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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?

NOTE: This is the entry from BDAG lexicon for ἀπαύγασμα:

ἀπαύγασμα, ατος, τό (s. αὐγάζω; Heliod. 5, 27, 4 φωτὸς ἀ.; TestAbr A 16 p. 97, 17 [Stone p. 42]; Philo; Wsd 7:26; Tat. 15, 3 τῆς … ὕλης καὶ πονηρίας [of hostile spirits]; Plut. has ἀπαυγασμός Mor. 83d and 934d; PGM 4, 1130 καταύγασμα) act. radiance, effulgence, in the sense of brightness from a source; pass., reflection, i.e. brightness shining back. The mng. cannot always be determined w. certainty. The pass. is prob. to be preferred in Plut. The act. seems preferable for Wsd and Philo (Op. Mundi 146, Spec. Leg. 4, 123, Plant. 50), corresp. to Hesychius: ἀ.=ἡλίου φέγγος. Philo uses the word of the relation of the Logos to God. Christ is described as ἀ. τῆς δόξης radiance of his glory Hb 1:3 (the act. mng. in the Gk. fathers Orig.; Gregory of Nyssa; Theodoret; Chrysostom: φῶς ἐκ φωτός. Likew. Theodore of Mopsu.; Severian of Gabala; Gennadius of Constantinople: KStaab, Pauluskommentare ’33, 201; 346; 421). For this ἀ. τῆς μεγαλωσύνης 1 Cl 36:2.—FDölger, Ac I 1929, 269ff. DELG s.v. αὐγή.

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 99). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

2

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.

  • 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
1

It came from two Greek words ἀπό (off) and αὐγή (day-light). Hence, the Greek word απαυγασμα literally means "a light shining forth from" (i.e. radiation).

This radiation can either be active or passive depending on the context.

ACTIVE

To emit light (effulgence).

PASSIVE

To mirror light (reflection).

The Greek word απαυγασμα carries the active sense of the word in Hebrews 1:3 since the context requires it:

  1. Jesus Christ is exactly like God in his being.

"...the exact likeness of God's being..." (GWT)

  1. Therefore, Jesus Christ radiates God's glory.

"The Son radiates God's own glory..." (NLT)

Conclusion

Therefore, the third explanation of 'radiance' offered in the OP is probably the correct one.

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