3.28.2006

Express Image of His Person - Image of the Invisible God: A Study of Hebrews 1:2-3

“Hath in these last days spoken unto us by [his] Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of [his] glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (KJV Heb. 1:2-3).

This passage of Scripture has routinely become the subject of contention in apologetics and in witnessing to peoples of the trinitarian belief. Trinitarian theology, here, would say that the terms used here should tell us that Jesus Christ existed before His Incarnation as an eternal second person "with God" (See John 1:1 "with God" and pros for a treatment of this phrase) and that the Son was, as A.T. Robertson suggests, "...the Intermediate Agent in the work of creation "[1a].

The author of Hebrews is under debate and there are valid arguments on either side. Some have suggested that Luke, Barnabas, Clement of Rome and Paul as possible authors. For the sake of this paper I will leave this discussion for another day and simple use phrases such as, "the writer of Hebrews" or "the Hebrews writer" to refer to the author of this important work.

The Greek word for ‘express image’ here is charakter (khar-ak-tare); our English word, character, is derived from this word. However, charakter is found “only once in the NT. . . . This means that the NT use is entirely different from our modern concept of character which develops itself by a will that seeks to conform to principles.”[1] The BAGD says here that, “Christ is . . . an exact representation. . . . ”[2] Therefore, Christ as the "express image" of His person, the person of God, is another way of saying that Jesus represents God exactly. He is what God chose for man to see Him as.

Notice that the Hebrews writer says it was ‘by’ His Son that He made the worlds. This phrase usually encapsulates most of the controversy in this passage. The preposition ‘by’ in the Greek is dia (dee-ah), the first "by" being en; Dr. Spiros Zodhiates places dia in the genitive form. The genitive usually indicates the relationship between nouns and pronouns. Zodhiates defines dia, here, as “through which the effect proceeds, meaning through, by, by means of.”[4] The BAGD and Bullinger[5] also define dia as “by means of” and Friberg defines it as “spatial through, by way of.”[6]

Modern translations replace the second "by" with "through". Therefore, instead of reading "by whom also he made the worlds" we can read "through whom also he made the worlds". Some translations rendering dia as "through" here are ASV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, NET, NRSV.

This account in Hebrews 1:2 is reminiscent of Colossians 1:16, which says, “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.” In both passages the preposition dia is employed as the KJV ‘by.’ However, as mentioned earlier, ‘by’ in the first phrase (‘For by him were all things created’) of Colossians 1:16 is en (in). The BAGD prefaces all remarks on this preposition, en, by saying, “The uses of this preposition are so many-sided, and often so easily confused, that a strictly systematic treatment is impossible.”[7] Even though they recognize the complex nuances of narrowing context and meanings by the use of this Greek preposition, they continue to narrow the meaning as a ‘means’ as well.

Zodhiates, speaking of dia in the genitive sense, concedes this much concerning dia (dee-ah): “In this construction diá may also refer to the author or first cause, when the author does anything through himself instead of another, e.g., of God (Ro 11:36, ‘of [or out of] Him and through Him and unto Him all things’ [a.t.]; 1 Cor 1:9, ‘God, through whom you were called’ [a.t.]; Heb 2:10). Also of Christ (Jn 1:3 ‘All things were made by him’; Col 1:16, ‘all things through Him and unto Him have been created.’ ”[8]

This, of course, is congruent with David Bernard’s clear logic on Colossians and dia, when he says, “Because this word can mean ‘through,’ many people claim that Christ was the intermediate agent of creation or another divine person called the Father. The preposition does not require this interpretation, however. For example, Romans 11:36 and Hebrews 2:10 use the same word to describe creation by God, the Father.” Bernard clarifies further by offering this analogy, “ . . . the One who later became the Son created the world. For example, when we say, ‘President Lincoln was born in Kentucky,’ we do not mean he was president at the time of his birth. Rather, the one who later became president was born there.”[9]

"Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:" Colossians 1:15-16 KJV

James Moffat commenting on this passage says that Christ “not merely reflects God but in some real sense represents Him; the invisible God becomes manifest in Christ.” He translates the 1:16 passage as “He is the likeness of the unseen God . . . ”[10] The ‘image of the invisible’ (vs. 15) is Jesus Christ. ‘Image’ is translated from the Greek word—eikōn [ay-kone]. The BAGD offers two possible definitions: “image, likeness—lit. of the emperor’s head on a coin” and “form, appearance . . . a human figure.”[11] Friberg’s decription is “embodiment or living manifestation of God.”[12] Trinitarians assert that God is the trinity, or that He is comprised of the trinity. Therefore, if Jesus is the “embodiment living manifestation of God” then the three persons of the trinity are in Christ. In this sense, the trinity is indeed unnecessary to theology proper and is without biblical merit.

Man was made in the image of God. When God created Adam, He created him in the likeness in which the Christ child would later come; it was the visible apparatus that God chose before the foundations of the world. The form in which Christ the Son of God would come predicated how God created Adam, the first human existence. Adam was also made in the image of God in an inward or spiritual sense, thereby causing us to express attributes that God possesses such as love, wisdom, intellect, and will.

Such nuances are confirmed by Paul when he writes, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come” (KJV Rom. 5:14). The HCSB says, “He is a prototype of the Coming One” (Rom. 5:14). When one feels mercy or love, they are employing divine characteristics of the very nature of which God consists. These attributes are given by God to man.

The church in Colosse experienced assaults by the Gnostics, who denied Christ’s humanity and supported Him as a demiurge and not really the good god of their radical dualistic view of good and evil. Paul expressly refuted this by asserting that there is only one God and that Christ is a ‘mirror image’ of the true One God and not, in any way, inferior. He was, in fact, refuting any plurality as well because God’s reflection was One person and not three or more. The God of eternity allowed humanity to see Him through the image of Christ the anointed One. One cannot find the person of God revealed by the Father or by the Holy Spirit. ‘Father’ is meant to refer to a paternal relationship, and ‘Holy Spirit’ refers to the active Spirit of God at work today, Jesus is the visible express "image of His person".

Speaking of Johns Gospel, Marianne Meye Thompson makes this noteworthy statement: “While John asserts that Jesus speaks the words of God and does the work of God, the Gospel pushes further in claiming that Jesus so fully embodies the Word of God that to see him is to see the manifestation of God’s glory; to see the son is to ‘see’ the Father.” She goes on to say, “It is clear that the disciples of Jesus do not see God as he does, for whereas the Son sees the Father directly, others see the Father in and through the Son.”[3] This is a very important understanding. Jesus is God. God, in time, became a man. He added to His current existence as deity the nature of humanity. He became the God-man. Therefore, God who would become a a man created "all things".

Colossians could thus very easily be read as, "For in him were all things created". Jesus created the universe, but not as the Son, or that he even did it as Jesus. It means, as Bernard points out, that the one who later became the Son created the universe. Prior to the incarnation He existed throughout eternity as Yahweh himself. But because he was not the Son, yet, or even Jesus at that time does not mean that we cannot say, now in time, that the Son or Jesus created the worlds.

The aforementioned Hebrews and the Colossians passages are concerned with the Incarnation and the Creation; consequently, the Incarnation did not pre-exist the conception in Mary’s womb. Thus, God—the one who would later be called Jesus—created all things, not that Jesus as God became man or as a second person created all things. God by nature is Spirit (John 4:24). Therefore, man can neither see nor touch the Spirit of God, for a spirit is intangible. Jesus said, “a spirit hath not flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39). Yet, God chose, through the Incarnation, to give us the expression of Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ. If we were to approach the pre-existence with dogma or later ecclesiastical developments of the Godhead, then we would by necessity incorporate our assumptions into the texts. In other words, we would interpret the scripture through the filter of dogma or ecclesiastical development.



NOTES:

[1a] Robertson, A. (1997). Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol.V c1932, Vol.VI c1933 by Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. (Heb 1:2). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.
[1] Ges, J. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Ed. Colin Brown. Zondervan Ref. Software. © 1989-1999 The Zondervan Corp.
[2]Arndt, William, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature : A Translation and Adaption of the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition of Walter Bauer's Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch Zu Den Schrift En Des Neuen Testaments Und Der Ubrigen Urchristlichen Literatur. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996, c1979.
[3] Thompson, Marianne Meye – The God of the Gospel of John – Erdmann’s Pub. Copyright © 2001 pg. 104
[4] The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1994, 2002 AMG International, Inc.
[5] Bullinger, E.W. A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, published in 1999 by Kregel Publications
[6]Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Vol. 4, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker's Greek New Testament library. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000.
[7]Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1996, c1979). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : A translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer's Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (Pg. 258). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
[8] The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament Copyright © 2002 AMG International, Inc.
[9] Bernard, David, The of Colossians and Philemon, WAP pg. 46, 47
[10] Moffatt, James. The Moffatt New Testament Commentary, Harper & Brothers, New York and London,19-20.

[11]Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1996, c1979). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : A translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer's Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (Pg. 222). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
[12] Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Vol. 4, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker's Greek New Testament library. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000.

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