Charis, Choris, and a Chorus of Patristic Interpreters of Hebrews 2:9

The manuscript tradition of Hebrews 2:9 overwhelmingly supports the reading, “by the grace of God ['chariti theou'], he tasted death for everyone.” Commentators note, however, that multiple church fathers supported a variant: “apart from God ['choris theou'], he tasted death for everyone.” Theodore of Mopsuestia had used the variant to argue that Jesus died “distinct from his deity.” Although Theophylact maintained that “Nestorians” had introduced this alteration for their purposes, several evidences refute his position. First, "choris theou" appears long before the fifth-century Christological controversies. Second, various Patristic authors had accepted the "choris theou" variant, but as a limitation of “cosmic salvation”: Jesus tasted death for everyone [or everything], “except God.” Origen, an early proponent of this “cosmic interpretation,” maintained that Jesus died for all rational beings (humans, angels, and even the stars), “apart from God.” Within a Patristic milieu that emphasized the “cosmic” ramifications of Jesus’ work, such a reading possessed great power. Nevertheless, the word order of Hebrews 2:9 and the overall argument of the passage counter such a death for all beings “except God.” In fact, verse 16 insists that Jesus died for humans and not for angels. One should not assume, however, that Patristic interpreters provide no hermeneutical assistance. Their “cosmic” insights into Hebrews 2 demonstrate that Jesus died as the representative Human in order that humanity might share in his subjugation of “all things” (2:8). In this manner, a “cosmic” outcome retains a secondary yet important role within the passage. This “cosmic” framework solves another interpretive quandary within 2:9. Although many commentators interpret the "huper" construction as denoting “substitution,” the wider context (with its emphasis upon humanity’s rule over the cosmos through Christ) supports a broader sense of "huper." Jesus died “for the benefit of” humans, so that they might participate in his exalted authority.