The Divine and Human in the Book of Hebrews

Geerhardus Vos, in his book The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews, pointed out the significance of the way that the Old Testament quotes were introduced in the book of Hebrews. If they were not set up with the clause, “He says,” or “He has said,” or “He who said to Him” (thus intimating that the Father was speaking, and in the last clause He is speaking to the Son) then it is introduced by the phrase “The Holy Spirit says” (Hebrews 3:7) or “The Holy Spirit indicating this,” (Hebrews 9:8) or “The Holy Spirit also witnesses to us” (Hebrews 10:15). Vos went on to note that this is important precisely because we do not know who the human author of the book was. Vos wrote:

Paul personifies the Scripture by using the expression God says. He does this only when quoting from statements of the Old Testament in which God is the speaker. Otherwise He says, “Scripture says” or “As it is written…” But 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, “Someone somewhere 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.1

While recognizing that most of the Puritans, and many of the Scottish and Southern Presbyterians, believed that Paul wrote Hebrews, we have to conclude that we do not have sufficient evidence to come to such a conclusion. In fact there is ample evidence that Paul did not write Hebrews. (See Theodore Zahn’s arguments for and against Pauline authorship). What Vos suggested was that the book of Hebrews is meant to teach us that all of Scripture (and specifically in the Old Testament) is God-breathed; and that the Divine element is the most important interpretive principle of Scripture. Vos’ point is strengthened by the fact that the human author of Ps. 8 [David] is referred to as, “Someone testified in a certain place, saying...” The significance of this is that it didn’t matter who penned the quote, the fact was that God had spoken. The human author of Hebrews would have had to have known that David wrote the quote in Psalm 8 because of the knowledge he had of the Old Testament Scriptures. The reason why the writer of Hebrews purposefully left the name of the writer of Psalm 8 out is because of the superior role that the Divine authorship plays in the giving of Scripture. The genius of this book, with regard to its teaching on the Divine inspiration of Scripture, is that we do not know who the human author of Hebrews was–but we know that “God as spoken.” What the author does with David in Psalm 8 we now do with Hebrews. There are depths of theological instruction here if we only had eyes to see them.

There also seems to be strong arguments here against an overemphasis on the importance of studying the Bible in light of Ancient Near Eastern and Second Temple Judaistic texts in order to understand the meaning of Scripture. While we certainly want to recognize the importance of authorial intent–its seems like the writer to Hebrews was intimating that the divine authorship is what we need to know. The context of the divine authorship, as is clear from the plethora of Old Testament quotes, is the canon of Scripture. The human element of scripture cannot hold the same place of importance as the Divine or else we would have to have known, beyond a reasonable doubt, who wrote the letter to the Hebrews in order to get the correct interpretation.


1. Geerhardus Vos The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1956) p. 73

7 Responses

  1. Nicholas T. Batzig


    I would also recommend some articles by Vern Poythress on the theological interpretation of Scripture. (one of them is in a JETS issue from the past year or two, and others are probably on the Frame-Poythress website). While he is careful not to reject the grammatical-historical method, he emphasized the need to govern the grammatical-historical method with the theological method. The Divine authorial intent, in other words, is the guiding principle–not the other way around. We have had so little of this emphasized in our day, even in the Reformed Churches. A friend of mine suggested that it is because we are afraid of an open ended hermeneutical approach to Scripture. The problem would be making the Scripture say whatever we want it to say. But, if we approach the Scripture looking for the Divine authorial intent, and then employ the principles of the grammatical-historical approach within the canon (comparing scripture with scripture) we will be on safer ground. I think this is general accurate.

  2. Joshua Rieger


    I was reading in the Summary of Christian Doctrine, by Berkhof, yesterday. I found a statement which struck me, since I had just read this blog.

    In relation to the Scriptural proof for the inspiration of Scripture He said, “The Epistle to the Hebrews often quotes passages of the OT as words of God or of he Holy Spirit, Heb. 1:5; 3:7; 4:3; 5:6; 7:21.”

    I know that this isn’t much, but since this book is only a few sentences on each topic it is a lot of the material on that subject. I just found it interesting. I’ll have to look at his Sys. Theol. and see what he says in there, when I get home.

  3. Nicholas T. Batzig

    I want to add to this post a recommendation of Dr. Richard Gaffin’s book “God’s Word in Servant Form.”

  4. Roland Mathews

    Hey Nick,

    I think you are fundamentally correct. I don’t know that I have anything to add, except to say that I am certainly eager to see you develop this.



  5. Pingback : The Holy Spirit Says… - Feeding on Christ

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