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απαυγασμα is radiance:

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:3, NIV)

I see three possible ways radiance can be understood by the context:

  • The Son is like beams of light fully representing the Father. This would imply radiance in an active sense of radiating, as lightwaves move across the universe.

  • The Son is like light reflecting in a mirror by which we see the Father. Again this would imply active wavelengths of light hitting our retina in order for us to see the original source of the reflection.

  • The Son is a person embodying the full light of the Father. This would be like a Sun, giving birth to another Sun, so that the representation of the born Sun is just like the original Sun.

What I am wondering is, does the sense of the word απαυγασμα from a pure languages analysis lend itself more towards one of these three understandings, or must a decision be made between them be purely based from a theological and contextual ground?

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1 Answer 1

Language is context.

The term that more tightly defines the context here is not radiance, but glory, which in the OT often referred not to a disembodied idea, but rather to the actual presence of God: on Mt. Sinai, in the tabernacle, in the Ark when it was stolen by the Philistines. The απ' αυγασμα, the "brightness coming out" of (not bouncing off) that earthly presence is therefore not a reflection, nor is it (linguistically) a genesis. Instead, it is the presence of God being emitted from the presence of God in an earthly manifestation.

Some (Calvin) have suggested the reflection interpretation; the best source I can offer for that is Wisdom 7:25-26:

Steam that ascends from the fervour of divine activity, pure effluence of his glory who is God all-powerful, she feels no passing taint; she, the glow that radiates from eternal light, she, the untarnished mirror of God’s majesty, she, the faithful image of his goodness.

It seems that the author of Hebrews is evoking this passage (but uses χαρακτὴρ (representation) instead of Wisdom's εἰκὼν (image) in the next phrase). But the author of Hebrews leaves out any mention of a reflection. Note that both passages mention several analogies; we are not forced to pick one and reconcile all words in either passage to it. Ancient understanding was perfectly comfortable proceeding by synthesis rather than analysis.

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thanks - this makes some sense to me. Does this shinning glory indicate a tense. What I mean is there anything indicating that it is past, present, continous or complete? –  Mike Mar 11 '13 at 23:59

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