Role of Chiasm for Understanding Christology in Hebrews 1:1-14
Talbot School of Theology
Albert Vanhoye, in his book entitled La structure littéraire de l'Épître aux Hébreux, discusses different literary devices employed by the author of Hebrews. Through a careful analysis of these devices in Hebrews, he proposes that the overall structure of the epistle is symmetrical (or chiastic). In addition, he suggests that many passages of Hebrews are written in a chiastic manner. However, he fails to identify the overall symmetrical patterns of 1:1-4 and 1:5-14. In recent years scholars have recognized the complexity of the literary design of Heb 1:1-14. Some share the opinion that the exordium (1:1-4) is so intricately organized in form and style that it is probably one of the finest literary works in the whole NT. Others have even observed the presence of a chiastic structure in this passage. Richard Bauckham maintains that the catena of the OT quotations in 1:5-13 has a chiastic arrangement. Moreover, others have come to realize that there are literary and conceptual correlations between 1:1-4 and 1:5-14. For instance, William L. Lane suggests that there exists a synthetic parallelism between the two passages. Likewise, John P. Meier argues that there is a general agreement between 1:1-4 and 1:5-14, even though the symmetry lacks a one-to-one correspondence. These scholars have provided helpful insights for a better understanding of the structure and theology of Heb 1:1-14. However, they might have overlooked the possibility that the author of Hebrews may have intended vv. 1-4 and vv. 5-14 to be in a perfect symmetry with the idea of different stages of Christ's existence (i.e., exaltation, preexistence, and incarnation). I propose that Heb 1:1-14 was designed as a chiastic structure by the author, which may be illustrated as follows:A The function of the Son: God's final spokesperson (vv. 1-2a).B The Son in his exaltation: heir of all things (v. 2b).C The Son in his preexistence: bearer of God's nature, creator, and sustainer of the world (vv. 2c-3b).D The Son in his incarnation: purifier of sins (v. 3c). E The Son in his exaltation: he sat down at the right hand of God, with the result that he became superior to the angels (vv. 3d-4).E′ The Son in his exaltation: because of God's enthronement of the Son at the right hand, he is superior to the angels (v. 5).D′ The Son in his incarnation: the Son who is brought into the world is superior to the angels because they worship him (v. 6).C′ The Son in his preexistence: the Son is superior to the angels because he is God (vv. 7-12).B′ The Son in his exaltation: the Son is superior to the angels because the Father has exalted him at his right hand (v. 13).A′ The function of the angels: the Son is superior to the angels because they are the ministering spirits for the sons who will inherit salvation (v. 14).
Journal of Biblical Literature
DOI of Published Version
Rhee, Victor S., "Role of Chiasm for Understanding Christology in Hebrews 1:1-14" (2012). Faculty Articles & Research. 302.