Thursday, December 25, 2014

Hebrews 1:2 and Semantic Forces or "A Son?"

ἐπ' ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ, ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων, δι' οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας· (Hebrews 1:2, WH 1881)

Richard A. Young suggests that the anarthrous construction ἐν υἱῷ in Heb 1:2 focuses on “the nature rather than the personality of the Son.” Young thus concludes: “the character of the Son is contrasted with that of the prophets”(68). He then points to the anarthrous construction in Heb 5:8 as proof of this claim, where we are informed that although the man Jesus Christ was a Son of God, “he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” Young again notes that the focus in 5:8 is on “the character of the Son rather than his specific identity” (68).

Daniel Wallace basically echoes the sentiments of Young, averring that “a Son” is probably the most effective way to render Heb 1:2. Yet, in the final analysis, Wallace thinks that there is no satisfactory way to compactly and succinctly communicate the writer’s intent at 1:2; nevertheless, he does submit that the anarthrous construction in this passage “is clearly qualitative" but closer to the indefinite category on the continuum of definite, indefinite and qualitative semantic forces (Wallace, 245). Ultimately, Wallace argues that Heb 1:2 speaks of the Son in a way that greatly sets him apart from both angels and men. Should one read this much into the anarthrous construction at Heb 1:2 or 5:8, however?

As we analyze 1:2, it must be pointed out that the expression about Christ could be definite, indefinite, or qualitative: more than likely, it actually overlaps on the continuum of these three “forces” (definite, indefinite, and qualitative). While the phrase in Heb 5:8 could be either definite, indefinite or qualitative (or overlap between forces), an indefinite sense alone while possible does not seem likely in 1:2. ἐν υἱῷ could well be definite here (as suggested by Charles C. Ryrie); however, in view of the context and the manner in which the author employs the anarthrous construction when delineating the exalted position of the Son throughout the rest of the letter, a qualitative or indefinite reading (or mixture of semantic forces) is the most likely option for Heb 1:2. Although I tend to concur with Wallace and Young in viewing Heb 1:2 and 5:8 as qualitative, it seems that they both read too much into the anarthrous construction at 1:2.

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