God speaks through the teaching as well as the being of Jesus, but the latter is defined in part through the speeches of the Father and the Spirit. The God of Hebrews is the God who speaks (der sprechende Gott).Footnote 1 Moreover, the God who speaks in Hebrews is a God identified as three distinct speakers: Father, Son, and Spirit.Footnote 2 Each one speaks words attested in scripture in a new context, and each one offers a distinct contribution to the argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews. This book will provide an overview of the contribution of these speeches to the argument of Hebrews as a whole and the characterization of these divine speakers who occupy a place of primacy in the epistle.
In the pages that follow I will demonstrate that the author of Hebrews uses divine discourse – the speech of God – in Hebrews to develop his characterization of God and by extension his broader argument. Each chapter in this book will highlight the distinct speech of one character and show how the author of Hebrews constructs the speech of that divine participant in a relatively consistent way. In other words, grouping the speeches by speaker, rather than chronologically, highlights the patterns within the author’s use of this feature. The speakers each play an individual role in the author’s encouragement of his community, and they each have a clear conversation partner within Hebrews. The Father and Son speak primarily to one another. The Spirit speaks to the community.
Chapters 2, 3, and 4 discuss the major speeches by each speaking character within Hebrews 1:1–10:18. There I explore the text form of the quotation in view in Hebrews and its relevant manuscript tradition in Greek versions of scripture. Then, I locate the quotations within their context in Hebrews, aiming to alleviate any disjunction caused by a more thematically structured inquiry. My decision to focus on the first two major sections of Hebrews, in accordance with the tripartite model often attributed to Wolfgang Nauck,Footnote 3 is due to the relative consistency within those two sections that is not found within the final third of Hebrews. In the first section, the Father speaks (1:5–13); then the Son (2:12–13); then the Spirit (3:7–4:11). The speeches conclude with a significant exhortation on the powerful word of God and the high priest Jesus (4:11–16). In the second section, the cycle of the Father (5:5–6; 7:17, 21; 8:7–12), Son (10:5–7), and Spirit (10:16–17) speaking repeats.Footnote 4 This section also concludes with a major hortatory turn (10:19–25). The consistency in order and content will be highlighted with each speech. After all, one of the distinct aims of this book is to show that the author has not merely peppered his epistle with divine discourse: these speeches are crucial to his argumentation.
As with a number of themes,Footnote 5 after the major turn in the discourse in 10:19–25, the author’s use of divine discourse becomes more fluid, and the patterns established in the prior sections appear no more. I will discuss this development in the letter in the final chapter of this book. Let us proceed now to a discussion of the methodology and terminology through which the structure and flow of the project will become clear.
1.1 Terminology and Methodology
The author of Hebrews is a reader of scripture who stands within a rich line of readers. This book will situate Hebrews in relationship to contemporaneous literature in two ways: (1) the method through which Hebrews presents scripture as divine discourse and (2) the implications of that method for later developments in Christian theology. This section serves as an introduction to the program that follows and reveals some of my underlying presuppositions about the author’s theology and worldview. I will, first, outline what I take to be the author’s primary reading strategy and trace its progression from classical Greco-Roman education to early Christian literature. Second, I will discuss the potential objection that my construal of Hebrews as a text with three speakers who correspond to the three divine persons in later theology is influenced by an orthodox theological bias. Third, I will discuss the language of “intra-divine” and “extra-divine” discourse as it relates to the chapter titles in my book.
1.1.1 Hebrews’ Reading Strategy for Divine Discourse
Our typical medium of intentional communication is speech. While our actions and demeanor provide additional knowledge about our character, often what we say is what we choose to reveal to the outside world. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Father, Son, and Spirit speak to one another and to the contemporary audience, revealing themselves to any so privileged to overhear or be addressed. With this portrayal, the author of Hebrews allows them to speak for themselves. It is, after all, one thing for the author to say, “Jesus is God and Lord,” but it is another entirely for God the Father to say to Jesus, “You are from the beginning, O Lord” (1:10), and “Your throne, O God, is forever” (1:8). Similarly, although the author appears to have authority within the congregation to which he is writing, his exhortations cannot muster the force of the Spirit’s insistence: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (3:7). While the fact that the author of Hebrews cites scripture as speech rather than written text has often been noted, the exegetical method used by the author has not been sufficiently examined, which presents a significant challenge because the method that Hebrews utilizes has its own set of underlying assumptions that have been obscured.The ancient exegetical technique known as “prosopological exegesis”Footnote 6 interprets texts by assigning “faces” (πρόσωπα), or characters, to ambiguous or unspecified personal (or personified) entities represented in the text in question.Footnote 7 In other words, interpreters identify participants for clarity of understanding. While some have formulated definitions that refer explicitly to the identification of speakers (e.g., Downs),Footnote 8 it is necessary also to include the identification of addressees and subjects through this technique. Prosopological exegesis does not merely disambiguate but instead views the text through the lens of a new participant. For example, Justin Martyr uses this technique to consider Jesus not only as the speaker of Psalm 22:1 on the cross, as presented in the Synoptic Gospels, but also as the “I” in the entire psalm:Footnote 9
And when the prophetic Spirit speaks from the person of Christ [ἀπὸ προσώπου τοῦ Χριστοῦ], it is proclaimed in this way: … “They cast lots for my garment and pierced my hands and feet, but I lie down and sleep and rise again because the Lord has helped me.” And again, when he says, “They spoke with their lips; they shook their head, saying, ‘He must save himself.’”
In the base text, the “I” is unidentified, which provides Justin with the interpretive freedom to assign this text to Christ. He uses the psalm to illuminate Christ and his humanity: “the exegete is led to distinguish that which Christ says as a human and to analyze the elements of his personality.”Footnote 11 Although the word “exegesis” implies a lengthy discussion of the text, that often is not the case, particularly in the earliest examples; an interesting aspect of this phenomenon is its relative brevity. Simply by assigning a text a new “face,” a dialogical relationship is established where the text assumes previous knowledge of the character, and the character is thus illuminated further by the text. Thus, when the author of Hebrews presents the Father saying to Jesus, “You are my Son; today, I have begotten you” (1:5), he is both illuminating scripture and teaching his audience about Jesus – the Son of God.The formula exhibited by the quotation above (ἀπὸ προσώπου…) along with the parallels in Latin and with other prepositions occurs several times in Justin’s writing, as well as in other writers of this time. Although Christ is a common “face” in prosopological exegesis, this technique is by no means limited to christological readings. Justin describes several modes of “hearing” prophecy:
But when you [plural] hear the speech of the prophets spoken as from a character [ὡς ἀπὸ προσώπου], you must not consider it to be spoken from the inspired themselves, but from the divine Word who moves them. For sometimes he declares the things that are to come as one who foretells the future; other times it is proclaimed from the person of God the Lord and Father of all; other times from the person of Christ; and other times as from the person of the people answering its Lord and Father.
When Justin assumes his readers will “hear” speech “from a character,” he assumes that they too will see the disjunction or ambiguity in these texts. He shows that prosopological exegesis can occur with divine or human participants. These modes are intended to provide examples of the ways that his readers could interpret these texts – these are not the only perceivable characters. So with this statement Justin is both reading these texts and teaching others how to read. The underlying assumption of the latter is key. If Justin thinks they will hear the words “from a character,” then he assumes that prosopological exegesis is something that most of his readers will also be able to practice. But how? Some clues might be found in Greco-Roman educational practices.
you will preserve what is distinctive and appropriate to the persons imagined as speaking and to the occasions, for the speech of a young man differs from that of an old man, and that of one who rejoices from that of one who grieves.
Based on the characters’ “distinctive” and “appropriate” elements, students could practice their skills with “speech in character” exercises. Some prompts from the exercises attributed to Libanius are:
What would Achilles say over the dead Patroclus?
What words would Odysseus say to the Cyclops when he sees him eating his comrades?
What words would a eunuch say when he falls in love?
After each of these prompts, Libanius offers a short example of the sort of speech to be expected.Footnote 14 If part of the education of that time included creating or imitating characters, then by extension might it also include identifying them?
Identifying which character was speaking was an instinctual part of engaging with dramas at this time. Ancient editions were written in a very basic form, lacking “identification of the various speakers, stage directions of all sorts, descriptions of the scenes, etc.”Footnote 15 It was assumed, therefore, that the readers would be able to infer this information themselves. Moving beyond a mere mental note, at some point readers began to write these details “in the margins and between the lines” of their own copies to simplify use.Footnote 16 Typically, identifying characters was straightforward, but disagreements are attested. In the Scholia, a compilation of readers’ notes on these texts (from σχόλιον, “comment, interpretation”), occasionally a justification for why a speaker fit a certain piece of dialogue was written next to the identification of the speaker.Footnote 17 This suggests that the reader felt obligated to justify the identification of a particular character over another (likely based upon elements similar to those noted above in the Hermogenes handbook).Footnote 18 Although a direct line from this to prosopological exegesis cannot be drawn, it appears that ancient readers were trained to identify and resolve ambiguities regarding speakers based on their knowledge of the characters acting within the narrative.Another relevant reading technique evidenced in the Scholia is called “solution from the character” (λύσις ἐκ τοῦ προσώπου).Footnote 19 When an author was perceived to contradict him/herself, the readers found it necessary to resolve the tension by looking for another speaker. Porphyry, the third-century philosopher, notes that he was not concerned by these so-called contradictions because he reasoned that another voice took over:
No wonder [there are apparent discrepancies] when in Homer different things are said by different voices. Whatever is said by the poet in his own person should be consistent and not contradictory. All the words/ideas he attributes to the characters are not his, but are understood as being said by the speakers.
So in addition to identifying speakers when changes were indicated (which was often supplied in the text), readers looked for other character changes as indicated by inconsistencies. If a character was speaking in an uncharacteristic way, then it seemed plausible, or perhaps even necessary, to the readers to find a more suitable speaker. These practices among the literary critics to identify ambiguities and tensions in their texts provides a useful parallel for readers that I will discuss in later portions of this chapter. Christian interpreters perceived ambiguities (within a base text being quoted) and tensions (within the way it was usually interpreted) and resolved them by finding a new, more suitable speaker. While this formal training (and its terminology) might be confined to the elite in society, it is likely that these principles would dissipate to the wider public, which is why Justin can assume that his readers would be able to use prosopological exegesis also.
22.214.171.124 Analogous Interpretive Practices in Jewish ExegesisSimilar phenomena are also present in Jewish exegesis. Susan Docherty’s work on The Use of the Old Testament in HebrewsFootnote 21 compares the exegetical methods found in Hebrews with those in “post-biblical Judaism and Christianity,”Footnote 22 concluding that many of the categories observed in later exegesis are also found in Hebrews 1 and Hebrews 3–4 (the chapters relevant to her inquiry). While many of Docherty’s conclusions on Hebrews 1, which she frames as “axioms,” are helpful for understanding this section in Hebrews, one is particularly relevant for this discussion of prosopological exegesis (quoting Docherty):
(viii) One of the exegetical techniques employed most frequently in Hebrews chapter 1 is the precise specification of a speaker and/or addressee who is left ambiguous in the scriptural source.Footnote 23
Prominent among [a variety of targumic interests] is an interest in the personal identity of speakers and addressees who are left anonymous in the Hebrew … The solutions given to some of [the passages surveyed], however, allow us to formulate the concern in more precise terms, namely as “Who of the biblical figures of the Pentateuch is it? … The targumic identification does not merely add a speaker’s identity to the biblical narrative, it points to wording similarities of two separate and independent passages of the Tora.Footnote 24
Thus, according to Samely, interpreters work to identify unspecified participants, but do not freely identify the “speakers and addressees who are left anonymous in the Hebrew.” They have two constraints: (1) the characters must be available to them within the Pentateuch, and (2) some verbal parallel must be present to establish the link. Though these principles are not identical with those found in the proposed classical precedents for prosopological exegesis, we do see a “cast list” of sorts as well as a search for some objective means of connecting a named character to the anonymous speech elsewhere. Further, and most importantly, we see an interpreter identifying participants for clarity of understanding.Additionally, we see some early examples of something rather similar to prosopological exegesis in Qumran literature, particularly in 11QMelchizedek. Several times an ambiguous participant is identified, for example:
it is the time for the “year of grace” of Melchizedek, and of [his] arm[ies, the nat]ion of the holy ones of God, of the rule of judgment, as is written about him in the songs of David, who said: “Elohim will [st]and in the assem[bly of God,] in the midst of the gods he judges” [Ps 82:1].
… in the judgment[s of] God, as is written about him: [“Saying to Zi]on: your God rules.” [Isa 52:7] [“Zi]on” i[s] [the congregation of all the sons of justice, those] who establish the covenant, those who avoid walking [on the pa]th of the people. And “your God” is [… Melchizedek, who will fr]e[e them from the ha]nd of Belial.
Though the text is fragmentary, the introductory formulas where each identification is signaled are extant and intact.Footnote 25 Elsewhere in Qumran literature, the identification of participants provides the passage with contemporary relevance. For example,
And as for what he said to David: “I [shall obtain] for you [rest] from all your enemies” [2 Sam 7:11]: (it refers to this,) that he will obtain for them rest from a[ll] the sons of Belial those who make them fall, to destroy th[em on account of] their [sins,]…
God promises the people of Israel rest from their enemies, and here those enemies are specified: they are the sons of Belial – the wicked.
As we shall see, these examples, particularly the first few, parallel those in the New Testament. An identification is made, though a lengthy discussion does not ensue. The author’s “exegesis” is limited to the naming of the previously ambiguous character. These potential precedents – both the classical and the Jewish – are by no means mutually exclusive. As is the case with many methods and concepts, a clear division between the “Jewish” and “Greek” is not obtainable, nor is it in this case sought. What has been established is a set of assumptions and practices that make it even more likely that the New Testament authors employed prosopological exegesis. Let us turn to their writings now.
126.96.36.199 Prosopological Exegesis in the New Testament?Despite the insistence of patristic scholars that prosopological exegesis could be traced to the New Testament,Footnote 26 most biblical scholars continue to overlook the usefulness of the technique for interpretation; however, there are exceptions, most notably Matthew W. Bates. In his monograph The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation (2012), Bates identifies several instances of prosopological exegesis within the New Testament, particularly in the Pauline corpus. His primary intent in this monograph is to “[argue] that Paul received, utilized, and extended an apostolic, kerygmatic narrative tradition centered on key events in the Christ story.”Footnote 27 One way that Paul “extends” his received tradition is by reading Jewish texts through the lens of prosopological exegesis. While Bates’ first major work deals primarily with Paul, his second, The Birth of the Trinity (2015),Footnote 28 addresses prosopological exegesis in the New Testament more broadly, with a particular focus on how this technique contributed to later Trinitarian theology.Footnote 29 For example, in Luke 4:16–21 when Jesus reads in the synagogue, he says,
After this reading, Jesus ends, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” According to Jesus’ reading, he is the “I” of the texts who has been anointed. Thus, as Bates notes, the fulfillment of this scripture to which Jesus refers is not generic but specifically refers to the commencement of his ministry, the first examples of which occur shortly thereafter (4:38–44). In Luke 4, Jesus reads Isaiah 61:1–2 prosopologically, identifying himself as the “I” in these verses.Footnote 30 With this text, Jesus asserts that he has been anointed and empowered by the Spirit of the Lord.Footnote 31 He confirms his own authority, which will provide an interesting comparison with the Son’s speech in Hebrews. There he primarily accepts authority, rather than declaring it.Another noteworthy New Testament example of prosopological exegesis is found in Acts 2:25–35. In Peter’s “sermon,” Psalm 15:8–11 LXX is introduced as Jesus speaking through David. Here two participants are clarified – (1) the source and human speaker David and (2) the “character” (or divine speaker) Jesus. Beginning first with the human speaker, Acts introduces this citation with a deliberate and necessary reference to David, despite the attested options of a more anonymous, common formula (Acts 7:42; 15:15: καθὼς γέγραπται) or even a general reference to the Psalms (Acts 1:20: γέγραπται γὰρ ἐν βίβλῳ ψαλμῶν; cf. 13:33). But the reference to a particular person is necessary for Peter’s interpretation.Footnote 32 In the psalm, the “I” is certain that God will not “abandon him in Hades” or “allow his flesh to see corruption.” But “David … both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day” (2:29). Without tying this interpretation to a person whose death was known by the audience, the tension is not obvious. Moreover, the christological reading does not resolve tension, but instead creates it. For Peter, since David is dead, another way to read this text must be sought, which is why he suggests that David’s text was actually spoken by (or “with regard to” [εἰς]; Acts 2:25) the Messiah:
Foreseeing this, he [David] spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, “He will not be abandoned to Hades, nor will his flesh experience corruption.”
To resolve this apparent discrepancy, Peter suggests that the character is another “anointed one” (i.e., someone other than David) who will not see corruption, namely Jesus. As evidence for this interpretation, he offers only a parallel reading of Psalm 109:1 LXX, again utilizing the tension with the usual reading that names David as the speaker.Footnote 34 Peter provides little explanation on this second text, but the author likely assumes his readers know of Jesus’ interpretation of this text in Acts’ “prequel,” the Gospel of Luke. There Jesus says that David spoke the same psalm (110 [109 LXX]) about the Messiah. He concludes, “David thus calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” (Luke 20:44; cf. Mark 12:37; Matt 22:45). This interpretation highlights a potential problem with another (common) reading of the text: King David would not call his son, or perhaps even another person, “Lord,” which means this must, by their estimation, be a text about the Messiah that was announced by God. As we shall see, this is precisely the sort of tension that underlies much of the prosopological exegesis found in Hebrews.Footnote 35
188.8.131.52 Patristic Prosopological ExegesisAs previously mentioned, this exegetical technique is more fully developed in patristic literature.Footnote 36 In these texts, prosopological introductory formulas are often found, unlike in the New Testament, and readers interpret in the character of many dramatic πρόσωπα. Augustine, for example, has countless prosopological readings in his Enarrations on the Psalms. This text, like a modern commentary, works through most verses of the Psalms one-by-one. Augustine discusses each with careful thought, particularly with regard to the character portrayed by each verse, or even each clause. For this reason, the Ennarations provide a rare insight into the thought behind prosopological readings.Footnote 37 One particularly useful example is his discussion of Psalm 3 (which Justin also read prosopologically in 1 Apol. 36, cited above). In the course of this short (eight-verse) psalm, Augustine argues that two or three persons are represented, beginning with his argument that this is not a psalm in the person of David:
The words, “I slept and took rest and rose, for the Lord will take me up,” lead us to believe that this psalm is to be understood as in the person of Christ, for they sound more applicable to the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord than to that history in which David’s flight is described from the face of his rebellious son.
Those that rise up against him are his “persecutors” (Ps 3:1), and when he cries out to the Lord, it is in prayer (3:5 citing Matt 6:6). But Augustine finds a strange tension with his christological interpretation in 3:5b (“he answers me from his holy mountain”). If Christ is the mountain, as he is in Daniel 2:34–35, then this answer must not be heard as coming from the person of Christ. But Psalm 3:6 is the proof with which Augustine began (“I sleep and take rest …”), so this verse is in the person of Christ. So the result is something like this:
Christ: “My voice cries out to the Lord…” (3:5a)
[Psalmist: “And he hears me from his holy mountain [i.e., Christ].” (3:5b)]
Christ: “I sleep and take rest and awaken again because the Lord supports me.” (3:6)
This shows the fluidity with which this reading strategy could be adopted. Within only two sentences, two shifts take place.Footnote 39 Later, after working through the entire text of the psalm, Augustine offers an alternative proposal. This could be from the person of Christ on behalf of the Church:
In the prophet then at once, the Church and her Head … speaks, “O Lord, how are they multiplied that trouble me!”
So Augustine allows for two possible readings of the psalm. In one option, Christ speaks along with the prophet (in 3:4b), but in the other, Christ speaks as himself and as one who speaks on behalf of the Church.Since prosopological exegesis typically is applied to texts with certain features (e.g., ambiguities or unspecified participants), readings of some texts are particularly common in authors using this strategy (e.g., Greek Psalm 109:1). One text found in Justin, Irenaeus, Augustine, and Eusebius is Genesis 18–19.Footnote 40 In this narrative, Abraham sees three men at his tent (18:2). After revealing that Abraham and Sarah will have a child (18:11–15), the Lord tells Abraham about his plan for Sodom and Gomorrah (18:20–21). Abraham attempts to intercede for any righteous ones who remain there, but this is of course futile – not even ten righteous people remain (18:22–33). Then, the narrative moves to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and all those within its gates (19:1–29). Prosopological readings focus on a curious feature: the two lords.Footnote 41 Genesis 19:24 LXX reads, “and the Lord rained down sulfur and fire from the Lord from heaven.” Justin assumes that, after speaking with Abraham (18:33), the Lord goes down to Sodom and Gomorrah, as he said (18:20–21). So in 19:24 one Lord is in the cities, while the other is in the heavens. The first Lord, Justin argues, is Jesus:
And now, do you not understand, friends, that the one of the three, who is both God and Lord, and serves him who is in the heavens, is Lord of the two angels? Since when they enter Sodom, he remains in conversation with Abraham in what is recorded by Moses. Then when he departed after the conversation, Abraham returned to his place. When [the Lord] went into Sodom, the two angels no longer conversed with Lot but he [did], as the word [ὁ λόγος] reveals, and he is the Lord, who received this from the Lord who is in the heavens, that is to say the maker of all things, to inflict upon Sodom and Gomorrah what the word recounts, thus saying: “The Lord rained…”
In what follows, Trypho, after discussing a few minor points of the story, agrees with Justin’s exegesis. Thus, whether Trypho is real or imagined, Justin assumes, like his New Testament predecessors, that a prosopological reading strategy is valid and useful for understanding the biblical text. The relative lack of commentary in the New Testament in particular seems to suggest that these arguments were intuitive and accessible even to those who had not received a formal classical education. If so, then the ubiquity of prosopological readings (and other similar strategies) in patristic literature is not surprising.Footnote 42
184.108.40.206 Prosopological Exegesis and Divine Persons
Some have suggested that prosopological exegesis helped to introduce “person” (πρόσωπον or persona) language into early Christian discussions of the Trinity. Although now several scholars have commented on this method in the works of specific patristic authors, the first significant discussion of this exegetical technique was Carl Andresen’s 1961 article, “Zur Entstehung und Geschichte des trinitarischen Personbegriffes.”Footnote 43 In it, Andresen shows Tertullian’s dependency on the Apologists and New Testament writers for his Trinitarian concept of person, as well as his methodology – particularly his use of prosopological exegesis. To those who think that reading the “Trinity” into the New Testament is misguided, Andresen warns that neglecting the origins of this technique “would mean the abandonment of a derivation of Tertullian’s concept of person from its exegetical principles and with that the insight into the fundamental biblical basis of his doctrine of the Trinity.”Footnote 44 The “fundamental biblical basis of his doctrine of the Trinity,” which Andresen links to Greek Psalm 109, is found in part in Hebrews.To distinguish between different persons, Tertullian uses the conversation among the Father, Son, and Spirit as an indication of distinction. In defense of the “Trinity” and that the three persons are shown to be “distinct, not separate” (distincte…, non divise), he writes:
I allege that the Father said to the Son, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” If you will have me believe that the Father himself is also the Son, show me that it is stated elsewhere in this form, “The Lord said to himself, ‘I am my Son; today I have begotten myself.’”… Observe also the Spirit speaking in the third person concerning the Father and the Son: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies the footstool of your feet.’”… So in these texts, few though they be, the distinctiveness of the Trinity is clearly expounded: for there is the Spirit himself who makes the statement, the Father to whom he makes it, and the Son of whom he makes it.
In Tertullian’s reading of Greek Psalms 2:7 and 109:1, he considers the dialogue among these persons to be evidence of their distinction.Footnote 46 If God were speaking to himself, he posits, would the pronouns not reveal this? As it happens, these two texts also both occur in Hebrews with evidence of a similar reading strategy.Almost twenty-five years after Andresen, Marie-Josèphe Rondeau published a two-volume analysis of patristic commentaries on the Psalms. The second volume focuses primarily on prosopological exegesis, and it remains the most thorough treatment of this phenomenon to date. Rondeau begins this volume with a quotation from Hilary of Poitiers, a fourth-century Bishop, which in many ways substantiates her work:
The principal question for understanding the Psalms is to be able to discern on whose behalf one understands the words to be spoken, or to whom they are spoken.
This basic interpretative question to which Hilary refers made reading the Psalms a difficult, yet rewarding, task. Christian interpreters had the opportunity to read scriptural texts through a christological lens, asking what these Jewish texts meant in light of the Christ-event.Following Andresen, Rondeau asserts that the concept of person, vital to discussions of the Trinity, arose from this exegetical tradition. Rondeau boldly claims in her introduction that “the use of the prosopological method, where prosōpon/persona is a key word, is the immediate source of the Trinitarian use of persona.”Footnote 48 Yet if the method were the source of the use of persona for patristic authors, the antecedent exegesis in the New Testament would need to exhibit introductory formulas with προσώπον, but it does not. Therefore, it seems instead that the “divine discourse” exhibited in the New Testament provided these later authors with the conceptual framework to understand these speakers as individual persons, and from this, they were able to articulate their concept of person. In her conclusion Rondeau makes a similar, but more tempered, claim:
the major contribution of the prosopological method resides without a doubt in the introduction, or the contribution to the introduction, of the word person in theology. The method operates with individuals likely to interact and particularly privileges the one who says “I,” as evidenced by the fact that the key formula is the formula ex persona, whereby one detects the speaker. The person is defined, therefore, as someone who speaks.Footnote 49
Thus speech is likely the primary indicator to these later writers that the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct persons. If they can be in conversation with one another, then they are not the same person, which corresponds to Tertullian’s exegesis above. Of course, this “person” language is not applied to God in the Epistle to the Hebrews or elsewhere in the New Testament, and thus these assumptions are only implicit in the exegesis of this earlier time period; however, it seems that the characters identified via prosopological exegesis in Hebrews are also personal, distinct entities. As we shall see, it is principally the Father, Son, and Spirit who speak in Hebrews. The fact that this author uses prosopological exegesis with regard to these three participants certainly supports the conclusions of those (e.g., Andresen) who suggest that later Trinitarian theology was the result of biblical interpretation. This is not to suggest that fourth-century Trinitarianism is explicitly defended or espoused in Hebrews, but an assent to the suggestion that the use of “Trinitarian” or “the Trinity” with regard to Hebrews in a minimalist way would be appropriate.Footnote 50
With several examples of prosopological exegesis in mind, it is now possible to discuss criteria for determining when this exegetical technique is being used. While Rondeau outlined only one criterion for prosopological exegesis – the text must be in first-person speechFootnote 51 – more specific criteria would be helpful. More recently, Matthew W. Bates constructed two more thorough lists. They provide several useful features, such as an emphasis on the resolution of ambiguities as the key aim of prosopological exegesis, but the organization of this material is not entirely clear.Footnote 52 I will now propose a rearrangement of Bates’ work (with some minor alterations) that still consists of two lists, but with one list of features that the base text must possess paired with another list of features that might be found in the interpretation – the prosopological exegesis.
When identifying prosopological exegesis, one first needs to analyze the base text (BT) being quoted by the interpreter. It should have the following features: (BT1) the text in question will be speech. Although the speech will often be in the first person, this is not always the case (e.g., Deut 32:43 in Heb 1:6). (BT2) The text must contain some lack of specificity with regard to participants. Sometimes this causes a lack of consensus regarding the speaker of a text (e.g., Greek Psalm 21), and other times it results in a perceived tension because the common interpretation presents a logical challenge for the Christian interpreter (e.g., Greek Psalm 109). (BT3) Finally, the text will have classic and/or authoritative status; it must be a text that the community deems worthy of discussion.
If the base text possesses the criteria above, then the prosopological exegesis (PE) can be analyzed for the following elements: (PE1) The prosopological exegesis must identify an unspecified participant of the base text in a way that is not obviously indicated by a plain reading. (Usually, the speaker is clarified, but in some instances, it is the addressee, subject, or some combination of the three.) In other words, the interpretation must introduce a new element to the text not otherwise clear from the original text itself.Footnote 53 This feature is the only one essential to prosopological exegesis, but two other criteria confirm the phenomenon. Namely, (PE2) the presence of an introductory formula with προσώπον is a clear indicator that prosopological exegesis is taking place. Further, (PE3) finding a similar interpretation in another text might indicate that other readers accepted this interpretation or read the text in the same fashion. In patristic exegesis, it would be common for all of these elements to be present, but that is not the case in the NT. My evaluation of prosopological exegesis in Hebrews will focus on the author’s identification of unspecified participants. I find this necessary since New Testament authors never use a (PE2) prosopological introductory formula, and (PE3) similar readings are an external characteristic. Thus, some of my discussion will be devoted to an attempt to identify the tension or ambiguity that might lead to the use of prosopological exegesis by the author of Hebrews.Footnote 54 When he, for example, asserts that Jesus is the speaker of Isaiah 8:17–18 in Hebrews 2:12–13, he is identifying the new, mysterious speaker inserted in Greek traditions.Footnote 55 When he reads this curious speech, he hears the voice of Christ. These prosopological readings occur throughout Hebrews, but the primary characters that speak are the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. In the next section, I will show how these instances of divine discourse are integral to the structure of Hebrews and to its overall purpose.
1.1.2 One Speaker in Three Persons? The Speech of the Father, Son, and Spirit in HebrewsMy decision to focus on the Father, Son, and Spirit as divine participants might appear to be the product of a theological (and particularly Trinitarian) bias, but these three are the ones portrayed as the primary speakers in Hebrews. Surveying the introductory formulas to the thirty plus citations from scripture in Hebrews reveals that it is only these three who speak in a present, even occasionally timeless, way – at least until the close of the letter. Examining the few occasions when others speak in Hebrews confirms this. The first instance is Hebrews 2:6–8. Here the choice of the anonymous speaker of Psalm 8 is intentional, not an attempt to distance the text from the person involved in its production.Footnote 56 With this device, the author accomplishes two things of note for this book: (1) he provides a speaker who can speak on behalf of all humanity and (2) in a sense, he limits timeless or present discourse with named participants to divine agents. The only other identified speaker in Hebrews is Moses. He is quoted twice:
When all the commandments of the Law had been spoken to the people by Moses … he sprinkled the people, saying: “This is the blood of covenant that God has commanded to you.”
The sight [of God’s appearance at the giving of the Law] was so frightening that Moses said, “I am terrified and trembling.”
In both instances, the author anchors Moses’ speech to its original setting in the Pentateuch, whereas, as we shall see, most of the texts spoken by the divine agents have no obvious temporal referent.Footnote 57 Moses’ speech happened once; divine discourse persists. Therefore, it seems that the author of Hebrews has set apart these divine participants as exceptional. Only these three continue to speak. Implicit in this portrayal by the author is the assertion that some unifying characteristic exists among them; some quality that they share makes them viable speakers. The traditional link is that they are depicted in early Christian literature as God.
The author of Hebrews uses spoken quotations of scripture to characterize these speakers, and in many cases, the addressees of the speech also. First, while the author includes a few quotations from Jewish scripture when God spoke to Abraham or another human, the Father’s present speech in Hebrews typically is directed to the Son (1:5, 8–9, 10–12, 13; 5:5, 6; 7:17, 21).Footnote 58 This intra-divine discourse between the Father and the Son, found in Chapter 2 of the present study, displays what is unique about Jesus. With these texts, the author reveals that this is the Son of God (1:5; 5:5) who is anointed (1:8–9) and worshipped by angels (1:6) and who had a role in the creation of the earth (1:10–12; cf. 1:2). This Son now sits at the right hand of the Father (1:13). He is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek (5:6; 7:17; 7:21). With the prosopological reading strategy, the author implicitly challenges previous interpretive traditions that addressed these texts to any earlier Davidic monarch; these are texts about the Son. Additionally, since this author is constantly comparing elements of the “old” and “new” covenants, these references often have an additional “non-addressee”: in Hebrews 1, the angels; in Hebrews 5 and 7, Aaron and his lineage. This speech in Hebrews reveals the inimitability of the Son demonstrated through the superlative words of his Father. Prior to Hebrews 10:19, the Father speaks once more in Hebrews 8:8–12. Here he has no explicit conversation partner, and his speech is not about the Son per se. Instead, quoting Greek Jeremiah 38:31–34, the Father declares that he will make a new covenant, and on the heels of the author’s discussion of the new covenant’s “better mediator,” it seems likely that the Son is not far from view. Thus, Chapter 2 of this book envisions the Father speaking to (and perhaps sometimes about) his Son.
Second, as we shall see in Chapter 3, the Son’s quoted speech is exclusively directed to the Father (2:12–13; 10:5–7). The unifying characteristic of these texts is the willing submission of the Son. He presents himself, faithful (2:12–13) and obedient (10:5–7). Jesus’ speech in Hebrews 2 also reveals his care for his “brothers and sisters” (2:12). While the Father’s speech shows how Jesus is unlike any other person, Jesus’ speech in 2:12–13 reminds the readers of his remarkable connection with humanity. The author brackets his speech with further comments on their unity. He helps Abraham’s descendants (2:16) and shared in their humanity (2:14). He was made like these siblings in every way (κατὰ πάντα, 2:17), so that he might be able to help when they are tested (2:18). In Hebrews 10:5–7, at his entrance into the world, Christ declares his desire to do the will of the Father, speaking Greek Psalm 39:7–9. In both of the Son’s speeches, his solidarity with and mission to humanity is firmly in view. Likewise, as well as shall see, the author locates these speeches at key moments (or stages) in the Son’s life.
Third, the Holy Spirit’s speech, to which we will turn our attention in Chapter 4, is exclusively directed to the community (to “you” [pl.], 3:7–4:11; to “us,” 10:15–18). This clear distinction between the Father’s and the Spirit’s speech offers proof that the author has not merged these two agents but views them as individual participants.Footnote 59 In addition to the difference in addressees, the Spirit’s speech has a different purpose and tone. He exhorts the community with a warning in Hebrews 3–4 and with a promise in Hebrews 10. The Father and the Son speak to one another, but the Spirit speaks to us. This speech by the Spirit occurs third in the pattern of divine discourse that I mentioned above. So while readers can “hear” the conversation between Father and Son, it is only after they observe their speech that the Spirit speaks directly to them, perhaps in order to make clear its implications.
An important aspect of the interaction between the divine participants is found implicitly in their relational designations.Footnote 60 The presence of a son, for example, necessitates a father. Likewise referring to a character as a father implies that he has a child. In other words, “the purpose of the father/son language is to indicate that God and Jesus are identified by their relation to each other, and have no existence apart from that relation.”Footnote 61 Elsewhere God is shown to be in interaction with Jesus; it is through Jesus that God restores his relationship with humanity. Hebrews presents the human Jesus as a necessity of God’s plan at various points in the discourse. In fact, without any notable exceptions, God is primarily defined in terms of his work on behalf of humanity. If the author of Hebrews characterizes the zenith of that work to be the Christ-event (broadly conceived), then as a result, he primarily defines the Father by means of the Christ-event. Hebrews presents the Father and Son in a relationship of interdependence. Without the Father, the Son would not be appointed. Without the Son, the Father would remain apart from his people.
In contrast to the Pauline Epistles and Synoptic Gospels, the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is not portrayed as the “Spirit of God” or the “Spirit of Christ” or any related designations in Hebrews, which might obscure the connection among them. Instead, the author of Hebrews again asserts the connection between the Spirit and the Father or Son with language about interactions. The Father “distributes” the Spirit as a testimony to this great salvation (2:4),Footnote 62 and it is through the eternal Spirit that Jesus offers himself unblemished to God (9:14).Footnote 63 The Spirit empowers and extends the work of Christ in Hebrews. This divine interaction among the three necessitates a move away from models that privilege christology to the detriment of the New Testament’s other theological categories.
The most “personal” actions and interactions of these characters is their speech. Hebrews presents Father, Son, and Spirit speaking in distinct ways. They interact with each other and with humanity, both verbally and non-verbally. The author never answers our range of questions about the ontological connections between Spirit and Son, for example, but he weaves a picture of interconnectedness among these characters identified as God. In the work that follows these relationships will be highlighted in terms of the communication between each character and his respective dialogue partner.Footnote 64 As we shall see, Hebrews offers a level of complexity regarding these intra-divine dynamics that are at times unparalleled in the rest of the New Testament.Footnote 65
Finding language that represents the verbal interactions between Father and Son and between the Spirit and the community in a way that is both lucid and accurate is challenging. The titles of my major chapters (“Intra-divine Discourse” and “Extra-divine Discourse”) appropriate the classic theological language of Deus ad intra (“God’s life in himself”) and Deus ad extra (“God’s life toward the outside”).Footnote 66 Since the Father and Son speak to one another and are both identified by the author as θεός, their conversation is “intra-divine.”Footnote 67 Conversely, the Spirit’s speech originates with the Spirit, who is reasonably associated with God in Hebrews, but it extends beyond God to humanity. The relationship between God’s life ad intra and ad extra is often articulated via “Rahner’s Rule”: “The ‘economic’ Trinity [ad extra] is the ‘immanent’ Trinity [ad intra], and the ‘immanent’ Trinity is the ‘economic’ Trinity.”Footnote 68 This rule insists that implicit in God’s actions ad extra is his life ad intra.
To use this terminology is not to insist that Rahner’s axiom is operative or applicable within Hebrews. Even for Rahner this would not be considered possible because he did not think that scripture “explicitly present[s] a doctrine of the ‘immanent Trinity,’”Footnote 69 although to what extent Rahner would agree that the Father-Son conversation is “intra-divine” is another question that we cannot answer here. Rahner relates verbal (or verbally portrayed) communication as something that is in part external and thus part of God’s life ad extra. This fits with Hebrews since the author invites his readers to listen to the communication between the Father and Son. Nevertheless, “speaking ‘immanently,’” he says that “the Son is the self-expression of the Father, the word of the Father (not of the Godhead).”Footnote 70
This also may fit with Hebrews presentation of God. In its opening line, Hebrews 1:1, the Father does not speak to the Son, but through the Son to us. When the presentation of divine discourse throughout Hebrews is examined more thoroughly, we see that the Son does not speak to us verbally; we witness his words and works through the Spirit. The complexity of language about God in a sense illustrates Rahner’s axiom that God apart from humanity and in relationship with humanity are not easily untangled. As we progress through Hebrews and explore the author’s presentation of the Father, Son, and Spirit, Rahner’s axiom need not be read into Hebrews prescriptively, but may offer a useful starting point for thinking about the difficulty in placing Hebrews’ depictions firmly in one category or the other.
Thus far our discussion of secondary literature has typically been dedicated to literature beyond the study of Hebrews. Those advances in the disciplines of biblical and early Christian studies are essential to this inquiry, but now we turn to those studies on Hebrews that offer the backdrop to my own. This list is relatively short because, despite the substantive increase in literature on Hebrews in recent decades, many of which examine a facet of Hebrews’ use of Jewish scriptureFootnote 71 and some of which discuss the author’s emphasis on the “word of God,”Footnote 72 no single study explores the intersection of these two themes – the presentation of the words from scripture as God’s speech.Footnote 73 This review of pertinent literature is thus by no means exhaustive, but instead acknowledges three studies that raised questions parallel to (though not intersecting with) the one that follows.
1.2.1 G. B. Caird
Along with Käsemann’s second edition of Das wandernde Gottesvolk (1957)Footnote 74 and Ceslas Spicq’s commentary, L’Épître aux Hébreux (1950),Footnote 75 one of the decisive moments in the history of interpretation for the Epistle to the Hebrews is G. B. Caird’s succinct, yet indispensable, article, “Exegetical Method of the Epistle to the Hebrews” (1959).Footnote 76 Despite what he calls “formidable discouragement” about his topic, Caird writes about the contribution of citations of Jewish scripture for the overall argument of Hebrews. The recent surplus of studies on the author’s relationship with scripture are indebted to Caird, even though he is often not acknowledged.Footnote 77 Tucked within this essay is not only Caird’s contention that the author is intentioned in his reading strategy but also Caird’s summary of the author’s readings. He cautions against the claims of some (most?) who presume that the author of Hebrews desires “to prove the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old”;Footnote 78 instead, he presents scriptures’ “confessed inadequacy” in order to “summon them to that constant striving towards maturity of faith.”Footnote 79
This book will not address Caird’s proposed purpose for the authorship of Hebrews, nor anyone else’s for that matter, but it will, in a sense, develop his claim that Hebrews presents the “confessed inadequacy of the old order.”Footnote 80 The author does not accomplish this through quoting text as text, but rather through presenting text as the words of God himself. Hebrews does not offer the old covenant’s self-assessment, but its initiator’s. This claim – that God has critiqued the old order – competes with recent assessments that (over-)emphasize the author’s creativity. As we shall see, the author is indeed innovative, but he stands within an established tradition of readers who employ similar strategies as they approach scriptural texts.
1.2.2 Michael Theobald
In his 1997 essay, “Vom Text zum ‘lebendigen Wort’ (Hebr 4,12),”Footnote 81 Michael Theobald highlights the distinctive way in which scripture is presented in Hebrews as the words of God. While most of this chapter summarizes the details of the occurrences of speech, many of which appear also in the pages that follow, Theobald raises two questions of interest for our study: (1) To what extent can the author’s “spoken” quotations be categorized as “citations” (Zitate)?Footnote 82 (2) What is the hermeneutical framework revealed by the author’s presentation of scripture as speech?
Let us begin first with the question of whether the author’s quotations introduced by verbs of speech can accurately be labelled “citations.” Theobald rightly identifies the fact that Hebrews does not speak of “texts” or the “text of scripture.”Footnote 83 The words found within the Bible (in modern terms) are presented as God’s speech – as a dialogue in an ongoing story about God speaking to his people, as well as the Father, Son, and Spirit speaking to one another. The author of Hebrews has undoubtedly encountered these words in texts, but he distances his readers from his experience of reading. They are to “hear” God’s voice and respond (3:7–4:11).
Nevertheless, Theobald’s rejection of the term “citation” appears to be on the basis of a definition that is too restrictive. Indeed, if a citation is only a marked reference to a written text as a written text, then he rightly abandons this term, but a citation need not be defined in such a limited way. A citation is a reference to a work or body of work. Thus, while this book may prefer the language of a “quotation,” citation can be appropriately used when speaking of the quotations of scripture presented as divine discourse in Hebrews.
Moving to our second question, Theobald’s primary concern, the hermeneutical framework of Hebrews, cannot be assessed so easily. Having concluded that the quotations in Hebrews are “separated” (herauslösen) “from their literary context” to say something “real” about God,Footnote 84 Theobald recognizes the implicit effect of this reading strategy on the original Jewish text itself: the “first reality” (erste Wirklichkeit) received by its earliest (Jewish) readers is a shadow or glimpse of the true reality –“the divine dialogue in the heavens” (im himmlischen Dialog Gottes).Footnote 85 Thus, in a sense, Theobald’s understanding of the text mirrors the author of Hebrews’ understanding of the first covenant practices (see esp. Hebrews 9). Through the “first” reading or understanding of the text, the “second” is “revealed” (cf. 9:8). As with the covenants, both continuity and discontinuity with the first reading – a tradition familiar to the readers – assist in clarifying the true message of the divine discourse. For example, the author presents Christ’s sacrifice in terms of various offerings from the Pentateuch.Footnote 86 Those points of connection illustrate that Christ’s sacrifice atones and cleanses, like its first covenant counterpart; however, the author clarifies points of disconnect as well. This offering occurs once (7:27; 9:12; 9:26–28; 10:10), cleanses the conscience (9:14; 9:22), and is offered by a unique priest who is blameless (7:26–28). Similarly, Hebrews reading of Greek Psalm 109:4 is addressed to an individual who is envisioned as a priest-king. The addressee is within the line of David, and so he is of the right lineage to be a king, but of the wrong lineage to be a priest. In addition to these elements that the author of Hebrews retains (even implicitly), he also alters elements of the first reading. First, he elevates the second “lord” to a divine status (cf. Mark 12:35 and parallels). Second, he interprets “forever” in support of the claim that this is a priest who never dies (Heb 7:23–24).
Rather than composing his own text, the author selects a passage with a rich history of interpretation that he shares with his readers, but goes beyond their communal understanding. He desires to bring the readers, and by extension their readings, out from the shadows in order to be “enlightened” (cf. Heb 6:4).Footnote 87 Therefore, while I may disagree with Theobald’s claim that Hebrews is to be read “dualistically,” his study is of great value for my own, particularly in its emphasis on the three divine speakers around whom the author of Hebrews has crafted his epistle. As such, the hermeneutical framework proposed by Theobald underlies my own discussion of the author’s reading strategy. In assessing the continuity and discontinuity of the author’s readings in comparison with their tradition, the extent to which Hebrews presents his audience’s understanding as “shadowy” will come to the fore.
1.2.3 Tomasz Lewicki
In 2004, seven years after Theobald’s article, the words of God in Hebrews were discussed again – this time in the form of Tomasz Lewicki’s published doctoral thesis entitled, Weist nicht ab den Sprechenden! (Do Not Reject the One Who Is Speaking!). The source of his title, Hebrews 12:25, serves with Hebrews 1:1–2 as one of his core texts. Together the two passages bracket Hebrews as a whole with a depiction of the God who speaks (1:1–2) and whose words by no means should be rejected (12:25). Lewicki’s primary aim is to explore the Wort-Gottes-Theologie in Hebrews, which includes but is not limited to a discussion of the quotations of divine speech. For him, speech, or perhaps the broader category of communication, is a key theme in Hebrews that surfaces throughout the letter at many times and in various ways: (1) God spoke through the prophets.Footnote 88 (2) God speaks in scripture.Footnote 89 (3) God speaks by the Son.Footnote 90 (4) God speaks audibly to the community.Footnote 91 Throughout his study Lewicki aims to connect the Wort-Gottes-Theologie to the intended audience of Hebrews, hoping to determine the situation that resulted in this distinct reliance on God’s speech. For the present study, God’s speech in scripture and to the community (per Lewicki’s categories) are most salient.
Lewicki summarizes the theology of scripture in Hebrews with the words of Markus Barth: “What has been said is also being said” (emphasis original).Footnote 92 In other words, scripture is “living—always current” (lebendige—immer aktuelle).Footnote 93 Lewicki rightly detects a conversation between Father and Son, which “precedes” the saving work on behalf of humanity,Footnote 94 but he appears to isolate God’s speech to scripture in a way that, despite his summary statements above to the contrary, too readily emphasizes the context of the original.Footnote 95 In contrast to Theobald and his rejection of citation language, for Lewicki these words are “spoken texts” (gesprochene Texte),Footnote 96 and “the God of Hebrews is a God who speaks within the words of scripture.”Footnote 97 In comparison with other studies, Lewicki also devotes a relatively large amount of space to the Holy Spirit’s activity in Hebrews;Footnote 98 unlike this book, however, Lewicki implies that the Spirit’s speech is not of the same kind. The Spirit, he says, “does not speak in his ‘own name,’ but ‘only’ acts as the mouthpiece of God.”Footnote 99 As we shall see, this is a flawed assessment. But the chapter where this material lies, “Das Sprechen Gottes und die Antwort der Glaubenden,” discusses all of the ways that the community speaks back, both verbally and nonverbally. Here the speaking God is heard in belief or rejected in unbelief. Nevertheless, Lewicki’s expansion of Theobald’s work and his reiteration of the theme of the Wort-Gottes-Theologie demonstrates the author’s emphasis on verbal divine communication in Hebrews.
Throughout the text of Hebrews, the author never portrays scripture as written, but instead as heard or spoken. Through what modern scholars call “prosopological exegesis,” the author teaches his readers about the actual “characters” within the text of their scriptures. He shows how the Christ speaks and was spoken about in the Psalms and how the Spirit speaks to them “today.” This exegetical method, as we have seen, is not limited to the Epistle to the Hebrews and is found in many New Testament texts, as well as other early Christian literature. But in Hebrews, divine discourse runs throughout the argument, allowing the author to make many of his major assertions. It is through divine discourse that Hebrews teaches us about the superiority of the new covenant and its new mediator, the Son. Implicit in the author’s use of this reading strategy are certain assumptions about the Father, Son, and Spirit – who they are and how they interact. In the first two of the author’s three main sections, each character speaks in the same order in a consistent way, suggesting that the author has deliberately constructed the majority of his argument around these three participants. In each of the next three chapters, we will examine one of the divine speakers, the Father, Son, and Spirit, respectively, asking what their divine discourse contributes to the theology of Hebrews.