Is Christ the Creator in Hebrews 1:10?
Hebrews 1:10-12 is typically seen as a declaration about the preexistence of Jesus. Set within a series of contrasts between the Son and the angels, it quotes a passage from Psalm 102 in which the Psalmist declares to God, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands.” Most theologians think that Hebrews 1 repurposes this line such that God speaks it to Jesus. Therefore they consider it key evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity.
However, the Psalm’s original context tells a different story. It records the desperate prayer of a man about to lose his life at the hand of his enemies. He understands this threat to be God’s impending judgment upon him, and he implores YHWH not to take him away “at the mid-point of my days.” He then acknowledges YHWH as the creator of the heavens and earth who will judge the wicked but establish the righteous, and bases his hope for deliverance upon this fact.
Prayer for deliverance is a common theme in the Messianic Psalms cited in the New Testament. For example, in the synoptic gospels, Jesus quotes portions of the prayers from Psalm 22 and Psalm 31 while hanging on the cross.1 Even the author of Hebrews places a prayer from Psalm 22 on the lips of Jesus in Hebrews 2:12. Thus the Messianic Psalms are consistently interpreted by the authors of the New Testament as the Messiah’s prayer to the Father. However, it is thought that Hebrews 1:10-12 violates the established pattern by presenting the Psalmist’s prayer as the words of the Father to the Messiah.
When an interpretation involves such an unusual and counterintuitive reversal of speaker and addressee, we have good reason to consider whether it is in fact correct. We will therefore look at three specific passages in the book of Hebrews that shed a great deal of light on how the author views the quote in Hebrews 1:10-12. Then we will consider an alternative reading of Hebrews 1 that better aligns with the evidence presented.
Hebrews 12:23-26 – The Judge of the Heavens and Earth
When Hebrews 1:10-12 is used for apologetic purposes, the act of creation in vs. 10 is usually emphasized. But the rest of the quote is equally enlightening because it tells us that the creator of the heavens and earth is the same person who will eschatologically judge them:
Hebrews 1:10-12 (ESV) — 10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth [ge] in the beginning, and the heavens [ouranos] are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”
Since the creator and the judge are the same person, if the judge is clearly identified somewhere else in the book, that will also tell us who the creator is in Hebrews 1:10-12. Fortunately, there is just such an identification. Trinitarian theologian Thomas Ferrar notes:
…the passage most similar to Hebrews 1:10-12 in its usage is Hebrews 12:23-26. This is the only other passage in which both ouranos [heavens] and ge [earth] appear. Furthermore, both texts prophesy impending trauma for the heavens and earth. Hebrews 12:23-26 is therefore a very important part of the context of Hebrews 1:10-12, and a close study of the one is likely to shed much light on the other.” 2
Ferrar highlights this parallel in order to refute alternative readings of Hebrews 1:10-12 which claim that “heavens” and “earth” refer to something other than the original Genesis creation. For our own investigation, however, the significance of the parallel between Hebrew 1:10-12 and Hebrews 12:23-26 is that God and Jesus are distinguished from each other in the latter passage, with Jesus presented as the mediator and God the Father presented as the judge:
Hebrews 12:22-26 (ESV) — 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth [ge], but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens [ouranos].
Ferrar shows that “heavens” and “earth“ in Hebrews 1:10 refers to the original Genesis creation. But in so doing, he misses the greater point: Hebrews 12 identifies God the Father as the one who will judge them.3 This means the creator in Hebrews 1:10-12 is the Father, since the judge and the creator are there identified as the same person.
Hebrews 5:7 – The Identity of the Petitioner in Psalm 102
A central theme in the book of Hebrews is the fact that Jesus became our eternal High Priest through the suffering of death. Hebrews 5:7 makes the point that Jesus prayed for God to deliver him from death but ultimately learned obedience by choosing to go to the cross.
When we compare Hebrews 5:7 to the Greek Septuagint translation of the Psalm 102,4 it becomes apparent that the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane is understood to parallel the prayer of the Psalmist. There are no less than five exact linguistic matches to Ps. 101:1-6 LXX, as well as another key match to Ps. 101:25 LXX, where the petitioner explicitly implores YHWH not to let him die:
|Psalm 101:1-6, 25 LXX (NETS)||Hebrews 5:7 (ESV)|
|1 A prayer. Pertaining to the poor one. When he is weary and pours out his petition [deesis] before the Lord. 2 O Lord, listen [eisakouo] to my prayer, and let my cry [krauge] come to you. 3 Do not turn away your face from me. In the day when I am afflicted, incline your ear to me; in the day when I call upon you, listen to me speedily, 4 because my days [hemera] vanished like smoke and my bones were burnt up like firewood. 5 My heart was stricken like grass and it withered, because I forgot to eat my bread. 6 Due to the sound of my groaning, my bone clung to my flesh [sarx]…25 Do not take me away at the mid-point of my days [hemera], while your years are in generation of generations!”||In the days [hemera] of his flesh [sarx], Jesus offered up prayers [deesis] and supplications, with loud cries [krauge] and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard [eisakouo] because of his reverence.|
The author of Hebrews has thus identified the petitioner in Psalm 101 LXX as the Messiah. Immediately following this plea for YHWH not to take him away “at the mid-point of my days,” we come to the portion of the Psalm quoted in Heb. 1:10-12. Here the tone of the Psalmist changes from desperate plea to reverent faith. He is facing God’s judgment at the hand of his enemies, but he worships YHWH all the same, since he knows that at the final judgment YHWH will restore Zion and her people according to the promise of a New Covenant.5
From a Messianic perspective, this section of the Psalm represents the turning point when the Messiah’s plea for deliverance gives way to humble submission. He longs to avoid the cross, but knows it is necessary to mediate the New Covenant. Therefore he acknowledges God as creator and judge and places his faith in God’s eternal promises despite the suffering that must come first. It is especially fitting for the Messiah to be identified as the speaker in Ps. 101:26-29 LXX, given the Father’s prophetic address to the Messiah in Is. 42:5-7:
|Father to the Messiah (Is. 42:4-7)||Messiah to the Father (Ps. 101:26-29 LXX)|
|5 Thus says God, the LORD [YHWH], who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6 “I am the LORD [YHWH]; I have called you (Messiah) in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.||26 At the beginning it was you, O Lord, who founded the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands. 27 They will perish, but you will endure, and they will all become old like a garment. Like clothing you will change them, and they will be changed. 28 But you are the same, and your years will not fail. 29 The sons of your slaves shall encamp, and their offspring shall prosper for ever.|
It is very unlikely that the author of Hebrews would subvert the Psalm’s original context by putting the prayer of the Psalmist on the lips of the Father in Hebrews 1:10-12, only to revert back to the original context and identify Jesus as the petitioner in Hebrews 5:7. The more plausible scenario is that the author expected the quote to be read according to its original context in Hebrews 1, so that the striking correspondences between the Psalmist and the Messiah could be further explored in Hebrews 5.
Hebrews 1:7 – The Creator of the Heavens and Earth
In Hebrews 1:7, the author describes the angels with a quote from Psalm 104 that depicts them attending God the Father as he creates the heavens and earth:
Psalm 104:1-5 (Brenton) — 1 A Psalm of David. Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou hast clothed thyself with praise and honour: 2 who dost robe thyself with light as with a garment; spreading out the heaven [ouranos] as a curtain. 3 Who covers his chambers with waters; who makes the clouds his chariot; who walks on the wings of the wind. 4 Who makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flaming fire. 5 Who establishes the earth [ge] on her sure foundation: it shall not be moved for ever.
Hebrews 1:7 only mentions a snippet of this complete thought, because it assumes the reader is familiar with the original context. The portion quoted in Hebrews is not easily divorced from this background, since it is sandwiched in between two statements about God performing the act of creation. The obvious implication of the Psalm is that the one who makes his angels “winds” and “a flaming fire” is the same person who creates the heaven and earth. In Hebrews 1:7, this person is understood to be the Father.
We may also observe that the description of angels as a “flame of fire” in Psalm 104:4 recalls YHWH’s descent upon Sinai in “fire” (Ex. 19:18) with a “fiery law” coming from his right hand (Deut. 33:2). Strikingly, the Jewish scribes who produced the Greek Septuagint substituted the word “angels” (Grk=angelos) for “fiery law” (Heb=eshdath) in the latter verse.
Psalm 104:32 further hints at the Sinai event by stating that YHWH is the one who “looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke” – a description of the violent theophany that occurred when the law was delivered (cp. Ex. 19:18). This frightening scene is also suggestive of the final judgment. In Psalm 104:35, David calls upon YHWH to remove the “lawless” (Grk=anomos) ones from the earth.
The author of Hebrews has these connections in view. Hebrews 2:1-2 notes that the angels delivered the law and violators were justly judged. Later, Hebrews 12:18-29 portrays the Sinai event as a small scale picture of the final judgment. It describes YHWH’s descent on Sinai in “blazing fire” and “whirlwind,”6 both terms which hearken back to the description of angels in Hebrews 1:7. As the mediators of the law, the angels would attend YHWH at the final judgment just as they had attended him at the creation.
Thus the quote in Hebrews 1:7 establishes the Father – attended by his angels – as the creator and judge of the heavens and earth.7 This precedent is strategically placed just before Hebrews 1:10–12, preparing the reader to identify the Father as creator and judge there as well.8
Revisiting Hebrews 1
The above passages show that the author of Hebrews views Psalm 102 according to its original context, interpreting it as the words of the Messiah to the Father and not the other way around. We will therefore reexamine the arguments laid out in Hebrews 1 with this in mind.
Interpreters generally agree that Hebrews 1 contains a series of contrasts between the Son and the angels which are made by quoting various passages from the Old Testament. Most interpreters think the final contrast begins in Hebrews 1:7, which contains a quote about the angels, and concludes with Hebrews 1:8-13, which is assumed to be two successive Old Testament quotes about the Son: But of the Son he says X and Y.
This is, of course, a grammatically valid way to read the text. But we have shown that such a reading wrenches the quoted Psalm out of context and conflicts with the author’s own interpretation of the quote. That gives us cause to take a closer look at how the word “and” (kai) is used at the beginning of vs. 10.
As one might expect, the author of Hebrews frequently strings together multiple Old Testament quotes about the same subject with the conjunction “and” (kai). But it turns out that every time the author does this, he also adds the word “again”:
- Heb 1:5 (ESV)– 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or [kai] again [palin], “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?
- Heb 2:11-13 (ESV) — 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” 13 And [kai] again [palin], “I will put my trust in him.” And [kai] again [palin], “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”
- Heb 4:4-5 (ESV) — 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And [kai] again [palin] in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.”
- Heb 10:30 (ESV) — 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And [kai] again [palin], “The Lord will judge his people.”
When we consider how this phrase “kai palin” is used particularly in Hebrews 1, we find that it indicates multiple Old Testament quotes are being applied to the Son within a given contrast. On the other hand, when “kai” stands alone, it signals the start of a new contrast between the angels and the Son.9 This is shown below:
Vs. 5: For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? And [kai] again [palin], “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?
Vs. 6: But [de] when he again brings his firstborn into the world he says. . .
Vs. 7: And [kai] of the angels he says. . .
Vs. 8: But [de] of the Son. . .
Vs. 10 And, [kai] “You Lord, laid the foundation. . .”
Vs. 13 But [de] to which of the angels has he ever said. . .
Since the kai in vs. 10 is not followed by palin like it is in vs. 5, the author is most likely beginning a new contrast between the angels and the Son.10 The structure of the third contrast above is very similar to Hebrews 10:37-39, which also launches into a standalone quote about the Father coming in judgment and then draws a contrast with the people of God using the word “but” (de):
|Hebrews 1:10-14 (NET)||Hebrews 10:37-39 (NET)|
|10 And, “You founded the earth in the beginning, Lord, and the heavens are the works of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you continue. And they will all grow old like a garment, 12 and like a robe you will fold them up and like a garment they will be changed, but you are the same and your years will never run out.”
13 But [de] to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation?
|37 For, “Just a little longer and he who is coming will arrive and not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith, and if he shrinks back, I take no pleasure in him.”
39 But [de] we are not among those who shrink back and thus perish, but are among those who have faith and preserve their souls.
PURPOSE OF THE FINAL CONTRAST
It is often claimed that Hebrews 1:10-12 can’t be read in its original context since a quote about the Father wouldn’t contribute anything to this series of contrasts between the Son and the angels. After all, angels are never explicitly mentioned in the passage. But it turns out that the author has carefully prepared the reader to assume their presence.
Hebrews 1:7 lays the groundwork with a quote from Psalm 104, which in context depicts the angels attending the Father at the creation. The Psalm later implies they will do the same at the judgment.11 This points to the presence of angels in Hebrews 1:10-12, since it similarly quotes a Psalm that describes the Father as creator and judge.
Indeed, it was understood that the Father would carry out the judgment mentioned in Hebrews 1:10-12 by means of his angels.12 As mediators of the law, they had been given the authority to execute its sentence. But while the angels are God’s powerful agents of the judgment in Hebrews 1:10-12, the Son is the one seated beside the Father in authority over them, as the contrast in Hebrews 1:13-14 points out.
Yet there is another layer of significance behind the quote in Hebrews 1:10-12. Though virginally conceived Jesus was nevertheless mortal, born under the sentence of the law, and thus “made a little lower than the angels” like the rest of mankind.13 His flesh intensely desired to avoid what his mission required: suffering at the hand of his enemies, who would falsely accuse him, flog him, and brutally murder him. This is undoubtedly why Hebrews 5:7 identifies the plea for deliverance in Psalm 102 as a Messianic prayer.
But the portion of the Psalm quoted in Hebrews 1 corresponds to the moment Jesus chose the way of the cross, making it a powerful testimony to his obedient faith.14 The quotation acknowledges the Father as creator and judge, recognizing that the creation is fallen and therefore destined for judgment according to the sentence of the law. By implication, the angels’ role is to carry out this judgement, and the Son knows that obedience requires him to experience a dreadful foretaste.
He therefore puts his faith in the eternality of God, which assures him that God’s promises regarding Zion, her King, and her people will inevitably be fulfilled.15 This enables him to do what the angels never could: make permanent purification for sin by paying the penalty of the law with his innocent life.
Hebrews 1:13-14 completes the contrast, pointing out that his obedient sacrifice has resulted in his elevation to the Father’s right hand, while the angels who previously had authority over Jesus in his mortal state have now been placed under his command to subjugate his enemies and secure the salvation of his people.
This final contrast is especially fitting because it concludes the author’s cumulative case in Hebrews 1 by reasserting the original thesis. He began in Hebrews 1:3-4 by telling us that Jesus a) made purification for sin, and b) sat down above the angels at the right hand of God. So also at his conclusion, Hebrew 1:10-12 represents the moment Jesus chose to make purification for sin, and Hebrews 1:13-14 reminds us that he subsequently sat down at God’s right hand with the angels sent out under his authority.
An accurate interpretation of Hebrews 1:10-12 must correctly determine whether or not the author of Hebrews uses Psalm 102 in context. The precedent set by the New Testament for all other Messianic Psalms is to place Christ – and not the Father – in the role of the Psalmist. And when we examine other passages in Hebrews that have bearing on Hebrews 1:10-12, we find the author views the Psalm in exactly this way.
Our assessment of Hebrews 1 confirms this conclusion. Despite superficial appearances, a careful reading shows that Hebrews 1:10-12 is not connected to the previous quote about the Son. This allows us to recognize the Psalm for what it is: a beautiful and deeply significant depiction of the Messiah’s obedient faith as the ultimate reason he was elevated above the angels.
- E.g. Matt. 27:46, Lk. 23:46. ↵
- See http://www.dianoigo.com/publications/You_Lord_in_the_beginning.pdf , p. 14 ↵
- The “changing” (Heb. 1:12) or “shaking” (Heb. 12:26) of the heavens and earth refers to the final judgment. It involves the violent alteration of the inanimate creation and its inhabitants, with the final result that the wicked are removed while the righteous are preserved (e.g. Isaiah 51:6, Haggai 2:6-7). Although Christ is presented as the one who will judge on God’s behalf elsewhere in the New Testament, the book of Hebrews highlights Christ’s role as mediator and God’s role as the ultimate judge before whom Christ intercedes. This can be traced throughout the book in places like Heb. 4:11-14, 7:23-25, and 10:21, 29-31. ↵
- Psalm 102 in the Masoretic Text is Psalm 101 in the LXX. Hebrews 1:10-12 specifically quotes the Septuagint translation of Psalm 102, since the word “Lord” is not present in the Hebrew text. ↵
- Ps. 102:11-17 ↵
- The Greek word thyella carries the sense of blowing wind in a storm ↵
- This is further confirmed in Hebrews 2:10 and 3:3-4, where the Father is expressly distinguished from the Son as the creator. ↵
- Hebrews 1:2 is often claimed to support the popular reading of Hebrews 1:10-12. In this verse, most translations say that God created the “world” through the Son. This is unfortunately misleading. The word usually rendered “world” is aion, which actually means “ages” rather than planet earth. The idea that God created the ages through the Son is likely a Hebraic way of saying that God has shaped human history with the Messiah in view. In other words, it refers to God’s activity across Israel’s history in order to prepare the nation for the Messiah and to bring him about from a particular lineage at a particular time (e.g. Eph. 3:8-12). It may also refer to God’s salvific activity with the Gentiles in the ages following the Messiah’s death and resurrection (e.g. Eph. 2:4-7). But regardless, the creator of these “ages” is identified as the Father in Heb. 1:2, which actually supports reading Heb. 1:10-12 in its original context. ↵
- For more on the kai/de structure, see: https://www.angelfire.com/space/thegospeltruth/TTD/verses/hebrews1_10.html ↵
- These kai–de contrasts are not readily apparent to the casual reader because the words kai (most commonly rendered “and”) and de (most commonly rendered “but”) can be translated several different ways, and translations vary in how they render these words at key points in the chapter. ↵
- See our previous discussion on Heb. 1:7. ↵
- God judged Israel and her enemies by the hand of angels in the OT (e.g. 1 Chr. 21:16, 2 Chr. 32:21), and the final judgment is expected to be carried out by angels in the NT (e.g. 2 Thess. 1:6-10, Rev. 15:7-8). ↵
- Heb. 2:6–9. ↵
- See our previous discussion on Heb. 5:7. ↵
- That Hebrews 1:10-12 quotes an expression of faith in God’s promises is confirmed by Psalm 102:28, the verse that immediately follows the quoted portion: “The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.” Psalm 102:23-28 is also paralleled by Psalm 102:11-22, which similarly displays the Psalmist’s faith despite facing death at the hand of his enemies. ↵