon the Preacher).
Better. See paragraph (2) of vv. 2-3N.

The name God has given him which is superior to that of angels could mean his reputation but more likely signifies an actual name. Here, by context, it is "Son"; at Pp 2:9 "the name above every name" is "Adonai" (see Pp 2:9N).

A more literal translation of this verse would be, "He has become as much better than angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs." In two other places (7:22, 8:6) the author makes a similar comparison — A is as much greater than В as С is greater than D, or, expressed algebraically, A - В = С - D. In all three places my rendering attempts to give the meaning without the mathematics.

You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Wasn't God always Yeshua's Father? Why did he have to "become" his Father? See 5:5&N. Ac 13:33-34&N. In Judaism Psalm 2, quoted here, has been variously held to refer to Aaron. David, the people of Israel in Messianic times, Mashiach Ben-David and Mashiach Ben- Yosef. But the oldest reference, Psalms of Solomon 17:21-27, from the middle of the 1st century B.C.E., applies it to Mashiach Ben-David, as does the Talmud at Sukkah 52a.

The angels, collectively, are called "sons of God" at Job 1:6,2:1,38:7 and probably at Genesis 6:2; but to no angel did God say, "You are my son," as he did to Yeshua at his immersion (Mk 1:11, Lk 3:22); compare 5:5 and Ac 13:33, where the same verse is quoted. Other parts of Psalm 2 are applied to Yeshua at Ac 4:25; Rv 12:15, 19:15; and see above, numbered paragraph (1) in vv. 2-3N. 

6. And again, when God brings his Firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God’s angels worship him" (Psalm 97:7).
I will be his Father and he will be my Son. Nathan prophesied to King David about his son Solomon and his descendants (2 Samuel 7:4-17). The rabbis applied it midrashically to the people of Israel, but the New Testament's application of it to the Messiah is a chiddush ("innovation") meant to show not only that Yeshua, as God's Son, is better than angels, but also that the entire prophecy, including the promise that the House of David will rule forever, is fulfilled in Yeshua, "descended from David physically" (Ro 1:3, Mt 1:1&N, Lk 3:23-38&N), but "Son of God spiritually" (Ro 1:4, Lk 1:35).

Moreover, this quotation, because it speaks of God's Son, and the next one, because it is introduced as referring to God's Firstborn, both strengthen the identification, often made in the New Testament, between Yeshua the Messiah and the people of Israel (see Mt 2:15N). There is a parallel between God's promise concerning the Messiah in v. 5b and his promise concerning Israel, "I will be their God, and they will be my people," quoted below (8:10) from Jeremiah 31:32(33), but originally made, in slightly different words, to Moses (Exodus 7:7). Earlier (Exodus 4:22) God had called Israel his son and also his firstborn. Furthermore, the New Testament is not innovating when it applies these concepts to the Messiah; the same is done in Psalm 89 (which recapitulates much of what is said in 2 Samuel 7):

"He will call unto me, 'You are my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.'
"I will also appoint him firstborn,
the highest of the kings of the earth." (Psalm 89:27-28)

When God brings his Firstborn into the world, that is, into the Warn lurch, this is preparation for bringing him also into the heavenly world to come, the 'olam haba. This is the thrust of Chapters 1-2, where Yeshua's life on earth (the 'olam hazeh) is in focus. But these lead us, through the Messiah's death, to Chapter 7, where he is seen as our cohen gadol in heaven (the 'olam haba).

6b The Hebrew text of Psalm 97:7 says, "Worship him, all gods (elohim)" Since Judaism allows that elohim sometimes means "angels," the Septuagint's rendering, "Let all God's angels worship him," is not surprising. What is surprising is that whereas in the original, the object of worship is Adonai, here it is the Son. This is another of the New Testament's indirect ways of identifying Yeshua with God (see Co 2:9N). Verse 4b parallels Pp 2:9; this parallels Pp 2:10-11. Needless to say, if angels worship the Son, the Son is "better than angels." 

7. Indeed, when speaking of angels, he says, "......who makes his angels winds and his servants fiery flames" (Psalm 104:4).
Who makes his angels winds and his servants fiery flames. This is the baseline against which is measured the portrait of the Son in this chapter's remaining three citations from the Tanakh.

Greek pneumata, equivalent to Hebrew ruchot, is rendered "spirits" in v. 14 but "winds" here because the sense of Psalm 104:4 in Hebrew is usually given as, "...who makes winds his messengers and fiery flames his servants." However, Hebrew grammar allows the possibility of reversing subject and predicate, and Judaism takes cognizance of it. A first-century pseudepigraphic work states:

"O Lord... before whom (heaven's) hosts stand trembling, and at your word change to wind and fire...." (4 Ezra 8:20-21)

The angel of Judges 13 is described as having said to Manoah, Samson's father,
"God changes us hour by hour;...
sometimes he makes us fire, and sometimes wind."
(Yalkut Shirn'oni 2:11:3) 

8. but to the Son, he says, "Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; you rule your Kingdom with a scepter of equity;
9. you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you with the oil of joy in preference to your companions" (Psalm 45:7–8(6–7)).
Psalm 45 is a wedding poem for David, Solomon or some other Israelite king. A Jewish commentator writes:
'This Psalm came to be understood as referring to King Messiah (so the Targum), and his marriage as an allusion to his redemption of Israel" (A. Cohen's note to Psalm 45 in the Soncino Hebrew-and-English edition of the Hebrew Bible, Psalms, p. 140).

Your throne, О God. Cohen suggests instead, "Thy throne, given of God," and comments:
'The Hebrew is difficult. A. V. and R. V., 'Thy throne, О God,' appears to be the obvious translation but does not suit the context." Clearly the reason he thinks it "does not suit the context" is that even though he refers Psalm 45 to the Messiah, he is unwilling to allow that the psalmist may be prophesying the Messiah's divine character.

You rule your Kingdom with a scepter of equity; you have loved righteousness. The same idea is found in two psalms mentioned already: "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne" (Psalms 89:15, 97:2), as well as in the Messianic passage, Isaiah 9:5-6(6-7): "to establish [the government on the Messiah's shoulder] with justice and righteousness, from henceforth for ever" (see Lk 1:79N).

The Messiah's companions (or: "partakers") are not angels (that would contradict the whole purpose of the quotation) but human beings who have put their trust in him (see 2:10-11, 3:14; Ro 8:17, 29). Alternatively, his companions are all human beings and not just the believers (see 2:14-17). Therefore, О God, your God has anointed you — which suggests Yeshua's divinity. Or: "Therefore God, your God, has anointed you." The grammar makes either rendering a possibility. 

10. and, "n the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth; heaven is the work of your hands.
11. They will vanish, but you will remain; like clothing, they will all grow old;
12. and you will fold them up like a coat. Yes, they will be changed like clothing, but you remain the same, your years will never end" (Psalm 102:26–28(25–27)).
In the Septuagint version, quoted here, these verses of Psalm 102 are spoken by God to someone whom he addresses as "Lord," possibly even meaning "YHVH" (Mt 1:20&N). In the Hebrew Bible as we have it now they are part of a human prayer to God, and no one is addressed directly. 

13. Moreover, to which of the angels has he ever said, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"? (Psalm 110:1)
Psalm 110:1 commences with, "Adonai said to my Lord,..." The most telling proof that the Son is better than angels is saved for last. This psalm is referred to also at v. 3; 5:6; 6:20;7:17,21;8:l;10:13andl2:2.See numbered paragraph (7) of vv.2-3N and Mt 22:44N. 

14. Aren’t they all merely spirits who serve, sent out to help those whom God will deliver?
In conclusion, they, the angels, are all merely spirits (see v. 7NJ who serve, as opposed to the Son who rules. However, they serve not only him (Mt 4:11,26:53; Yn 1:51), but his "companions" (v. 9) too, those whom God wUl deliver.

For to which of the angels did God ever say...? The writer obviously assumes that angels really exist (see discussion of diis question in 13:2N) and proceeds to prove the proposition of v. 4, that the Messiah, as God's Son, is "much better than angels." by quoting seven texts from the Tanakh, each of which has its own richness of meaning (see notes on the individual passages below). He sums up with the conclusion, in v. 14, that angels are "merely spirits who serve, sent out to help those whom God will deliver," that is, believers in Yeshua. 

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