George Wesley Buchanan and Hebrews 1

By way of explanation:

We wrote to Professor Buchanan some years ago following the acquisition of his excellent translation and commentary To The Hebrews(vol 36, 2nd ed, 1985 printing, Anchor Bible Series). He kindly wrote back. We have not sought or gained his permission to make public this letter. But we feel that as it does not contain anything that the above work of his does not already make clear and the letter can speak for itself, we herewith present it. It might be noted that even[!] though Prof.Buchanan prefers a translation of Hebrews 1:8 as, "but[with reference]to the Son,[it says],"Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.....", (Buchanan's translation), applying the term "God" to the Son, he still says that for the author of Hebrews, "... the Son was the first-born, the apostle of God, the reflection of God's glory, and the stamp of his nature (1:3,6), but he was not God himself."-To The Hebrews, p.21

Dear Mr ......... 

Thankyou for your thoughtful letter. You will probably notice that my commentary on Hebrews was published 23 years ago. I expect to revise it either for the Anchor or the Mellen series by the end of the century. I have had not had any basis for changing my views expressed in this book, but I have had many reasons for updating it and clarifying many of the points. You will find them given more clearly in my book Biblical and Theological Insights from Ancient and Modern Civil Law(Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press,c1992) and Revelation:Its Introduction and Commentary(Lewiston: Mellen, c1993). One of the important distinctions to be made is between legal identity and ontological identity. A legal agent is indentical legally to the principal who sent him or her even though the principal and agent are ontologically different people. Suppose, for instance, that the queen of England(a principal)appoints an ambassador(a legal agent) to negotiate with the president of the USA. Even if the ambassador is a male, 21 years old, 6ft feet tall, and weighs 250lbs., legally he is identical to the queen. i.e. he is legally the queen. Anything he negotiates is done in the name of the queen, in the interests of the queen, and at the responsibilty of the queen. It has all the authority of the crown behind it. Rabbis said the man's agent was like the man himself. Legally, this large, young, male is the small, female queen. A legal agent is an apostle. Many kings were considered legal agents of the deity. The pharaoh, for example, was called the son of two different deities at once. This is physically impossible, but not legally. Legally, but not physically or ontologically, these kings were called gods. Just as the ambassador was the queen, so a king is God, legally. In John 14, for instance, Jesus said, "He that has seen me has seen the Father." That is like saying, "He that has seen the ambassador has seen the queen." But in the same chapter, Jesus said, "But the Father is greater." In the commentary you read, I distinguished between God himself and Jesus. I would now use the words "legal" and "ontological" to express this difference; the meaning is the same.

Now to answer some of your questions:

  1)When I first published some of my ideas in 1970 they stunned most biblical scholars. In response, most pretended that I did not exist; no one was able to refute me; others stopped writing on these subjects. A few approved of them. I received no adverse reviews of my book To the Hebrews. Gradually, other scholars are now reaching the same conclusions, usually without giving credit for them. I suppose Sir Anthony Buzzard and Prof.Richard Hiers hold views as close to mine as anyone. Buzzard has written several articles in the Journal, The Radical Reformation. Hiers has written articles in JBL and NTS. I am sure there are others, but I do not make a point of remembering all of the secondary sources. You will find other bibliographical material in my books.   People are afraid of being called heretics, but this anxiety is also passing slowly. I read many papers at international meetings. I am asked many questions, but I can't remember anyone trying to refute me. I think the field is opening up.  

2)It is literally possible to translate Heb.1:8 as Goodspeed has, but it does not make any sense. The context argues against it. If you have other questions, please write again.  


George Wesley Buchanan


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