“To Which of the Angels Did God Ever Say?” Filial Language and the Angelic Polemic in Hebrews 1–2

In Hebrews 1–2 the identity of Jesus is developed in terms of his relationship to the Father, to the angels, and to humanity. Particularly, the filial language between Father and Son is of prime importance to distinguish the Son from the angelic cohort. In recent scholarship, Hebrews scholars have identified various arguments for the logic of filial sonship and the Son’s superiority over the angels. Loren Stuckenbruck (Angel Veneration 1995) notes the Zeitgeist of angelic preeminency as heavenly figures as a potential threat to the superiority of the Son. Amy Peeler’s recent volume (“You are My Son” 2014) documents some of this discussion without identifying a specific position. Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the God of Israel 2008) argues the sonship and angel language is an argument of spatial ontology—to be deity is to be “above” the angels. David Moffitt points to the distinct nature of angels and Jesus (Atonement and Logic 2011) —angels are spirits. Kenneth Schenck (“Celebration of Enthroned Son” 2001) and Paul Ellingsworth (Hebrews 1993) mark the comparison in terms of covenantal mediation. Thus, I will seek to build from this current discussion and inquire what is the rhetorical argument of Hebrews 1–2 in terms of the filial language and angelic polemic. I will argue for a reading of Heb 1–2 that joins together the ontological, covenantal mediation, as well as a sacrificial necessity of the identity of Jesus in relation to the angels. In order to prove such argument, I shall note how the angelic position serves as the fulcrum for the superiority and incarnation of Jesus—to be above the angels is ontological divine and superior and to be below is to obtain human nature. Also, Hebrews 1–2 is structured around a “speaking” motif in which the angels provide covenant mediation, but the filial relationship between Son and Father now provides a better covenant. Last, the angelic polemic, especially in Heb 2, is situated around covenantal and priestly themes. The filial language invites humanity to participate in the priestly work of the Son, and not with the angels.