Tuesday, 9 September 2008

On not worshipping the Bible (Hebrews 1:1-2:4)

Hebrews 1 is a puzzling passage to many. Why does the writer focus so much on Jesus' superiority to angels?

The clue, I think, comes from the broader context to the letter, and from another verse. The rest of the book tells us that Hebrews is addresses to Jewish converts to Christianity, who are under pressure to return to Judaism, and the Levitical sacrifices. Hebrews 2:2 alludes to how, according to Jewish tradition, the Law was given to Moses via the mediation of angels (see also Deuteronomy 33:2 and Acts 7:53).

It's important to demonstrate that the Son is superior to the angels, then, because in doing so, the writer is demonstrating Jesus' superiority over Old Testament revelations and the shadows of Christ it gives (a theme of the whole book). It seems that some believers were confused about whether Christ truly superseded the OT because it was mediated by angels - therefore, considered of massive holiness.

Notice, then, how even in these early chapters the writer calls his readers:

- to realise the uniqueness of the Son's revelation over other ways in which God has spoken (1:1-2, 2:2-3);
- to realise the uniqueness of the Son's status (1:4-5), demonstrated through his completed atonement sacrifice and resurrection from the dead (c.f. Romans 1:4);
- to appreciate that Old Testament revelation itself speaks of a divine King (1:8-9), citing Psalm 45;
- to appreciate that whilst the unique Son's work is complete, that angels continue to work in the lives of believers, bringing about his royal will (1:13-14).

The Son, then, is superior to that which 'angels' represent: he is the ultimate revelation of God, his ministry achieves what the shadows of the Old Testament could not, and he is fully worthy of worship. What 'angels' do is help believing Christians to persevere to inherit salvation.

If, as it seems likely to me, that in this context angels represent the old covenant and Old Testament revelation, we infer that the Old Testament is no mere information, but given to draw us to worship of Christ, the Son and the ultimate revelation of God. Biblical revelation is unlike Quranic revelation (information about God), but to lead us to worship of God himself.

As I read this passage today, it struck me that some evangelical Christians are in danger of worshipping the Bible (the 'angels'), rather than to lead them to worship of the Son himself. The Bible is not God. The Bible is not worthy of a place at God's right hand. The Bible cannot, by itself, in its mere words bring salvation. The Bible cannot, by itself, in its mere words keep a believer persevering.

I cherish and love the Bible, but I must not let it draw my affections away from the Son it reveals and glorifies. Through the Spirit, the Bible reveals and points us to the Son. To worship the Bible (whether through using it for knowledge rather than worship, or anything else) is a dangerous idolatry. It is to worship an angel, rather than the one who commands the angels to work out his will and draw people to worship.

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