The Divine authorship of Scripture is a subject to which we should constantly return and one that should recurrently fill the minds of the people of God. That God has spoken in the Scriptures and that He speaks today in the Old and New Testament is of supreme importance to the life of faith of a believer. No one captures this truth so much as does the writer of the letter to the Hebrews. In 13 chapters, the writer gives upwards of approximately 40 Old Testament citations (in various forms taken from the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint (LXX) or paraphrased from the LXX or the Masoretic Text). Nearly one third of the OT citations in Hebrews are from the Psalms. While the teaching of these OT citations are of supreme importance, the way in which the writer introduced these citations is equally instructive and important.
The book of Hebrews opens with the epic words, “God has spoken” (Heb. 1:1). While there is certainly a redemptive-historical focus on the way in which God has spoken in the Old Testament and in the New, the point is simple–God is a God who speaks and He speaks in the Scriptures. As He develops the theological importance of God speaking of His Son in the Scriptures, the writer makes constant appeal to the Old Testament. Simon Kistemaker, in his doctoral dissertation The Psalm Citations in the Epistle to the Hebrews, made the important observation about the way in which the writer introduces many of the OT citations when he wrote:
In the epistle to the Hebrews…the speaker is generally represented as God whenever quotations of the Old Testament are introduced (Hebrews 1:5; 4:3,4: 5:5,6; 6:13; 8:8; 12:26-27; 13:5), and even where the words are in the third person singular about God (Hebrews 1:6-8; 4:6-7; 7:21; 10:30b). At other times the words spoken by God are listed elsewhere as an utterance of the Holy Spirit. Akin to this phenomenon is the quotation in Hebrews 8:8, which is introduced as a word spoken by God, but which in Hebrews 10:15 is rendered as testimony of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, there are some citations which are put into the mouth of Christ (Hebrews 2:12; 10:5; 10:30a), and some which are spoken concerning Him (Hebrews 1:8; 7:17, 21). Also there are two quotations introduced by the indefinite adverb somewhere (Hebrews 2:6; 4:4). In the introduction of the quotation from Ps. 8:4-6 (Heb. 2:6) there is also the indefinite pronoun someone, which is proceeded by the verb to testify. The author is not interested in the composer, David, for the psalm does not concern the poet. By omitting the name of the psalmist, he wishes to fix attention on the word of God, which was once testified by David.1
The thought that the writer purposefully avoided naming the human author of Psalm 8 in his reference to it in Hebrews 2 is of no small importance. Geerhardus Vos took note of this fact when he made the following observation:
In the Epistle to the Hebrews God is everywhere represented as the speaker in the Old Testament. Only one passage, Heb. 4:7, names the human instrument, and even that one says God saying in David. The author goes so far as to say that it matters little who the human author may have been; the main thing is that God said it. Elsewhere he says, Somewhere someone has testified. Of course the author of Hebrews, thoroughly familiar with the Old Testament as he was, knew who that someone was, but still he does not name him.2
The specific subjects and verbs with which the writer of Hebrews introduced the Old Testament citations also bear special significance. B.B. Warfield, in his essay “It Says,” “Scripture Says,” “God Says,” highlighted the importance of the way in which the writer used various forms of the verb λέγω (i.e. “He says”) with which to introduce the various members of the Godhead as the subjects speaking throughout the Old Testament:
“In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the verb λέγω is used to introduce citations, (1) with expressed subject: 2:6, “But someone somewhere has borne witness, saying.…”; 3:7, “Even as the Holy Ghost says.…”; 6:14, “God.… swore by himself, saying.…”: (2) with subject to be supplied from the preceding context: 1:6, “And when he (God) again brings in the firstborn into the world, he says.…”; 1:7, “And of the angels he (God) says.…”; 2:12, “He (Christ) is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying.…”; 5:6, “As he (God) says also in another place.…”: (3) with subject to be supplied from the general knowledge of the reader: 10:5, “Therefore when he (Christ) comes into the world, he says.…”; 10:8, “Saying (Christ) above.…”; 12:26, “But now has he (God) promised, saying.…”: (4) without obvious subject: 3:15, “While it is said, Today, etc.” (by whom? God? or the Scripture quoted, 3:7 seq.?); 4:7, “He [or it?] again defines a certain time, saying in David.…”; 8:8, “For finding fault with them, he [or it?] says.…” (cf. 8:13, “in that he [or it?] says.…”).”3
In the short appendix to his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, titled, “On the Use of the Old Testament in the Epistle,” B.F. Wescott emphasized the importance of the way in which the author of the epistle to the Hebrews fails to mention the human author–while fixating on the Divine author–in his citations of the Old Testament:
“The quotations are without exception made anonymously. There is no mention anywhere of the name of the writer (4:7 is no exception to the rule). God is presented as the speaker through the person of the prophet, except in the one place where He is directly addressed (2:6).…In two places the words are attributed to Christ.…In two other places the Holy Spirit specially is named as the speaker.…But it is worthy of notice that in each of these two cases the words are also quoted as the words of God (4:7, 8:8). This assignment of the written word to God, as the Inspirer of the message, is most remarkable when the words spoken by the prophet in his own person are treated as divine words–as words spoken by Moses: 1:6 (Deut. 32:43); 4:4, comp. vv. 5, 7, 8 (Gen. 2:2); 10:30 (Deut. 32:36); and by Isaiah: 2:13 (Isa. 8:17 f), comp. also 13:5 (Deut. 31:6). Generally it must be observed that no difference is made between the word spoken and the word written. For us and for all ages the record is the voice of God. The record is the voice of God, and as a necessary consequence the record is itself living.… The constant use of the present tense in quotations emphasizes this truth: 2:11, 3:7, 12:5. Comp. 12:6.”4
Any serious student will immediately observe that the important point that Wescott has established is that “no difference is made between the word spoken and the word written. For us and for all ages the record is the voice of God.” The writer of Hebrews makes this point throughout his letter by lifting the word “Today” out of Psalm 95:7. The theological focus of that Psalm, upon which the writer’s mind was fixed, is that “there remains a rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:1; 9), provided they do not harden their hearts when they hear God’s word spoken in the Scriptures “today.” In the Old Testament era, Joshua had, in one sense given rest to the people of God when they came into the promised land; however, so many hundreds of years later, God through David, in Psalm 95, said, “there remains a rest for the people of God.” In this sense, it is right for us to see that Joshua had not given the true, eternal rest to the people of God that only the greater Joshua, Jesus Christ, can give. This is a point that the writer emphasizes in Hebrews 4 when he wrote: “If Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day” (Heb. 4:8). There remains a promise of entering that rest if we do not harden our hearts in unbelief. Then, the writer drives home his point by an appeal to Psalm 95:7-8, saying, “Today, if you will hear His voice: ‘Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion…in the wilderness.’” Whenever the Word of God, from the Old or the New Testament is read, the living and true God is speaking His Word of Promise concerning the eternal rest that is promised to those who will enter that rest by faith.
The writer of Hebrews not only appeals to God as the author and speaker of the Old Testament, He alludes to the multiplicity of the members of the Godhead as the author of the Old Testament–sometimes as even speaking within Himself. For instance, in the first two chapters there is a Divine dialogue between the Father and the Son. The writer not only attributes authorship to the Old Testament citations in that first chapter, he goes so far as to make God the subject of what was spoken there as well. The writer fixated on what the Father was saying to the Son in the pages of the Old Testament. This has massive implications for our Christology and redemptive-historical reading of Scripture, but it is equally important for our understanding of the abiding significance of the word of God. If the everlasting Father says to the everlasting Son, “Your throne O God is forever and ever…”–citing a portion of Psalm 45 in Heb. 1–then that word is eternal in nature. This is the very point of the writer introducing the OT citations, not with reference to the human author but with regard to the Divine authorship.
This article first appeared at Nick’s blog and is posted here with permission.
2. Vos, G. (1956). The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews. (J. G. Vos, Ed.) (p. 73). Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.
3. B.B. Warfield, “It Says,” “He says,” “God Says” in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Revelation and Inspiration (Vol. 1, pp. 283–332). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
4. B.F. Wescott Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: MacMillen and Co., 1892) pp. 475-476