The verses within Hebrews 1:6-12 have proven to be an interesting point of contention between Christians and non-Trinitarians. For this reason, I believe we need to delve further into this selection of verses in order to truly understand why Christians believe these verses, while quoting the Old Testament, do indeed support Jesus Christ’s deity.
I would venture to say that most Christians believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, as 2 Timothy 3:16 states: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” Yes, the original context of this verses suggests the reference to Scripture is specific to the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). However, given the expansion of Sacred Scripture beyond the Old Testament, this means that even if a verse quoted from the Old Testament in the New Testament was originally used in a different context, the new context is equally valid and inspired by God. God does not make mistakes and would not have allowed the New Testament authors to make mistakes, either.
The Apostle Paul is the most likely author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, though some scholars have debated and belabored this point. Some of the earliest Church Fathers supported this view, such as Jerome and Ignatius of Antioch. Regardless of who wrote the letter, however, we are still left with the reality that the words found in Hebrews are inspired by God. Again, this means that in whatever context the author chose to use the verses from Psalm 45, the writings we see in our Bibles are inspired by God and are therefore inerrant.
Now, we all know there are many, many English translations of the Bible, which means that some are more accurate than others. For the purposes of my studies, I usually rely on the New American Standard Bible because of its literal, word-for-word accuracy. There are also certain verses that can be translated multiple ways, such as Psalm 45:6, which can be: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;” or possibly “Your throne is God forever and ever.” Richard D. Patterson of Grace Theological Seminary notes:
Virtually every conceivable means of translating the opening lines of v 7 has been tried: (1) Your throne is God forever, (2) Your throne of God is forever, (3) Your throne is like God’s, forever, (4) May your throne be divine forever, (5) God has enthroned you forever, (6) The eternal and everlasting God has enthroned you, etc. The translation of [the Hebrew] as a vocative (which nearly all expositors concede is the straightforward sense of the Hebrew) is fully defensible here.
Therefore, context is always important, as are the literal, figurative, and prophetic interpretations of such contentious verses.
The original context of the quote in Hebrews (Psalm 45)
Patterson recommends a “multiplex approach” for the “proper understanding” of Psalm 45. This approach utilizes a balance of literary analysis, historical analysis, grammatical and syntactical analysis, and theology. As such, one can see that Psalm 45 is a lyric poem intended for the celebration of some king in the Davidic line (possibly Solomon). This is, perhaps, the most literal of the interpretations in the original context of the Psalm (i.e., this Psalm was written for a royal wedding in the Davidic line).
However, delving further, we can also see that elements in Psalm 45 function as precursors and/or archetypes for the coming Messiah (Christ). Likewise, certain verses can be considered prophetic. As Patterson notes, Psalm 45:7 “was considered messianic by Jewish and early Christian interpreters alike.” Furthermore, Patterson aptly addresses the controversy over this verse by saying: “One need not become enmeshed in controversy over whether the words have direct/primary reference to Christ or to a Judean king. Based on the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7: 12-29; I Chron 17:7-27; and Psalm 89) which remains inviolable (cf. Jer 23:5-6; 33: 14-17; and Ezek 34:20-24; 37:21-28), the promise of God is irrevocable, whether applied to David, his royal descendants or to the greater descendant, Christ himself (cf. Luke 1:68-69 and Acts 13:32-37)”(emphasis mine).
What follows, then, is that the New Testament author’s use of this particular passage in reference to Jesus—and, specifically Jesus’ deity—is entirely valid. Jesus is described in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), as being of the Davidic line, in keeping with messianic prophecy. Thus, a reference to a king of the Davidic line as being similar to God, and/or God/god (depending on the translation of the verse in question), could be considered a messianic message; a prophetic acknowledgment of the Davidic King to come in the person of Christ Jesus.
In the New Testament, Hebrews 1:6-12 states:
And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says,
“And let all the angels of God worship Him.”
And of the angels He says,
“Who makes His angels winds,
And His ministers a flame of fire.”
But of the Son He says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.
“You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness above Your companions.”
“You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the works of Your hands;
They will perish, but You remain;
And they all will become old like a garment,
And like a mantle You will roll them up;
Like a garment they will also be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not come to an end.”
In the first section of this block quotation, quoting Psalm 45:6-7, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews references back to what can be described as a Christ archetype, again, possibly Solomon. As aforementioned, a king in the Davidic line would have functioned as a messianic precursor to Jesus, who has also been described as a necessary descendant of David. Thus, in the context of the New Testament, the author uses this quote to support not only Jesus as Messiah, but Jesus’ deity as well– a point which is very clearly something the New Testament authors knew and understood.
But, how do these passages in Hebrews 1:6-12 support Jesus’ deity?
In Hebrews 1:6, the description of angels worshiping Jesus makes clear the reality that Jesus is not an angel, nor is He simply a man. Angels, divine creatures, are subject to God and Jesus, the Son of God. If Jesus was an angel, even an archangel, why would Scripture describe the angels in submission to Him? The answer is, Jesus Himself is God, and therefore far superior to mere angels, who are creatures created by God and not born or begotten of God, as Jesus was (John 3:16; John 1:14; John 1:18; Hebrews 1:5, etc.).
In Hebrews 1:8-9, using a verse that was once referential to a king in the Davidic line, the implication of divinity becomes an explicit acknowledgment of Jesus’ deity. In the most likely translation of the verse in which the author of Hebrews quotes “Your throne, O God, is forever,” the author is literally referring to Jesus as God. The author has taken the figurative reference to a Davidic king in the Psalm and applied it to the Messianic King, God incarnate as Jesus Christ. The non-Trinitarian argument regarding verse 9 is rendered moot, as God the Father is still God to Jesus, the Word made Flesh on earth. The relationship between Father and Son is much more complex in light of the hypostatic union, a concept we will discuss further in a future post.
In Hebrews 1:10, we read that “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth…” Again, Jesus is the Lord in question, and the terminology is indelibly significant, as the author knew full well that the term had long been used to refer to YHWH God. Additionally, and referring back to a previous post, Jesus is said to have laid the foundation of the earth. This means He was present with God, who was said to be alone, in the beginning of time. How is this possible? Because Jesus and God are one and the same. We see a similar illustration of this fact in John 1:1-4:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
I say, in reference to this discussion, let all who understand these words proclaim the Truth: Jesus is Lord! To strip Jesus of His deity is to render His sacrifice on the cross as something other than perfect, for man alone could not have affected such an outcome. Only through Jesus can we be saved, because only through God can we be saved (see Isaiah 45:22-23 and Romans 10:9-13, for a poignant comparison).