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The Greek text of Heb. 1:2 according to the Textus Receptus states,

Βʹ ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων δι᾽ οὗ καὶ τοὺς αἰῶνας ἐποίησεν TR, 1550

What is the significance of the word «υἱῷ» being anarthrous, especially considering that «ἐν τοῖς προφήταις»1 contains a definite article before «προφήταις»?


1 Heb. 1:1: πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν ἐν τοῖς προφήταις

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Short Answer: It's Significance Leads to some Ambiguity in Focus

There are two pertinent syntactical factors here1

First, Daniel Wallace notes, nouns as objects of prepositions (ἐν here) are a case where regularly definiteness is inherent even though the article is lacking. Here is his statement, but then note what is in the midst of this about Heb 1:2...

There is no need for the article to be used to make the object of a preposition definite. However, this is not to say that all prepositional objects are definite. An anarthrous noun as object of a preposition is not necessarily definite. It is often qualitative (e.g., ὑιῷ in Heb 1:2, mentioned above), or even occasionally indefinite (cf. μετὰ γυναικὸς ἐλάλει—"he was speaking with a woman" [John 4:27]). Thus, when a noun is the object of a preposition, it does not require the article to be definite: if it has the article, it must be definite; if it lacks the article, it may be definite. The reason for the article, then, is usually for other purposes (such as anaphora or as a function marker).

So second, Wallace believes the anarthrous use here in Heb 1:2 is to express qualitative purposes. The note he refers to as "mentioned above" regarding Heb 1:2 is this:

Although this should probably be translated "a Son" (there is no decent way to express this compactly in English), the force is clearly qualitative (though, of course, on the continuum it would be closer to the indefinite than the definite category). The point is that God, in his final revelation, has spoken to us in one who has the characteristics of a son. His credentials are vastly different from the credentials of the prophets (or from the angels, as the following context indicates).

His note about "on the continuum" is in reference to an image in his book showing the three ways anarthrous nouns can function, with overlap of qualitative at each end of the spectrum to the other two:

enter image description here

Here is Wallace's statement about what qualitative is:

A qualitative noun places the stress on quality, nature, or essence. It does not merely indicate membership in a class of which there are other members (such as an indefinite noun), nor does it stress individual identity (such as a definite noun). It is akin to a generic noun in that it focuses on the kind. Further, like a generic, it emphasizes class traits. Yet, unlike generic nouns, a qualitative noun often has in view one individual rather than the class as a whole.

Wallace seems to not be following his own ideas here. Note the last statement again, "unlike generic nouns, a qualitative noun often has in view one individual rather than the class as a whole," and yet of the Heb 1:2 passage, he stated in the second quote above that "it would be closer to the indefinite than the definite category" (which is then emphasizing class, not individual!).

Further Analysis Leading More to Definiteness

The problem is that as a "class," the individual Christ is one of a kind. That means all the qualitative aspects merge and are expressed only in one individual, and thus point to someone very definite. After all, there is no other "son" δι᾽ οὗ καὶ τοὺς αἰῶνας ἐποίησεν ("through whom also He made the worlds," NKJV), as v.2 itself notes.

So at the very least, Wallace (in my opinion) should have hedged his qualitative argument toward the definite side of the continuum. But I myself would lean toward agreement with the many translations that insert "His" before "son" (KJV, ESV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, etc.), which are correctly making it into a very definite reference (i.e. that the qualitative is not in view as much as the specific individual). The whole context of Heb 1:1-2:8 is leading up to the naming of this son in 2:9, "Jesus," which is a very definite reference. And again, the qualities noted in those verses are only true of this One "son," so the definite identity is not distinguishable into a "class" of individual different from this "specific" individual.

So the conclusion then is that being anarthrous is not really very significant, because clearly there is only one definite individual being noted here.


1 Quotations taken from the discussion in Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999), 243-247.

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funny you answered in the way which i said would not be a bible based interpretation then you mixed it up and said your initial response was wrong?...i think your answer is a little mixed up in general – user2134 May 7 '14 at 3:39
@caseyr547: You misread my answer. What I did is discussed the answer Daniel Wallace (a very respected Greek scholar) gave in his book; then I evaluated the text in light of the principles Wallace gives for Greek syntax, and came to a conclusion different (and somewhat opposite) from Wallace. So the first part is not "my initial response" at all, it is analyzing what someone else's response is. – ScottS May 7 '14 at 9:22
again you present an answer then you reevaluate and come to a diffierent conclusion you should summerize at the begining your exact thoughts rather than saving it for the end. – user2134 May 7 '14 at 21:13

"a son" is in contrast to prophets and angels. The first chapter is "proving" that the title that Jesus received ("son") is great than that of prophets or of angels.

Heb 1:4 ISV and became as much superior to the angels as the name [title: "a son"] he has inherited is better than theirs ["angels"].

As evidence one can see that Paul asks if an angel ever had God declare that he would adopt an angel:

Heb 1:5 ISV For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son. Today I have become your Father"? Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son"?

The rest of the chapter cites various passages showing that the title that Jesus inherited is way higher than the title "messenger" (which is what "angel" means).

The whole chapter is concerned with "proving" that the authority and dignity of a son is greater than that of an angel:

Heb 1:13 But to which of the angels did he ever say, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"? Heb 1:14 All of them are spirits on a divine mission, sent to serve those who are about to inherit salvation, aren't they?

So the anarthrous "son" ("a son") is to argue the loftiness of his being a son as opposed to being a prophet or angel.

In the next chapter he shows that his suffering and humiliation were in line with his being a son because of his mission:

Heb 2:5 For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. Heb 2:6 But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Heb 2:7 Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: Heb 2:8 Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. Heb 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. Heb 2:10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

And later on he says that Jesus' example of suffering as a son should hearten all God's children:

Heb 12:5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: Heb 12:6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. Heb 12:7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? Heb 12:8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Heb 12:9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? Heb 12:10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.

There are scholars who believe that the Jewish community to whom "To the Hebrews" was written were believers from a Samaritan background. Samaritans too strong exception to the popular Jewish idea that angels acted as mediators in the giving of the Torah and even carved the tablets:

There may have been strong reservations on their part to have a man act in a mediating role and that may be part of the purpose of the letter, to assuage that concern. Stephen's speech in Acts 6 and 7 is also suspected of showing Stephen to be a Samaritan believer.

ISV Acts 7:52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors fail to persecute? They killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. Act 7:53 You received the Law as ordained by angels, and yet you haven't obeyed it!"

I've read somewhere in a commentary that the Samaritans were called "Hebrews" as opposed to Jews. Also in both the Stephen account and in "To the Hebrews" there is apparently a Samaritan view of the temple rather than a Jewish one.

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