How Jesus Fulfills Psalm 8 according to the Writer of Hebrews

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

For the writer of Hebrews, just how does Christ fulfill Psalm 8:4-6? The crux of the interpretation, I believe, is in how one understands 2:8b:

"In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him."

Who is referred to by the three1 occurrences of the pronoun "him" (autō)? Man or the exalted Christ? It seems rather clear to me that man is the intended referent. Ellingworth outlines four arguments which support this view, and notes that nearly all commentators hold this view:

  1. Psalm 8 was understood to refer to man rather than Christ in early Christian times.
  2. There is no firm Rabbinic evidence that the Psalm was understood messianically.
  3. Huios anthrōpou in the OT generally is a synonym for man and this usage is reflected in the NT.
  4. Ton de ... 'Iesoun (vs. 9a) strongly suggests a contrast with some other figure, namely man.2

I do not find Elingworth's rather subtle arguments against taking the autō as "man" compelling.3 It does no violence to either Psalm 8 or to Hebrews 2 to take autō as man, while to take it as referring to Christ requires a good bit of rationalizing. Occam's razor brings us to a rather clean-shaven conclusion.

Moreover, the passage contains the strong concept of Jesus fulfilling Psalm 8 for man as one of them, as a representative of man rather than as God himself.4 Jesus as the representative Man was made "a little while lower than the angels," and has become superior to the angels by being "crowned with glory and honor" and everything--including angels -- being put under his feet (2:7-8).

Now we will take this concept of how Jesus became superior to angels in chapter 2 to examine how it fits with Jesus' superiority over angels in Chapter 1. Of the seven quotations which argue the superiority of Jesus over angels in Hebrews 1:5-14, most can lend some support the idea that Jesus is greater than angels in Chapter 1 because He is the Man who fulfills the destiny of man spelled out in Psalms 8. We will explore this hypothesis.

1. Psalm 2:7

"You are my Son; today I have become your Father." This Psalm seems to have been written initially about the Davidic king, referring back to God's promise to David through the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 7:14 concerning his son Solomon, and Solomon's successors: "I will be his father, and he will be my son." This concept is also referred to in Psalm 89:26, when the promise to David is rehearsed before God: "He will call out to me, 'You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior."'

Psalm 2 goes on in verse 8: "Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession..." This is reminiscent of the language of Genesis 1:26: "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule ... over all the earth..." Thus the Davidic king in Psalm 2:7 fulfills Psalm 8 in several particulars: (a) "Crowned him with glory and honor." Here is a human king being crowned with glory and honor, fulfilled completely by Jesus, who in his exalted self is glory and honor. (b) "You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet..." Both these expression often used of kings, "ruler" and "under his feet."5

2. 2 Samuel 7:14 and 1 Chronicles 17:13

"I will be his Father and he will be my Son." The same arguments apply as cited for Psalm 2:7 above.

3. Deuteronomy 32:43 (Septuagint)

"Let all God's angels worship (proskunesatōsan) him." This quotation could be from several sources, the chief of which are: (a) Deuteronomy 32:43 or (b) Ps 97:7b, both from the Septuagint.

Deuteronomy 32:43 (Septuagint) reads: "Rejoice, you heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship (proskunesatōsan) him; rejoice you Gentiles, with his people and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him." This is word-for-word the same form in which the quotation is given in Hebrews 1:6. The Masoretic text seems to drop the first line of this verse and begins with the second clause: "Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants." Nor is the idea of "the sons of God strengthening themselves" in God of the Septuagint found in the Masoretic text. The "him" in Deuteronomy 32:43 is Yahweh, the Lord, and the context is the Song of Moses, singing of God's vengeance upon his adversaries.

The other possibility is Psalm 9:7b (Septuagint): "Let all that worship graven images be ashamed, who boast of their idols; worship (proskunesate) him, all you his angels." The context is "The LORD reigns" and all are to worship Him. The Masoretic text gives ’elohim rather than "angels" as in the Septuagint.6

Of those two, Deuteronomy uses the exact words as the quotation in Hebrews 1. Ellingworth (p. 119) concludes, and I agree: "The most probable explanation is that he is quoting Deuteronomy 32:43b in a form not now directly attested, but to which 4QDeut gives indirect support."

But why should the author quote this passage with reference to Christ, rather than to God which the context of the Deuteronomy passage seems to require? Ellingworth explains (pp. 119-120), "The reference to God in the Septuagint is less than explicit, and rapid changes of person in the passage may have been understood by the author of Hebrews, not as a peculiarity of Hebrew poetic style, but as implying a dialogue of divine persons in which the Father presents the Son to the angels, to be worshipped by them."

But how does this help us see Jesus in this quotation as fulfilling Psalm 8? F.F. Bruce offers a clue, however. "There is a Rabbinic tradition to the effect that when Adam (who in one sense was God's 'firstborn') was created (or 'introduced into the world'), God invited the angels to worship him, but at Satan's instigation they refused. (The Life of Adam and Eve, 13f.) ... Here, however, it is not the first Adam but the last who is the object of angelic homage..."7 So perhaps this passage does indeed, by association with this Rabbinic tradition, contain the idea of angels worshiping man in the person of the representative Adam, fulfilled by Christ.

4. Psalm 104:4

"He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire." Here the Lord God is pictured as wrapping himself in light as with a garment, making the clouds his chariot, and riding on the wings of the wind. Angels do Yahweh's bidding as his messengers. Since this speaks of angels rather than of Jesus, it does not count in our attempt to see Jesus fulfilling Psalm 8.

5. Psalm 45:6-7

In verse 7 God sets the subject "above your companions," perhaps again as their representative or ideal, "by anointing you with the oil of joy." The subject here is the Davidic king, and the psalm is a wedding song.

6. Psalm 102:25-27

In 1:2 the writer of Hebrews establishes Christ as the One "through whom he made the universe." Thus he freely applies what was written of Yahweh in Psalm 102:25-27 to Christ as His agent.

I see here little fulfillment of Psalm 8. In Psalm 8, man is given dominion over the earth God has created. In this quotation, Christ is credited with creating the earth itself.

7. Psalm 110:1

"Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." The idea here is that Yahweh is helping the human Lord gain dominion over his enemies, which have thus far prevented him from having the full dominion spoken of in Psalm 8.

I have shown that in 5 out of the 6 quotations referring to Christ, the concept of Jesus fulfilling Psalm 8 on behalf of man can be seen. Is this an intentional element of these quotations? If so, it is rather obscure. This does not seem to be the thrust of the author's use of these quotations to me. In the absence of clear clues in the immediate text of chapter 1, then, I am not convinced that we are intended to see Jesus as fulfilling Psalm 8 in these quotations.

References

  1. The Nestle-Aland text shows three occurrences of autō in this verse, though p46, B, vulgate mss. and others omit this autō.
  2. Paul Ellingworth, Commentary on Hebrews (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), pp. 150f.
  3. Ellingworth outlines eight arguments which favor autō referring to Christ rather than mankind, which he finds convincing:

    (1) Since the writer of Hebrews shows himself to be a creative exegete, that the Psalm originally referred to man is, though probable, hardly relevant.

    (2) The use of Ho huios tou anthrōpou in the Gospels is so frequent, and so closely associated with Jesus, that it may well have led the author of Hebrews to read Psalm 8 in a Christological sense.

    (3) Even if the author understood huios anthrōpou as synonymous with anthrōpos, it remains an open question whether he assimilated the meaning of huios anthrōpou to that of anthrōpos, or vice versa.

    (4) There is ample evidence in Jewish apocalyptic and in Christianized gnosticism of speculation about a figure variously known as the Son of Man, the first or perfect man, or simply as ho anthrōpos.

    (5) Ps 8:1,9 refers to the onoma kuriou, which according to Hebrews 1:2, 4 would mean primarily Jesus' title of "Son."

    (6) Hebrews contains no previous reference to humanity in general.

    (7) The contrast implied in ton de .... 'Iesoun is most naturally explained as taking account of the difficulty the author encountered in applying the quotation consistently to Christ.

    (8) Both in the context in Hebrews, and the use of Psalms 110:1 and 8:6-8 elsewhere in the NT, suggest that hupokatōn podōn autou in 2:8a should be understood in the same way as hupopodion tōn podōn sou in 1:13 which unquestionably refers to Christ.

    Ellingworth concludes, "The balance of evidence outlined above, and the trend of the argument in the following verses, suggests ... that the primary reference is to Christ, but that what is said of Christ in the psalm has immediate implications for believers. Such a double application would be in character for the author..."
  4. The idea of man's representative is seen in 2:9-13 in the phrases "that he might taste death for (huper) everyone" (9b), "author" (archagos, in the sense of "3. originator, founder" as well as "2. 'one who begins' something, as first in a series and thus supplies the impetus." Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon... (Second Edition; University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 112.)

    Also verse 10, "bringing many sons to glory," that is, the "glory" of Psalm 8:6. Verse 11 notes that man and Jesus are of the "same family" and "brothers," which is underscored by quotations from Psalm 22:22 and Isaiah 8:17-18.
  5. This is reminiscent of the position of conqueror with the vanquished foe's neck literally under the victor's foot.
  6. Ellingworth also gives possibilities from Odes 2:43b and 4QDeut 32:43b, "and prostrate yourselves before him, all gods."
  7. F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (New International Commentary on the New Testament, revised edition; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1990), p. 57.

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

Sign up now!To be notified about future articles, stories, and Bible studies,why don't you subscribe to our free newsletter,The Joyful Heart, by placing your e-mail address in the box below. We respect your privacy and never sell, rent, or loan our lists. Please don't subscribe your friends; let them decide for themselves.
FirstLast
E-mail
Country(2-letter abbreviation, such as US)
Preferred FormatHTML (recommended) Plain text