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Heb 1:1 ¶ God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,

I subscribe to an academic paper publishing service. One topic which apparently is a popular assignment is on the NT authors' use of OT scripture. There are a few dozen passages offered frequently in the conversation. It is the proliferation of these papers which keeps the subject of Sensus Plenior alive. It might be suggested that the diverse manners spoken of are not well-known.

The author of Hebrews suggests that there are diverse manners in which God had spoken to the prophets. Presumably, the NT authors were able to read those diverse manners and interpret them in light of Christ.

This subject would be too large to leave open, so it is asking for an enumeration only, not a justification and debate. An acceptable answer would have a name of some sort, though standard names may not yet be in our taxonomy, and an example consisting of and OT passage, and a NT reference to it. The reference need not be specifically called out by the NT author, but should plausibly answer the usage pattern.

Name, OT source, NT source, Comment 1 2

I would almost prefer a collaborative answer in building the enumeration, rather than having to sort through multiple answers for a complete one.

-- Some apparently think that asking how God spoke 'to' the prophets is misquoting the verse since in English is says 'by' the prophets. The Greek word 'en' may be translated either way (see Acts 12.11), but that is not the point. In order to speak 'by' or 'through' the prophets, God had to speak 'to' the prophets unless he used them as sock puppets and they had no cognizant participation in the act. Seeing the answers below, it is apparent that God spoke 'to' the prophets in many ways as well as the prophets speaking to the fathers in many ways, eliminating the sock puppet idea.

God spoke to prophets who then spoke to the fathers. I believe that "diverse manners..' refers to 'spoke' and applies to both transactions. Most of the answers appear to agree with this by not distinguishing between the two.

I am appreciative of them all.

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I am a simple soul that sees this in a much less complicated manner. As best I can tell, most modern versions have Heb 1:1 translated quite accurately, namely, "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways".

The "Many ways" that God spoke through an inspired writer might include:

  • In dreams, Dan 1:17, 2:28, Joel 2:28

  • In visions (see above list)

  • In dreams of non-prophets, Gen 40

  • Via a musician, 2 Kings 3:15

  • Via an irresistible impression without a dream or vision, Luke 1:46-55, 67-79, etc

  • Direct auditory word, 1 Sam 3:4-14

  • Direct messages from angels, Luke 2:13-14; Josh 5:13-15

  • Via divinely directed research, Luke 1:1-4, Acts 1:1-4

  • Through a parable, 2 Sam 12:1-7

  • Using the Urim and Thummim on the sacred Ephod, 1 Sam 23:9, 30:7

  • Instructions from a burning bush, Ex 3

    … and so forth. There were probably many others ways as well. However, the author of Hebrews is not so much interested in the mechanics of inspiration but more in the contrast between these many methods and the greatest revelation of God, as given in Heb 1:2, "But in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son … ".

Thus, Jesus is the greatest and most perfect of all the methods by which God has spoken to us.

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  • Don't forget burning bushes! – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- Apr 12 '20 at 1:01
  • You are quite correct. I will add that to the list. – Dottard Apr 12 '20 at 2:53
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    +1 for pointing out the context of the phrase. It's an amazing list, but it's important that we remember that the list isn't the point of that passage. – Cullub Apr 12 '20 at 3:10
  • @Cullub perhaps it is? The apparent 'obvious' purpose is to introduce the Son as the better revelation. But perhaps ALL of the divers manners spoke of the Son and the main point is to lead us back into scripture to see that it all speaks of him in all those ways. A novel idea of a 'Son of God' would not be accepted by Hebrews unless their scripture is shown to say so. Developing.... – Bob Jones Apr 19 '20 at 14:55
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Polymeros means "various different times" (or "many portions" without context) and polytropos means "various ways" (archaic English: "divers manners" or "many ways" without context).

The "many ways" are: by angels, prophets, preachers, priests, judges. And are here contradistinguished from the Son of God, in whom God's revelation is expressed in full, and not by mediation, or only in part (Col. 2:9).

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  • It would appear that you are including 'angels, priests, judges,", etc in the perm 'prophet' "in time past unto the fathers by the prophets," – Bob Jones Apr 30 '20 at 15:04
  • "contradistinguished " Here the Son of God Spoke directly to the people, whereas in the past, the Son of God as the Word spoke to the various prophets. Who did the people hear from? First prophets, then the Son. But it was the same speaker in the OT an the NT, just different hearers?? – Bob Jones Apr 30 '20 at 15:52
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The first part of Hebrews 1:1 is alliteration, a poetic literary form where the words start with the same letter, in this case π

(NA28) 1 Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν ⸆ ἐν τοῖς προφήταις

This is something that is not apparent in English. It has a wonderful ring when reciting in Greek. It always makes me feel good when I read it, and is an aid in memorization.

I do believe the original autographs of the Bible are inspired and that every word is true and meaningful.

That being said I don't think one should over-analyze a single word that was selected, at least in part, because it starts with π in a poetic figure of speech.

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I would add God speaks through the world He created:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1) [ESV]

This is considered to be general revelation, but Paul does say there is a specific and personal aspect: "what can be known about God is plain because God has shown it to them...so they are without excuse."

In addition world speaks to the kosmos κόσμος which can mean "world affairs." So this general revelation can be present in history both as it happens and retrospectively. For example, the prophet Habakkuk is astonished God is using the Chaldeans to bring judgment on Judah and expresses concern people will not understand or lose confidence in the character of God.

These things can work together. For example, before God brought the nation out of Egypt, there was a period of prophetic silence of about 400-years until Moses. Likewise after the "close" of the Old Testament prophets there was a period of silence of about 400-years until John the Baptist appeared. Thus John's standing as a true prophet with a message from God has the additional validation of following the historical pattern of God's previous timing and work. Something it appears was recognized when it was taking place:

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?”... (John 1)

Are you the prophet? suggests the delegation from Jerusalem recognized John could be the prophet Moses said would come (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). That is, just as there was a 400-year silence before Moses, there was a 400-year silence before John. On the other hand, John's death may be seen as evidence to the contrary (cf. Deuteronomy 18:20).

There is an historical sensus plenior aspect to John's death. Where Moses was saved by Pharaoh's daughter who went against Pharaoh's order to kill all Jewish boys; John''s death was a result of Herod's daughter who went against Herod's desire to keep John alive. So whereas a pagan daughter and king resulted in Moses' survival, a Jewish daughter and king resulted in the death of of John. One could argue the historical parallelism is one of the ways God spoke to the people, in this case affirming John as a prophet.

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  • "world speaks to the kosmos κόσμος which can mean "world affairs." " I had not ever considered that aspect. The Sensus plenior, or mystery, as Paul says , is hidden in the affairs or history contained in the OT. – Bob Jones May 7 '20 at 12:20
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Hebrews 1.1 Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν ἐν τοῖς προφήταις

My contribution to this broad answer is to attempt to clarify what the author wrote.

"polymeros" is a compound word, many-portions. Danker's Concise has "piecemeal," but "many times" seems to be the common translation, although NASB has "many portions," and others have something similar.

"polytropos" is a compund word, many-turns. Danker's Concise has "many ways."

So, the answer to your question has two dimensions. The first is to list the "many times." This is straight forward, starting with Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah to name a few prominent prophets. I will leave the second dimension, "many ways," to some one else.

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  • "polymeros" also has a hint of "lot" or "destiny". As such, does it infer a prophetic sense to them? Jesus said that all the scriptures spoke of him. – Bob Jones Apr 30 '20 at 15:11
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The entheogen (meaning "that which causes God to be within an individual") theory of religion discusses the notion that God may have spoken to prophets through hallucinogenic substances, such as those naturally found in psilocybin mushrooms.

One landmark experiment in this direction was the Marsh Chapel Experiment:

Prior to the Good Friday service, twenty graduate degree divinity student volunteers from the Boston area were randomly divided into two groups. In a double-blind experiment, half of the students received psilocybin, while a control group received a large dose of niacin. Niacin produces clear physiological changes and thus was used as an active placebo. In at least some cases, those who received the niacin initially believed they had received the psychoactive drug.[3]:5 However, the feeling of face flushing (turning red, feeling hot and tingly) produced by niacin subsided about an hour after receiving the dose. However, the effects of the psilocybin intensified over the first few hours.

Almost all of the members of the experimental group reported experiencing profound religious experiences, providing empirical support for the notion that psychedelic drugs can facilitate religious experiences. One of the participants in the experiment was religious scholar Huston Smith, who would become an author of several textbooks on comparative religion. He later described his experience as "the most powerful cosmic homecoming I have ever experienced".[4]

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