dianoigo blog

Monday, 12 February 2018

Even the Demons Believe and Shudder: Demonology in the Epistle of James

1. Introduction
 1.1. The Remark in Context
2. Christadelphian interpretations of James 2:19b
 2.1. Ta daimonia as Mentally Ill Humans
 2.2. Ta daimonia as Idols or Non-Existent False Gods
3. Proposed Interpretation
 3.1. Ta daimonia as Evil Transcendent Beings
 3.2. "Shuddering" in Ancient Sources
  3.2.1. Shuddering and Daemons in Ancient Greco-Roman Sources
  3.2.2. Shuddering and Demons in Early Jewish and Christian Literature
 3.3. Demonic Pseudo-Wisdom in James 3:15
 3.4. The Contribution of James 2:19b to the Argument of James 2:14-26
4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

In the midst of a famous paragraph about faith and works (James 2:14-26), the Epistle of James makes a passing remark that sounds obscure and strange to modern ears: "Even the demons believe and shudder" (James 2:19b). At first glance, it seems obvious that a writer who asserts that demons "believe and shudder" thinks that demons actually exist. However, this inference about James's worldview is not made by Christadelphians, a sect that disbelieves in demons and all other forms of supernatural evil and claims that the Bible uniformly supports this theological position.

Christadelphian writers have adopted two distinct interpretations of James 2:19b, and in particular of the meaning of ta daimonia. In this article I interact critically with Christadelphian interpretations of James 2:19 and argue that this text indeed presupposes the reality of demons. This conclusion, which enjoys virtually unanimous support among biblical scholars, is supported by by religion-historical parallels to the notion of demons shuddering, by another passage where the writer refers to demons (James 3:15), and by the role of James 2:19b in James's argument about faith and works.

1.1. The Remark in Context

Before discussing the two Christadelphian interpretations, let us quote the remark in its context:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? (James 2:14-20 NRSV)
Note that the noun "faith" in this passage shares in Greek the same stem as the verb "believe" in v. 19 (noun pistis; verb pisteuō). This close correspondence, which is important to understanding v. 19, is unfortunately lost in translation. The Greek of v. 19 reads, su pisteueis hoti heis estin ho theos, kalōs poieis; kai ta daimonia pisteuousin kai phrissousin.1 Apart from some variations in the word order and precise construction of the phrase "God is one," there are no significant text-critical problems. There is little diversity among English translations of James 2:19b. Some translate the first kai as "Even" while others render it "also."2 Some translate phrissō as "tremble" while most have "shudder." Some translators insert "that" after believe, indicating that they understand the content of the demons' belief to be "that God is one" from the preceding clause.3 My own translation of James 2:19 is, "You (singular) believe that God is one—well done! Even the demons believe and shudder."

2. Christadelphian interpretations of James 2:19b

One encounters two main approaches to James 2:19b in Christadelphian literature. These approaches differ both from each other and from mainstream biblical scholarship on the meaning of the term ta daimonia. The first approach understands ta daimonia to refer to demon-possessed humans, which Christadelphians gloss as "mentally disturbed humans" (since Christadelphians deny that demon-possession is a real phenomenon and that the inspired biblical writers could have regarded it as such). The second approach understands ta daimonia to refer to pagan idols or false gods that do not exist. Certain Christadelphian writers hedge their bets between both of these approaches. We will describe each interpretation in more detail and critique it before offering our own exegesis of the remark.

2.1. Ta daimonia as Mentally Ill Humans

The first interpretation reads ta daimonia not as "the demons" but as "metonymy for the [supposedly] demon possessed people, and their observed 'trembling' at the time of their cure."4 The statement is taken as an allusion to the demon-possessed humans that Jesus healed, as we read about in the Synoptic Gospels—perhaps even specifically to "Legion" (Matt. 8:28-34).5 Since Christadelphians do not read the Gospels as narrating cases of actual demon-possession and exorcism but as describing mental illnesses in language that accommodated the ignorance of the ancients, Christadelphians following the "demon-possessed humans" interpretation of James 2:19b gloss ta daimonia as "mentally disturbed people."6 Christadelphians favouring this interpretation include Duncan Heaster (with some qualification and vacillation),7 Wes Booker,8 Alfred Norris,9 George Booker (again with vacillation),10 H. P. Mansfield,11 F. G. Jannaway,12 Ron Abel (in the popular Christadelphian resource Wrested Scripture)13 and Jonathan Burke.14

The "demon-possessed humans" interpretation of ta daimonia in James 2:19 faces a simple and serious difficulty: the word daimonion never means "demon-possessed human" in the New Testament or elsewhere, as is confirmed by standard lexical authorities. The BDAG lexicon gives two definitions for daimonion, namely "transcendent incorporeal being with status between humans and deities" and "hostile transcendent being with status between humans and deities".15 The LSJ lexicon, which covers a longer period of Greek usage, gives three definitions for daimonion, namely "divine power," "inferior divine being," and "evil spirit." The Synoptic Gospels have a specific term that they use for demon-possessed humans, which is a middle or passive participle of daimonizomai, "be possessed by a hostile spirit".16 The Synoptic writers never use the word daimonion for the demon-possessed human; only for the possessing demon. The limitations of language in describing a phenomenon like spirit possession require some ambiguity and interchange as to whether the demon or the possessed human is the subject/object of certain actions (see further my article on the accommodation theory of demon-possession in the Synoptic Gospels).17

To claim that ta daimonia takes on a metonymical sense in James 2:19 that is nowhere else attested is audacious. Such a bold move might be justified if none of the usual senses of ta daimonia fit the context and there was a substantial body of contextual evidence to support this novel sense. However, in James 2:19 the usual meaning of ta daimonia ("the demons") does fit, as we shall see, and there is no contextual evidence supporting the meaning "demon-possessed humans." In fact, if we follow the "demon-possessed humans" interpretation, the remark of James 2:19b no longer fits James's argument. In context, James is arguing against the proposition that faith (pistis) without works can save (James 2:14), and resorts here to a reductio ad absurdum argument, citing ta daimonia as a class of beings that "believe" (pisteuō) and yet are obviously not saved. Yet if James is alluding to demon-possessed humans whom Jesus cured, the allusion undercuts his argument, since these individuals were saved. The Gospel exorcism narratives do not permit an aphorism like "Demon-possessed humans, as a rule, believe and yet are unsaved." Furthermore, it is impossible to explain the reference to "demonic" pseudo-wisdom in James 3:15 in terms of mental illness.

The "demon-possessed humans" interpretation can be safely ruled out. In fact, it is not only exegetically indefensible but also morally reprehensible. By glossing "demon-possessed humans" as "mentally disturbed humans," we end up with the inference that people suffering from mental illness are a prototypical example of faith without deeds, that is, impotent faith. Thus the interpretation contributes to the stigmatisation of mental illness that prevails in many societies—and religious communities—today.

2.2. Ta daimonia as Idols or Non-Existent False Gods

The second Christadelphian interpretation reads ta daimonia in James 2:19 as referring either to pagan idols or to non-existent false gods. George Booker offers a very detailed interpretation of James 2:19, which I will have to quote at length because it is just too complicated to summarise:
So the "demons" (meaning, here, the "demoniacs", or the ones suffering from what they imagine to be "demons") tremble when they encounter a greater power... because they imagine, at first, these little "demons" (meaning, to their minds, the "gods" or "devils" afflicting them) are now trembling in fear at a greater power! 
And then, finally, as (or when) they understand what has actually happened, they realize that these "demons" (meaning the "false gods") do not exist at all -- they are what Paul calls "no-gods"... nothing at all (1Co 8:4; Acts 19:26)! 
So, in Jam 2:19, the question is: Does the initial "trembling" of the "demons", when confronted with a greater Power, lead (a) to the sufferer's recognition that the God of Israel, or of Jesus, is simply greater than the little "demons"? OR does it lead (b) to a greater and more lasting realization, by the one cured or by witnesses, that such "demons" do not exist at all, and therefore that Yahweh is -- truly and absolutely -- the one and only LORD and God? 
The above comments blend together two related ideas: (a) that "demons" may mean those who suffer otherwise unexplained illnesses, as well as (b) those demonic "gods" whom they acknowledge or worship.
Booker seems to want to "blend together" two distinct meanings of ta daimonia: human sufferers of "otherwise unexplained illnesses" and "false gods." We have already ruled out the first meaning above, but what about the second? In support of understanding ta daimonia here as false gods, the writer presents the following evidence.

(1) He equates James's "shuddering" with "'trembling', or 'toppling', or 'tottering'," which is "a real problem for idols! (see Isa 40:20; 41:7; Jer 10:4)." However, this series of words moves progressively further away from the semantic range of the verb phrissō, which means "to tremble from fear," "the involuntary reaction of the body in shaking, as in a fever...frequently used for reactions of fear" and not to topple or totter.18

(2) He cites three LXX passages where the verb phrissō occurs, and calls our attention "especially" to Jer. 2:12. However, none of these passages depict false gods as shuddering.19

Besides failing to offer any persuasive evidence for either of the two proposed meanings of ta daimonia, Booker neglects to explain how James could expect his readers to arrive at such complex meaning, the "blending together" of two distinct ideas, from this brief remark.

Another detailed exposition of the "false gods" interpretation of ta daimonia is given by L. Buckler. This writer infers from other New Testament passages (1 Cor. 10:14-22, Acts 17:18 and Rev. 9:20) "that demons and idols are the same". Thus an appropriate sense for daimonia in these texts is "false gods that do not exist." Buckler also cites "the relationship between Mat. 12:24 and 2 Kings 1:2" as evidence for this equation, failing to note the difference between Baal-zebub in 2 Kings and Beelzebul in Matthew (which has several plausible Aramaic etymologies that are unrelated to Baal-zebub).20 Based on the equation of idols and demons, Buckler feels justified in applying passages such as Isaiah 44-45 and Psalm 115 to demons. He summarises: "we've seen that 'demons' of the NT are the same thing as 'idols' of the OT - both are false gods that do not exist." Turning to James 2:19, Buckler proposes that James is alluding to OT passages like 1 Sam. 5:3-4 and Isa. 19:1. The former passage has (the idol of) Dagon (presumably miraculously) falling down and breaking in the presence of the ark of the Lord. The latter passage declares that when the Lord comes to Egypt riding on a swift cloud, "the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them." Buckler avers:
These idols/false gods/demons who don't exist are spoken of in a way that shows God's supremacy over them, and showing that even idols, which don't exist, tremble before God. The lesson for us back in James 2:19 is that even false gods—gods who do not exist!—'fear' God and bow before him, so why don't we more so!21
His paraphrase of James 2:19 is, "If you only have faith (i.e. you believe in one God), you're no better than idols. They had 'faith' too, but they were unable to put it into works because they are just wood and stone". This "non-existent false gods" line of interpretation, which is also suggested by Duncan Heaster,22 is marginally better than the "mentally disturbed humans" interpretation: "divinities" falls within the semantic range of daimonia, and there are substantial biblical associations between demons, idols and false gods, as already observed. Nevertheless, there are numerous reasons why this interpretation is unconvincing.

(1) The parallel between 1 Sam. 5:3-4 and Isa. 19:1 and James 2:19 is limited. Both OT passages concern idols; neither the Hebrew nor the LXX translations mention demons. Moreover, both falling over and breaking (Dagon in 1 Samuel) and trembling (the idols of the Egyptians in Isaiah, e.g. in a strong wind or an earthquake) are things that can happen to inanimate objects.23 While there is obviously an intended irony in the notion of idols falling over and trembling (since these actions, if applied to sentient beings, would imply submission and fear), these OT passages do not attribute belief to idols, as James explicitly does to demons. "Belief" requires sentience, and leaves no room for an ironic double entendre. Also, phrissō is a rare and highly specific verb, and none of the Old Testament texts cited by G. Booker or Buckler explain its use by James, since none of them attribute this action to demons, false gods or idols. By contrast, the interpretation I will offer below is based on a well-documented association between daimonia and phrissō.

(2) Buckler is correct that some biblical passages do imply an association between idols, false gods and demons. This is evident from the use of the word daimonion or daimōn in LXX texts having to do with idolatry (Deut. 32:17; Ps. 95:5[96:5]; Ps. 105:37[106:37]; Isa. 65:3, 11; Bar. 4:7) and from NT texts that imply such an association (1 Cor. 10:19-21; Rev. 9:20).24 However, aside from possibly Isa. 65:3 LXX,25 none of these texts equate daimonia with "false gods that do not exist"; quite the opposite! The implicit claim in most cases, particularly in the NT, is that demons are a sinister reality that lies behind the worship of false gods.26 Moreover, the frequent references to daimonia in the Synoptic Gospel narratives conclusively demonstrate that, whatever early Christians thought daimonia were, they certainly did not regard them as non-existent! (Bear in mind that several Christadelphian writers have recognised the similarities between James 2:19, where demons "believe and shudder," and the Gospel exorcism accounts, where demons acknowledge Jesus and cause their victims to convulse and cry out [e.g., Mark 1:23-26]). Thus, apart from the sentience and action attributed to ta daimonia in James 2:19, the wider usage of this terminology in the NT undermines Buckler's suggestion that it means non-existent false gods.

(3) If ta daimonia refer to non-existent false gods, then James 2:19b contributes nothing to James's argument concerning faith and works. Although this remark is ironic or even sarcastic (as we shall see), it still carries weight in James's argument. Appealing to non-existent beings as evidence for a claim is not clever irony; it is simply illogical. In context, James uses ta daimonia as a counterexample that reduces to absurdity the proposition that pistis without works can save. This counterexample is only successful if ta daimonia actually exist, have pistis without works, and are unsaved. Otherwise, when James declares, "Even ta daimonia believe and shudder," his interlocutor only needs to respond, "No they don't. Ta daimonia don't exist!" Thus, if ta daimonia refers ironically to something that James and his interlocutor regard as non-existent, the argument fails.27

(4) There is another reference to demons in James 3:15 (discussed below) that cannot plausibly refer to non-existent false gods. Remarkably, none of the Christadelphian expositions of James 2:19 that I have consulted mentions or discusses the occurrence of the word daimoniōdēs in James 3:15.

(5) Kai at the beginning of James 2:19b joins the belief of ta daimonia with the belief in one God of James's interlocutor, stated in 2:19a: "You believe... even the demons believe..." Since James 2:19a refers to actual belief by an actual agent, consistency dictates that James 2:19b also refers to actual belief by actual agents.

Thus, we can be quite certain that the sense of "demons" in James 2:19 is not "non-existent false gods" that are actually incapable of believing and shuddering, but a class of beings whose real existence James and his audience assume, just as the Synoptic Gospels do.

3. Proposed Interpretation

3.1. Ta daimonia as Evil Transcendent Beings

Having ruled out that ta daimonia in James 2:19 could plausibly refer either to demon-possessed (mentally disturbed) humans or to non-existent false gods, we are left with the meaning that is the unanimous consensus of lexical authorities and scholarly commentaries: ta daimonia refers to "the demons," that is, to a class of evil transcendent beings.28 Daimonion occurs 63 times in the New Testament, and in nearly all of its occurrences, all modern English translations translate "demon(s)" (the KJV and other older translations have "devil(s)").29 The majority of its occurrences (47) are in the Synoptic Gospels. Only once does the New Testament use a different word for "demon" (daimōn, in Matt. 8:31),30 although the word pneuma is often used synonymously (usually with a negative adjective such as "unclean" or "evil"). The activities of these beings, as described elsewhere in the NT, include possessing and tormenting humans (Synoptic Gospels and Acts; see Luke 11:24-26 for a prototypical description of their behaviour) and inspiring false religious teachings and practices (1 Cor. 10:19-21; 1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 16:13-14). They themselves are destined for eschatological torment and they know this (Matt. 8:29). Of considerable relevance to the interpretation of James 2:19 is that the Synoptic Gospels and Acts depict demons as recognizing Jesus and God and reacting fearfully to their power.31 Although there is no compelling evidence that James knew any of the canonical Gospels in their extant form, there are enough allusions to dominical sayings in the Epistle to make it virtually certain that the author's worldview had been shaped by Jesus traditions (if not by direct experience of Jesus' life and ministry).32 Thus, we can be reasonably certain that James was familiar with Jesus' career as an exorcist, and it is likely that he was also aware of the demons' tendency to respond to Jesus with acknowledgment and fear during exorcisms. Hence, this story line from Jesus traditions probably forms part of the background for James's assertion that the demons "believe and shudder."

3.2. "Shuddering" in Ancient Sources

Aside from exorcism stories from the Jesus tradition, there is another possible source for James's assertion that the demons "believe and shudder." As numerous commentators have noted, the idea of sub-divine beings generally, or demons specifically, "shuddering" before God (or the gods) was a widely used trope in antiquity. As Allison states, "James was not the first to link φρίσσω...to the demonic. Indeed, we have here a far-flung topos".33

3.2.1. Shuddering and Daemons in Greco-Roman Sources

The notion of daemons shuddering appears in Greco-Roman, pagan sources.34 Clement of Alexandria, a Christian writer at the end of the second century, quotes an Orphic fragment that says of Zeus, "Whom demons dread (daimones hon phrissousi), and whom the throng of gods do fear" (Stromata 5.125). Several passages in the Greek Magical Papyri (a collection of ancient Greek spells, rites and magical formulae) likewise refer to demons shuddering before a god. Similar to the Orphic fragment just quoted is this: "I implore you by the seal of the god, before whom all the immortal [gods] of Olympos shudder, and the foremost daemons..." (PGM 3.227).35 Again, "the rushing rivers and the tireless sea, they echo in solitude and the daemons in the cosmos shudder before you, enthralled when they hear your terrible voice" (PGM 4.2541).36 Again, "Be merciful to me who calls you, and listen to me kindly...before whom the daemons shudder and the immortals tremble..." (PGM 4.2829).37 Finally, "Hear me; for I will pronounce the great name, Aôth, which every god reveres, and before whom every daemon shudders, whose orders are fulfilled by every angel" (PGM 12.117-119).38 In these sources, that daemons shudder before a god is a way of expressing that god's greatness and power. The daemons shudder out of inferiority, but not necessarily because they are evil.

The first-century Greco-Roman essayist Plutarch brings out negative connotations of "shuddering" (albeit not in connection with daemons) in his masterful essay On Superstition, in which he compares superstition unfavourably with slavery:
There is a law even for slaves who have given up all hope of freedom, that they may demand a sale, and thus exchange their present master for one more mild. But superstition grants no such exchange; and to find a god whom he shall not fear is impossible for him who fears the gods of his fathers and his kin, who shudders at his saviours (ho phrittōn tous sōtēras), and trembles with terror at those gentle gods from whom we ask wealth, welfare, peace, concord, and success in our best efforts in speech and action... But how much more dire, think you, is the lot of those for whom there is no escape, no running away, no chance to revolt? For a slave there is an altar to which he can flee, and there are many of our shrines where even robbers may find sanctuary, and men who are fleeing from the enemy, if once they lay hold upon a statue of a god, or a temple, take courage again. These are the very things that most inspire a shuddering fear and dread (phrittei kai phobeitai kai dedoiken) in the superstitious man, and yet it is in them that those who in fear of the most dreadful fate place their hopes...Thus unhappy superstition, by its excess of caution in trying to avoid everything suggestive of dread, unwittingly subjects itself to every sort of dread. (De Superstitione 4)39
Plutarch also compares superstition to atheism. This comparison is particularly relevant to James 2:19b, since it also links fear with a negative kind of religious belief:
What say you? The man who does not believe in the existence of the gods is unholy? And is not he who believes (nomizōn) in such gods as the superstitious believe in a partner to opinions far more unholy?... You see what kind of thoughts the superstitious have about the gods; they assume that the gods are rash, faithless, fickle, vengeful, cruel, and easily offended; and, as a result, the superstitious man is bound to hate and fear the gods... The atheist thinks there are no gods; the superstitious man wishes there were none, but believes (pisteuei) in them against his will; for he is afraid not to believe. (De Superstitione 10-11)40
Thus, in Greco-Roman literature, we find that "shuddering" characterizes the attitude of sub-divine beings (daemons) toward the gods (particularly the high god Zeus), and also characterizes the tortured "belief" of the superstitious (whose belief consists of fear and hatred), in contrast to authentic piety.

3.2.2. Shuddering and Demons in Early Jewish and Christian Literature

Such ideas are also found in early Jewish and Christian sources, as described by Allison.41 The Book of the Watchers narrates how "fear and trembling seized" the watcher angels when Enoch declared their divine punishment to them (1 Enoch 13.3). A prayer found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, 4QSongs of the Sagea, after extolling God's greatness, continues, "And I, the Sage, declare the grandeur of his radiance in order to frighten and terr[ify] all the spirits of the ravaging angels and the bastard spirits, demons, Lilith, owls and [jackals...]" (4Q510 1.4-5).42 In the long recension of the Testament of Abraham, Death personified "shudders and trembles" (ephrizen kai etromazen) before God (T. Abr. RecLng 16.3).43 In Justin's Dialogue with Trypho (mid-second century), he declares, "You can see, therefore, that the hidden power of God was in the crucified Christ, before whom even the demons shudder (kai ta daimonia phrissei), as do all the powers and authorities of the earth" (Dial. 49.8).44 Later Christian writings that refer to demons or angels shuddering include Testament of Solomon 2.1, Pseudo-Clementine Homilies 5.5, Acts of Philip 132, Pseudo-Ignatius, Philippians 3.5, and Lactantius, de Ira Dei23.45

In this Jewish and Christian literature, we find a variation on the theme found in Greco-Roman literature: shuddering characterizes the attitude of demons, fallen angels and Death toward the one God, not only because God is great but also because the demons are evil and know that God can or will defeat and punish them. Their shuddering is similar to that of superstitious humans who, according to Plutarch, believe in God but only out of tortured fear. The way demons and spirits respond to Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels reflects the same picture because the fear they show is explicitly fear of punishment (Mark 1:24; Mark 5:7; Matt. 8:28).

3.3. Demonic Pseudo-Wisdom in James 3:15

As noted earlier, James's epistle makes one other mention of demons that is typically ignored in Christadelphian expositions of James 2:19:
13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic (Greek: daimoniōdēs). 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. (James 3:13-17 NABRE)
Here, James contrasts two kinds of wisdom: that which comes "from above" and produces humility, gentleness, peace, etc., and that which "does not come down from above" and produces jealousy, selfish ambition and disorder. The latter kind of wisdom is described using three successive adjectives, "earthly, unspiritual, demonic" (James 3:15). These adjectives form a crescendo: "James, using a type of antithetical parallelism reminiscent of the wisdom literature, declares through a series of three adjectives arranged in ascending order of strength that the sectarian ‘wisdom’ is in fact demonic."46 The pseudo-wisdom is not from heaven but the earth; is not from the Spirit but is unspiritual; is not divine but is demonic. While some scholars believe daimoniōdēs here means demon-like, most agree that James is naming demons as the source of this pseudo-wisdom.47 Either meaning implies James's belief in the real existence of demons. Thus we have corroborative testimony from within the epistle that the real existence of demons is presupposed in James 2:19b.

3.4. The Contribution of James 2:19b to the Argument of James 2:14-26

The three key points we have learned so far are (1) that ta daimonia in James 2:19 refers to demons, i.e. malignant spirit beings, and not to mentally disturbed humans or non-existent gods; (2) that James believed that such beings really existed; and (3) that the idea of demons shuddering before God in fear (particularly in fear of impending punishment) was a well-worn motif in ancient literature—Greco-Roman, Jewish and Christian. While it is possible that this general motif forms the entire background to the statement of James 2:19 that demons "believe and shudder," it is likely that the idea has been specifically influenced by Jesus traditions according to which demons reacted with intense fear to Jesus during exorcisms. In light of all of this, we can only conclude that with "Even the demons believe and shudder," James is making a statement that he regards as literally true. Demons actually exist and actually believe in God and shudder in fear of him. The question that remains is, how does such a remark contribute to James's wider argument about faith and works in James 2:14-26?

Most commentators have observed the use of irony or sarcasm in James 2:19 in that James commends his interlocutor for believing that there is one God (kalōs poieis, "you do well")—the same interlocutor that he is about to call a "senseless person" (v. 20)!48 The idea is that belief in one God, while correct and fundamentally important, is by itself (without "deeds") insufficient. James then adds the coup de grâce, identifying demons as a stark example of beings that believe in one God, and even demonstrate their sincerity by shuddering, but which are obviously not saved because their deeds are evil.49 (Like Plutarch's superstitious man, their "belief" in God is driven by terror rather than genuine piety.) The role of the remark in James 2:19b, then, is to provide a clear counterexample to the claim that faith without deeds is sufficient. And, as was discussed earlier, the counterexample only contributes to the argument if demons actually exist.

4. Conclusion

Demonology is not a major theme in the Epistle of James; it appears twice in passing. Nor is it a major concern for most other New Testament writers. Nevertheless, it is often the case in Scripture that a writer makes an important statement on topic B while his main concern is with topic A (one thinks of the majestic Christological statement of 1 Cor. 8:6, which occurs within a discourse on idolatry, or the Bible's most important statement about gender equality, a brief aside in a discourse on the Abrahamic covenant [Gal. 3:28]). One cannot dismiss the validity of a theological inference simply because it was not the biblical writer's primary concern within the context where it appears.

In texts where demons are mentioned, like James 2:19, it is evident that the earliest Christians believed demons really existed. This early Christian belief—while strange to the modern mind and in need of some reconceptualization—cannot be dismissed by Christians today, particularly because of how central exorcisms were to the public ministry of Jesus. One might go as far as to say that "an understanding of the demonic is absolutely essential to a proper interpretation of the life and ministry of Jesus".50

My main reason for writing this article is a perception that Christadelphian interpreters of Scripture have failed to appreciate the implications of James 2:19b for reconstructing New Testament demonology. This article should therefore be read in the context of my much longer article on the accommodation theory of demon-possession and exorcism in the Synoptic Gospels (summarized on my blog here).51 The accommodation theory—long abandoned by biblical scholars but still stubbornly maintained by many Christadelphians—basically holds that Jesus, the apostles and/or the New Testament writers did not actually believe in the reality of demons and exorcism but used such language to accommodate the ignorance of their ill-informed audiences. James 2:19 provides one more instance where this theory breaks down when subjected to close exegetical examination.

The core aim of the Christadelphian movement has been restorationist, i.e. to recover and restore the beliefs and practices of the earliest Christians. However, the case of demonology shows that the restorationist ethos has been selectively applied: where the beliefs and practices of the earliest Christians have proven embarrassing to "Enlightened" modern sensibilities, the conclusion has been that the text cannot mean what it says; it must be made to mean something else. This raises the question, "Where else has Christadelphian restorationism been selective to the detriment of exegetical accuracy?" This is a question that threatens the very legitimacy of the Christadelphian sectarian project.


  • 1 Greek (NA28): σὺ πιστεύεις ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν ὁ θεός, καλῶς ποιεῖς· καὶ τὰ δαιμόνια πιστεύουσιν καὶ φρίσσουσιν.
  • 2 Johnson rightly comments that by positioning kai at the beginning of the sentence the writer has made it emphatic: "The position of the kai demands its being read as ‘even’ rather than ‘also’" (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [Doubleday: New York, 1995], 241).
  • 3 "The sentence needs to be filled out; even the demons believe ‘that God is one’" (Johnson, Letter of James, 241).
  • 4 Duncan Heaster, The Real Devil (3d ed.; Surrey: Carelinks, 2012), 206-207. Content can be accessed online at http://www.christadelphia.net/rd4-2-3.htm.
  • 5 "That James was thinking of the man called Legion and his companion (2 are mentioned in Matt 8; one only in Mark 5) seems clear. They in their deranged state of mind may have believed in only one God, but that fact didn't help them until they were cured by Christ and then could put their faith into action" (Wes Booker, "Comments for June 8," in Daily Bible Readings, accessed at http://www.dailyreadings.org.uk/default.asp?act=notesdisplay&displaytype=day&m=6&d=8).
  • 6 Heaster, The Real Devil, 206-207.
  • 7 Heaster, The Real Devil, 206-207.
  • 8 Wes Booker, "Comments for June 8".
  • 9 Alfred Norris, quoted in W. Booker, "Comments for June 8".
  • 10 George Booker, "James 2," in Agora Bible Commentary (accessed at http://www.christadelphianbooks.org/agora/comm/59_jam/jam03.html).
  • 11 H. P. Mansfield, The Christadelphian Expositor: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition of the Scriptures: James to Jude (West Beach & Beverley: Logos Publications, n.d.), 45. Can be accessed at http://mp3.christadelphian.or.tz/sites/default/files/books/from-james-to-jude---expositor.pdf
  • 12 Frank G. Jannaway, Christadelphian Answers (Houston: Herald, n.d.), 107. Can be accessed at http://www.antipas.org/pdf_files/christadelphian_answers.pdf.
  • 13 Ron Abel, Wrested Scriptures: A Christadelphian Handbook of Suggested Explanations to Difficult Passages (Pasadena: Geddes, n.d.), 178. Can be accessed at http://www.christadelphian.uk.com/Booklets/Wrested%20Scriptures.pdf.
  • 14 Jonathan Burke, Satan and Demons: A Reply to Anthony Buzzard (unpublished, 2005), 80, 170. Can be accessed at https://acbm.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Satan-And-Demons.doc.
  • 15 W. F. Arndt, F. W. Danker, F. W. Gingrich, and W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3d ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 210.
  • 16 Arndt, Danker, Gingrich, and Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 209. As Riley explains, “Δαιμονίζομαι is found once in the New Testament as a verb in the phrase ‘cruelly tormented by a demon’ (Matt 15:22); all other of the dozen further occurrences are of the participle meaning ‘one who is demonized’, ‘a demoniac’ (e.g., Mark 1:32).” (G. J. Riley, “Demons,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible [ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst; 2d ed.; Leiden: Brill, 1999], 236).
  • 17 Thomas Farrar, "When an Unclean Spirit Goes out of a Person": An Assessment of the Accommodation Theory of Demon Possession and Exorcism in the Synoptic Gospels (unpublished, 2015), 19-20. The phenomenon of spirit-possession defies ordinary linguistic conventions whereby a verb has a single subject or direct object. A word spoken by or to a demon-possessed human is in one sense spoken by or to that human (their vocal chords/their bodily presence) and in another sense spoken by or to the possessing demon (i.e. the external agent controlling their vocal chords and body). Thus, interchange between daimonion and daimonizomai within a particular narrative context in no way implies that the writer conflated these two terms. Their respective meanings are morphologically clear. This is why no lexical authority considers "demon-possessed human" to be one of the meanings of daimonion.
  • 18 Arndt, Danker, Gingrich, and Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 1065; Johnson, Letter of James, 241.
  • 19 Job 4:15 LXX reads, "And a spirit came upon my face, and my flesh and hair quivered (Greek: phrissō)" (NETS). Dan. 7:15 Theodotion reads, "As for me, Daniel, my spirit shuddered (Greek: phrissō) in my possession, and the visions of my head were troubling me." Jer. 2:11-12 LXX reads, "Will nations change their gods? And these are no gods. But my people have changed their glory for one from which they will not profit. The sky was appalled at this and shuddered (Greek: phrissō) more and more, says the Lord". Two other passages transmitted with the LXX where phrissō occurs are Judith 16:10 (which says of Judith, "The Persians shuddered (Greek: phrissō) at her daring, and the Medes were alarmed at her boldness") and 4 Maccabees 14:9, which says of seven Maccabean martyrs, "Now, as we hear of those young men's affliction, we shudder" (Greek: phrissō). In four of these passages, humans are the subjects of "shuddering"; in one poetic context, it is the heavens that are said to "shudder." In no instance are false gods said to "shudder."
  • 20 On the etymology of Beelzebul and its meaning in the Synoptic Gospels, see E. C. B. MacLaurin, "Beelzeboul," Novum Testamentum 20 (1978): 156-60; Dieter Lührman, Das Markusevangelium (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1987), 36; Duane F. Watson, "Devil," in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, 6 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 2:183; Heinz Schürmann, Das Lukasevangelium: Zweiter Teil (Freiburg: Herder, 1994), 230; Clinton Wahlen, Jesus and the Impurity of Spirits in the Synoptic Gospels (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 125-26; Camille Focant, The Gospel According to Mark: A Commentary, trans. Leslie Robert Keylock (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2004/2012), 140.
  • 21 L. Buckler, Even the Demons Believe God and Tremble, accessed at https://sites.google.com/site/christadelphianinfo/articles/exposition/evendemons. Aside from the meaning of ta daimonia here, Buckler seems to have misconstrued the take-home message of James 2:19, which is not a call to fear God (as appropriate as that reaction may be). Rather, James is arguing that even belief in God combined with intense fear is of no avail if not accompanied by deeds, as the case of ta daimonia makes clear.
  • 22 Heaster, The Real Devil, 206-207.
  • 23 For example, just as Egypt's idols are said to "tremble" at Yahweh's presence in Isa. 19:1, so thresholds "tremble" at Yahweh's presence in Isa. 6:4, while Isa. 7:2 describes trees "trembling" in the wind (the same verb נוע is used in all three cases).
  • 24 Acts 17:18, though cited by Buckler, does not necessarily imply such an association from an early Christian perspective, since the word daimonion is placed on the lips of Athenian philosophers in their description of Paul's teaching, and so probably has the neutral sense "divinities" rather than the negative sense "demons" (Arndt, Danker, Gingrich, and Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 210).
  • 25 While Isaiah 65:3 MT indicts the people of Israel for provoking God by "sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks" (ESV), the LXX adds that these offerings are made "to the demons, which do not exist" (Greek: τοῖς δαιμονίοις, ἃ οὐκ ἔστιν). This passage may be denying any real existence to demons. This is the view of Kelly: "The Greek [of Isaiah 65:3 LXX] specifies the object of the worship as 'demons who do not exist'; that is, there are no spiritual entities corresponding to the idols" (Henry Ansgar Kelly, The Devil, Demonology and Witchcraft: The Development of Christian Beliefs in Evil Spirits [rev. ed.; Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1974], 20). (Note that Kelly nonetheless finds that in James 2:19, "James is obviously thinking of living beings" [ibid.]) Other scholars see Isaiah 65:3 LXX differently: "The appearance of this last phrase in the Septuagint (it is missing in the MT) is difficult to account for except as a theologically inspired gloss, derived perhaps from Isa. 65:11 via Deut. 32:17. Although at face value 65:3 could be taken to mean demons simply do not exist, such a view would ill suit a Hellenistic context in which the vast majority of Jews and Gentiles alike believed in various spirit beings. It is far more likely that the Septuagint is making the same point as Paul in 1 Cor 8:1-3: whatever existence the demons/false gods may have, they are unworthy of worship or the name 'god'. To the extent that ontological issues may be in view, the verse would affirm that these spirits have a completely derivative, contingent existence which is wholly dependent on the creative power of the living God-an existence which can and will be taken away when their fraudulent claims to deity are exposed" (Sean M. McDonough, Christ as Creator: Origins of a New Testament Doctrine [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009], 161); "The divine charge against the idolatry of God's people includes this accusation, 'they sacrifice in the gardens and burn incense on bricks to the demons [δαιμονίοις, inferior divinity or (evil) spirit], which do not exist' (v. 3b). The Hebrew lacks 'to the demons, which do not exist,' but states simply, 'sacrificing in gardens and burning incense upon bricks' (Isa 65:3b RSV). By the time of the New Testament and already intimated in Greek Isaiah, the question about the existence of pagan gods was being answered by suggesting that the beings previously referred to as gods were actually demons, spirits created by God who rebelled against God. Therefore, they, like humans, were creatures, not other gods. Isaiah 65:3b LXX seems somewhat ambivalent about even this mention of demons, as evidenced by its added qualification, 'who do not exist.' However, a similar later substitution of 'demon' for a god in 65:11 LXX does not mention any doubt about its existence" (William S. Kurz, S.J., "Paul's Witness to Biblical Monotheism as Isaiah's Servant in Acts," in Unity and Diversity in the Gospels and Paul: Essays in Honor of Frank J. Matera, ed. Christopher W. Skinner and Kelly R. Iverson [Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012], 123). Isaiah LXX contains two other mentions of daimonia which both imply their existence: according to Isaiah 13:21 LXX, the prophet foretells that after the desolation of Babylon, "there demons will dance," and a similar oracle is spoken against Idumea in Isaiah 34:14 LXX. In view of this contextual information, it seems clear that the translator's intention in Isaiah 65:3 is not to absolutely deny the existence of daimonia. Perhaps the writer is using daimonia specifically in the sense of "divinities" (i.e. the gods to whom idolaters sacrifice), without the technical, negative sense that would later accrue to the word. Alternatively, the writer is very succinctly making a polemical assertion about the gods to whom Israel sacrifices: they do not exist as gods, they are only demons.
  • 26 Consider the following summaries focusing mainly on Paul's views expressed in 1 Cor. 10:19-21: Paul’s “belief in the real existence of demons appears clearly in his teaching concerning heathen sacrifices” (Edward Langton, Essentials of Demonology: A Study of Jewish and Christian Doctrine, Its Origin and Development [London: Epworth, 1949], 225); "For Paul witchcraft is meddling with demons. But there can also be intercourse with demons in the normal heathen cultus (1 C. 10:20f.). While idols are nothing, and the Christian enjoys freedom, demons stand behind paganism" (W. Foerster, "δαίμων,"  Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [ed. Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964], 2:17); demons "are the spiritual reality behind the apparent nothingness of idols which the heathen worship (1 Cor 10:20-21; Rev 9:20)" (David George Reese, "Demons," Anchor Bible Dictionary, 2:142); "Pagane Götter sind für Paulus als Götter nicht-existent, da Göttlichkeit allein im Sinne des christlichen Monotheismus definiert werden kann...Jedoch verstecken sich für Paulus hinter dem heidniscen Opferkult real existierende Dämonen, mit denen beim Schlachtopfer in Kontakt getreten wird" (Peter Lampe, "Die dämonologischen Implikationen von I Korinther 8 und 10 vor dem Hintergrund paganer Zeugnisse," in Die Dämonen: Die Dämonologie der israelitisch-jüdischen und frühchristlichen Literatur im Kontext ihrer Umwelt, ed. Armin Lange, Hermann Lichtenberger, and K. F. Diethard Römheld [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003], 598).
  • 27 One might claim that while James does not believe demons exist, his interlocutor does believe they exist, and therefore James uses the argument knowing that it will be persuasive to his interlocutor. However, this claim amounts to eisegetical speculation and special pleading. On what objective grounds can we posit either James's disbelief in demons (given that he mentions them here and also in 3:15), or a disagreement between James and his interlocutor on the existence of demons? The topic under consideration, and the topic of disagreement, is the efficacy of faith without works, not the existence of demons. Besides, it is not even clear that James's interlocutor is an actual person here (as opposed to "the conversational device of...an imaginary opponent", so Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992], 125), and in any case James would presumably want his argument to be persuasive to all of his readers and not only the "senseless person" he is addressing.
  • 28 See definition from lexicon quoted above; "Although originally used of both good and bad deities, δαιμόνιον came, in post-exilic Judaism, to refer to malevolent spirits closely associated with Satan. James’ audience was presumably familiar with a large body of lore surrounding them. They were often identified with pagan gods (LXX Deut 32.17; 1 Cor 10.20); held to inflict disease (Sib. Or. 3.331; Mt 12.22); understood as sources of temptation and vice (T. Jud. 23.1); reported to indwell or possess unfortunate human beings (Mk 5.9; 9.26); and said to have issued from the mating of the sons of God with human women (Gen 6.1-4; 1 En. 6-21). But all that matters here is the notion that they, although corrupt, nonetheless recognize the ultimate power in the universe" (Dale C. Allison, Jr., James: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary [London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013], 477-78); "Dans la religion grecque, le mot δαιμόνιον désigne une divinité inférieure. La Septante traduit par δαιμόνια les termes qui, en hébreu, s’appliquent aux idoles, aux faux dieux. L’expression est usuelle aussi dans les évangiles; elle désigne les mauvais esprits (Mc 1,34; Lc 4,33, etc.)" (Jacqueline Assaël and Élian Cuvillier, L’Épître de Jacques [Genève: Labor et Fides, 2013], 204); "Although ta daimonia could in the Greek world denote a positive divine entity (see Euripides, Bacchae 894; Plato, Apology 26B; Acts 17:18), here the designation is shaped by the world of Torah. In the LXX ta daimonia are identified with false gods (Deut 32:17; Pss 95:5; 105:37; Isa 65:3; also 1 Cor 10:20-21; 1 Tim 4:1; Rev 9:20). In the gospel tradition, ta daimonia are identified with the ‘unclean spirits’ who torment humans as the minions of Satan or Beelzebul (see Matt 7:22; 9:32-34; 10:8; 11:18; 12:2-24-28; 17:18; Luke 4:33; 8:2, 26-39)" (Johnson, Letter of James, 241).
  • 29 As noted earlier, only in Acts 17:18 is the word usually not translated "demons" but something like "divinities," reflecting the wider Greco-Roman understanding of the word as opposed to the Judeo-Christian understanding (it is here placed on the lips of Athenian philosophers).
  • 30 According to Foerster, both the NT writers and Josephus follow the LXX in preferring daimonion over daimōn: "Δαίμων is avoided because it is too closely associated with positive religious elements, whereas δαιμόνιον indicates from the very first the hostile spirits of popular belief" (W. Foerster, "δαίμων," 2:12).
  • 31 "Demons, too, believe that there is but one God—and they know that the one God is YHWH, the God of Israel (see Mark 1:24; 3:11; Acts 16:17; 19:15)" (Scot McKnight, The Letter of James [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011], 243); "the NT knows of the monotheism of demons (Mk 1:24; 5:7; Acts 16:17; 19:15) and their fear before Christ, whom they recognize (Mk. 1:23, 24; 5:7)" (Davids, Epistle of James, 126); "The demons express a belief in the divine elsewhere in the NT (Mark 1:25; 3:7; Acts 16:17; 19:15) and exhibit fear before God as they confront Jesus (Mark 1:23, 24; 5:7)" (Ralph P. Martin, James [Waco: Word Books, 1988], 89); "Les démons désignent dans la Grèce antique, chez Platon ou chez Xénophon, des divinités intermédiaires, ou l’esprit guidant ou conseillant l’homme. Rare dans la LXX (Dt 32,17; Ps 90,6; Tobit 3,8), on les retrouve en force dans les récits néo-testamentaires d’exorcismes (Mc 1,34.39 etc…), où ils reconnaissent Jésus et craignent sa puissance: cf. Mc 1,24; 5,7 et surtout p. ex. 1,34; 3,11-12. C’est probablement à de telles traditions que Jc peut fair allusion" (François Vouga, L’Épitre de Saint Jacques [Genève: Labor et Fides, 1984], 88); "Ces créatures proclament leur foi en Dieu, et aussi en Jésus (Mc 1,24; 5,7; Ac 16,17; 19,15, etc.), mais elle ne leur procure que des frémissements de crainte" (Assaël and Cuvillier, L’Épître de Jacques, 204).
  • 32 "The fabric of the Letter is replete with allusions to and rhetorical emulations of the Jesus tradition" (J. S. Kloppenborg, "Diaspora Discourse: The Construction of Ethos in James", New Testament Studies 53 (2007): 251. For a discussion of Jesus traditions in James including a table of likely allusions to sayings of Jesus, see Robert J. Foster, The Significance of Exemplars for the Interpretation of the Letter of James (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 51-53.)
  • 33 Allison, James, 477.
  • 34 The translation "daemons" serves as a reminder that Greco-Romans did not regard these sub-divine beings as uniformly evil.
  • 35 Text: ὃν πάντες Ὀλύμ[που ἀθάνατοι φρίσσο[υσι θεοὶ καὶ δαίμονες ἔξοχ’ ἄρ[ιστοι | κ[αὶ] πέλαγος σιγᾶ[ν ἐπιτ]έλλεται (from Karl Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 2 vols. [Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1928, 1931], 1:42; translation based on Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:43).
  • 36 Text: καὶ ποταμοὶ κελαδοῦντες ἰδ’ ἀατρύγετός τε | θάλασσα, ἠχὼ ἐρημαίη καὶ δαίμονες οἱ κατὰ κόσμον || φρίσσουσί σε, μάκαιρα, ἀκούοντες ὄπα δεινήν. (from Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:152; translation based on Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:153).
  • 37 Text: ἡ πολυχώρητον κόσμον νυκτὸς | ἀμφιέπουσα, δαίμονες ἣν φρίσσουσιν || καὶ ἀθάνατοι τρουμέουσιν, | κυδιάνειρα θεά, πολυώνυμε, καλλιγένεια, ταυρῶπι (Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:162; translation based on Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:163).
  • 38 Text: [ἐ]πάκουσόν μου, ὅτι μέλλω τὸ μέγα ὄνο<μα> λέ|γειν· Ἀώθ, ὃν πᾶς θ(εὸς) προσκυνεῖ καὶ π[ᾶ]ς δαίμων φρίσσει, ᾧ πᾶς ἄγγελος τὰ ἐπιτασ|σόμενα ἀποτελεῖ. (Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 2:65; translation based on Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 2:65).
  • 39 Plutarch, Moralia, Vol. II (trans. Frank Cole Babbitt; Loeb Classic Library; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928), 453.
  • 40 Plutarch, Moralia, 483-85, 489-91.
  • 41 Allison, James, 477.
  • 42 Florentino García Martínez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English (trans. Wilfred G. E. Watson; Leiden: Brill, 1994), 371.
  • 43 So Allison, James, 477.
  • 44 Translation adapted from Thomas P. Halton, St. Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho, ed. Michael Slusser, trans. Thomas B. Falls (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 76.
  • 45 See Allison, James, 477; Johnson, Letter of James, 247.
  • 46 Davids, Epistle of James, 152, emphasis added.
  • 47 "While it is possible that this biblical hapax legomenon means simply that such people do deeds similar to demons (so Laws, 161, 163; Cantinat, 190; Hart, 84), in light of the closeness of this vice list to that in 1QS 4:1ff., the dualism observed elsewhere in James, and the use of the concept in the early church (cf. Hermas Sim. 9.22; 9.23.5; Mt. 6:13; cf. Davids, 39-79, who points to a long tradition connecting temptation to Satan) it would seem more reasonable to take James as intending that such deeds were inspired by demons" (Davids, Epistle of James, 153); "The adjective daimoniōdēs is a NT hapax and unattested before Christian literature. The construction with ōdēs may suggest ‘demon-like’ (Hort, 84), but in context it seems to imply ‘having its origin in demons’ (Adamson, 152)" (Johnson, Letter of James, 272); "This antithetical parallelism shows what constitutes true and false wisdom…The climactic term is clearly the most pejorative: daimoniōdēs (literally ‘pertaining to demons’) is found only here in the entire Bible. This false wisdom is demonic or comes from demons or demonic influence as opposed to the wisdom that is from above" (Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Hebrews, James and Jude [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007], 501); "James goes on to say that false wisdom is not only godless and subhuman but positively ‘devilish.’ The false wisdom is not merely neutral, spurous, or inadequate—but positively demonic: see 1 Tim. 4:1" (James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976], 152); "Δαιμονιώδης...désigne ce qui ressemble ou ce qui a trait au monde des démons” (Vouga, L’Épitre de Saint Jacques, 106); "Even worse, the ‘wisdom’ in mind is demonic (δαιμονιώδης, found only here in the NT; cf. Symmachus’ translation of Ps 90:6). Some interpreters understand James to mean that the behavior of those described in 3:14 is only ‘similar’ to the behavior of demons (Hort, 84; Cantinat, 190; Laws, 161, 163). In that sense, the misdeeds of those whom James attacks are being compared to demonic activity (2:19). But something more radical is being suggested. The behavior of those in question is thought to be instigated by the demons themselves (so Moo, 134; Davids, 153; Adamson, 152-53)" (Martin, James, 132); "False wisdom, in short, does not come from God; that is, instead of deriving from the heavenly, it derives from the earth; instead of abounding in God’s Spirit, it is unspiritual; and instead of coming from God’s Spirit, it derives from evil spirits” (McKnight, Letter of James, 307-308).
  • 48 The words kalōs poieis are “half-ironical” (Allison, James, 475); "The words You believe are not, we think, here addressed to anyone specifically identified in James’s mind; and not, we think, a question (Westcott, Hort, von Soden, Nestlé, and others); but, like ‘Well done,’ ahsant, a familiar Palestinian phrase, ironically affirmative (Mayor, Ropes, Oesterley, and others)" (Adamson, Epistle of James, 125); "«tu fais bien». Selon Moo, «… Il n’est donc pas étonnant que Jacques approuve l’assentiment à cette doctrine: tu fais bien. Mais le fait qu’il ajoute aussitôt que les démons y croient aussi, suggère qu’il a l’intention de mêler l’ironie à son éloge.»" (Assaël and Cuvillier, L’Épître de Jacques, 204); "It is not at all unusual, then, that James should commend assent to this doctrine: You do well. But the fact that James goes on immediately to ascribe the same belief to demons suggests that more than a little irony is intended in the commendation" (Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James: An Introduction and Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985], 106); "The claim to believe that the God of Israel is the one and only God is insufficient. James turns to biting sarcasm or at least irony: ‘you do well.’ Some suggest James means to agree with his interlocutor as in, ‘So, you are right.’ James, however, is not kind to his opponent—2:14-16 uses words like ‘useless,’ and 2:20 calls the opponent a ‘senseless person.’ It is more likely that ‘you do well’ is a biting comment" (McKnight, Letter of James, 242-43); "In this verse he attempts to state in one sentence—obviously certain of agreement from his partner—the content of the ‘faith without works’ which is in question: ‘That God is one’ (ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν ὁ θεός). He does so in order then to strap it to the whipping post: Some faith! Even the demons believe that! The irony is unmistakable" (Martin Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James [rev. Heinrich Greeven; trans. Michael A. Williams; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964/1976], 158); "The confession is in accordance with true belief, so James adds a semi-ironic καλῶς ποιεῖς (the author certainly believed this truth with all his heart, following the tradition of Jesus, Mk. 12:29). Such belief is indeed necessary, but not enough for salvation" (Davids, Epistle of James, 125); "James says: ‘So you say you believe God is one. Good for you; however, so do demons, and they are shuddering in their belief—fearing the wrath of God to come. A lot of good that faith did them.’ The sarcasm in James 2:19 is hard to miss" (Witherington III, Letters and Homilies, 476); "“you do well: The phrase kalōs poieis is here clearly meant to be sarcastic, perhaps in direct contrast to the kalōs poieite in 2:8" (Johnson, Letter of James, 241).
  • 49 "The logic is clear. Demons are not atheists but rather have religious ‘doctrines’ (1 Tim 4.10), among which is monotheism, and shuddering proves their sincerity. But to no avail" (Allison, James, 476); "The point James is now driving home is that a Christian creed without corresponding Christian conduct will save neither devil nor man" (Adamson, Epistle of James, 126); "Demons, too, believe that there is but one God—and they know that the one God is YHWH, the God of Israel (see Mark 1:24; 3:11; Acts 16:17; 19:15). But—and her one must fill in the lines to express James’s tone—at least they shudder and shake in God’s presence! James’s example is ad absurdum. While it is possible that James uses the shuddering of the demons as evidence that faith produces some kind of action (works), it is more likely that he is casting the interlocutor—and therefore the workless followers of Jesus—in negative light. They are worse than demons! Demons shudder in the presence of God, but the workless messianists are seemingly oblivious to the superficiality of their faith and the doom they face if they do not turn from their callousness. James has tied together genuine faith in God, loving God, and loving others." (McKnight, Letter of James, 243); "Believing that there is one God (intellectual acknowledgment) is different from believing in (εἰς, eis, into) the God who is one. Moo (2000: 131) points out the possibility of some irony here. At least the demons have the sense to shudder, which suggests that their ‘faith’ has more reality to it than the faith of those who claim to believe but do not do the deeds of faith." (Dan G. McCartney, James [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008], 160-61); "“To believers who pride themselves on right belief—and in James 2:18-19 faith clearly means something other than what it usually means for James, not trust in or active dependence on God, but rather mere belief that God exists—James says: ‘So you say you believe God is one. Good for you; however, so do demons, and they are shuddering in their belief—fearing the wrath of God to come. A lot of good that faith did them.’ The sarcasm in James 2:19 is hard to miss. The demons are the ultimate example of faith divorced from praxis, of right confession divorced from right living" (Witherington III, Letters and Homilies, 476); "“The faith that declares ‘God is One’ is obviously not the ‘faith’ that James sees as adequate. It is, rather, a mockery of true faith, a matter of cognition or confession but not of genuine ‘love of God’ (see 2:5), a fact obvious from the recognition given by demons to the true God even while they shudder in fear" (Johnson, Letter of James, 247); "The point is that the knowledge of who God is does not save them; in fact, it is this very knowledge which makes them shudder (and that very name which was used by exorcists to drive them out!) A faith which cannot go beyond this level is worse than useless" (Davids, Epistle of James, 126).
  • 50 Reese, "Demons," 2:142
  • 51 Farrar, Assessment of the Accommodation Theory.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

How Hebrews Came to Interpret Psalm 102:25-27 as Spoken by God to/of the Son

Several years ago I wrote an article on Hebrews 1:10-12, arguing that this text unambiguously teaches the personal pre-existence of the Son of God. I also interacted with Christadelphian interpretations of this passage and discussed why I found their pre-existence-less interpretations unconvincing. Subsequently, as part of my theology studies, I wrote an essay on The Contribution of Hebrews to New Testament Christology, which interacted with scholarly views on Hebrews 1:10-12, among other passages in Hebrews.

I recently returned to examine this fascinating passage, prompted by an exposition that a Christadelphian friend, Mike MacDonald, sent me. Mike regards Psalm 102:25-27, as cited in Hebrews 1:10-12, as a conversation between the Son and the Father, with the content of v. 25 (where primeval existence is implied) addressed by the Son to the Father, and vv. 26-27 (which mention only future existence) addressed by the Father to the Son in reply. I dealt with this interpretation briefly in my original article, but Mike has marshaled a more substantial argument for it. I responded privately to Mike explaining why I did not find his exposition persuasive. I do not intend to reproduce my response here, but what I would like to do is add a few more comments on a puzzling matter: how the writer of Hebrews came to see Psalm 102:25-27 as words spoken by God to his Son. I am obliged to Mike for bringing to my attention the unique way (among New Testament writers) in which the author of Hebrews introduces biblical quotations, which is an important clue in resolving this puzzle.

The Quotation in Context

Hebrews 1 reads thus:
1 In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; 2 in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, 3 who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say: “You are my son; this day I have begotten you”? Or again: “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me”? 6 And again, when he leads the first-born into the world, he says: “Let all the angels of God worship him.” 7 Of the angels he says: “He makes his angels winds and his ministers a fiery flame”; 8 but of the Son: “Your throne, O God, stands forever and ever; and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You loved justice and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions”; 10 and: “At the beginning, O Lord, you established the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you remain; and they will all grow old like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a cloak, and like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” 13 But to which of the angels has he ever said: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (Heb. 1:1-14 NABRE)
In vv. 10-12 the writer quotes from Psalm 102:25-27. However, rather than making his own translation from the Hebrew here, he quotes the Septuagint (LXX) Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures that was widely used by Hellenistic Jews and Christians in the first century. Because of differences in versification between the English Translation and the Septuagint, he is actually quoting Psalm 101:26-28 LXX. We know his source is the Septuagint because the Septuagint differs from the Hebrew Masoretic text (MT) at three points in this passage, and Hebrews follows the Septuagint in all three cases. The most significant of these are: (1) In Psalm 101:26 LXX and Hebrews 1:10 the statement is addressed to kyrie ("O Lord"), whereas Psalm 102:26 MT does not give the addressee any title. (2) In Psalm 101:26 LXX and Hebrews 1:10 the heavens are said to be the erga ("works," plural) of the addressee's hands, whereas Psalm 102:26 MT says the heavens are the מעשה ("work," singular) of the addressee's hands.1

For this reason, we need to turn to Psalm 101 LXX to get as near as we can to the text the writer of Hebrews was working from in Heb. 1:10-12.

The Speaker and Addressee of Psalm 101 LXX in Context

The psalm reads as follows in the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) (with some key verses highlighted in bold):
1 A prayer. Pertaining to the poor one. When he is weary and pours out his petition before the Lord. 2 O Lord, listen to my prayer, and let my cry come to you. 3 Do not turn away your face from me. In the day when I am afflicted, incline your ear to me; in the day when I call upon you, listen to me speedily, 4 because my days vanished like smoke and my bones were burnt up like firewood. 5 My heart was stricken like grass and it withered, because I forgot to eat my bread. 6 Due to the sound of my groaning, my bone clung to my flesh. 7 I resembled a desert pelican, I became like a long-eared owl on a building-site. 8 I lay awake, and I became like a lone sparrow on a housetop. 9 All day long my enemies would reproach me, and those who used to commend me would swear against me, 10 because I ate ashes like bread and would mix my drink with weeping, 11 from before your wrath and your anger, because when you had lifted me up you dashed me down. 12 My days faded like a shadow, and I, like grass, withered away. 13 But you, O Lord, remain forever, and the mention of you to generation and generation. 14 When you rise up you will have compassion on Sion, because it is the appointed time to have compassion on it, because the appointed time has come, 15 because your slaves held its stones dear and on its dust they will have compassion. 16 And the nations will fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth your glory, 17 because the Lord will build up Sion, and he will be seen in his glory. 18 He regarded the prayer of the lowly and did not despise their petition. 19 Let this be recorded for another generation, and a people, which is being created, will praise the Lord, 20 because he peered down from his holy height, the Lord from heaven looked at the earth, 21 to hear the groaning of the prisoners, to set free the sons of those put to death, 22 so that the name of the Lord might be declared in Sion, and his praise in Ierousalem, 23 when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to be subject to the Lord. 24 He answered him in the way of his strength, "Tell me the paucity of my days. 25 Do not take me away at the mid-point of my days, while your years are in generation of generations!" 26 At the beginning it was you, O Lord, who founded the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands. 27 They will perish, but you will endure, and they will all become old like a garment. Like clothing you will change them, and they will be changed. 28 But you are the same, and your years will not fail. 29 The sons of your slaves shall encamp, and their offspring shall prosper for ever.2
The overall theme of the psalm is described in v. 1: it is a prayer that a poor, weary person pours out before the Lord (ho kyrios). Verse 2 sets the syntactic structure of the psalm: it is a prayer from a singular speaker to the Lord. The direct second-person address of the Lord continues from v. 2 to v. 17 or 18, despite a subordinate clause in v. 17 (and 18?) that speaks of the Lord in the third person (explaining why "all the kings of the earth" will see "your glory"). From v. 19 to 23 we have an aside, a statement about the Lord that the psalmist wishes to have written down for posterity. In v. 24a, we have an odd statement about a third-person "he" who answers a third-person "him," which diverges significantly from the Masoretic Text, largely due to differences in vocalization of the Hebrew text, which originally lacked vowels.3 From v. 24b to 29, the psalmist returns to direct second-person address of the Lord, and it is from this portion that Heb. 1:10-12 quotes.

Thus, overall we have two portions of prayer addressed to the Lord (vv. 2-17/18 and 24b-29) separated by material referring to the Lord in the third person (vv. 18/19-24a). There are several indications that the one addressed in vv. 24b-29 is the same one addressed in vv. 2-17/18. (1) Who else besides the Lord might the psalmist address prayers to? (2) The vocative kyrie ("O Lord") is used in vv. 2 and 13 and then again in v. 26, so the same term of address is used for the addressee in both prayer sections. (3) In both v. 13 and v. 27, the petitioner declares to the one addressed as kyrie that he will "remain" forever (v. 13: menō; v. 27: diamenō). (4) In both v. 15 and v. 29 the psalmist refers to "your slaves". (5) In both v. 12 and vv. 24-25, the psalmist laments about the shortness of "my days". Thus, both sections of prayer in Psalm 101 LXX are addressed to the Lord.

There are two basic ways of reading the awkward syntax of v. 24, which (with punctuation removed) translates to, "He answered him in the way of his strength tell me the paucity of my days." (1) "He" could be the psalmist (the "poor one" of v. 1 who has been praying) and "him" the Lord. We would then read v. 24a as reintroducing the psalmist's prayer and 24b as recommencing the prayer itself, as the NETS translates above. A paraphrase might be, "He (the poor one) answered him (the Lord) according to what strength he had left, 'Tell me the paucity of my days...'" (2) "He" could be the Lord, and "him" the poor one. We would then read v. 24a as emphasizing that the Lord answered the psalmist's prayer and did so with his divine strength. In that case, 24b resumes the psalmist's prayer addressed to the Lord. Thus, "He (the Lord) answered him (the poor one) in the way of his strength. (Poor one's prayer continues:) 'Tell me the paucity of my days...'" Which interpretation of v. 24 is preferable? It is not easy to decide; both readings have difficulties.4 However, perhaps it does not matter, because in either case the addressee from v. 24b to 29 is the Lord.5

To summarise, the speaker and addressee throughout Psalm 101 LXX, with the exception of an aside from vv. 18/19 to 24a, are respectively the psalmist (represented as a poor, afflicted human) and the Lord, i.e. God. This brings into sharper focus the problem of how the writer of Hebrews interpreted the speaker and addressee of Psalm 101:26-28 LXX as respectively God and his Son. To the solution of this problem we now turn.

How might the Son be the Addressee of Psalm 101:26-28 LXX?

From vv. 2-15, the Lord is only mentioned in the vocative (direct address): "O Lord". In vv. 16-17, however, the syntax vacillates between referring to the Lord in the third person and the second person, which could be taken to imply two Lords: 
And the nations will fear the name of the Lord (third person), and all the kings of the earth your glory (second person), 17 because the Lord (third person) will build up Sion, and he will be seen in his glory (third person).
The LXX translator probably had no intention of distinguishing two Lords here. However, the early Christian imagination made much of such syntactic quirks in the Scriptures. Consider Gen. 19:24 LXX: "And the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrha brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven." From this, coupled with Abraham's interactions with "the Lord" on the earth in Genesis 18, second-century Christian apologist Justin Martyr inferred that there are two distinct Lords in this passage, one of whom appeared on earth and one of whom remained in heaven (Dialogue with Trypho 56.15-23). It is also possible that the writer of the Hebrews read "the Lord...your glory...the Lord...his glory" in Psalm 101 as implying two Lords, one of whom "will appear" while the other "look[s] down from heaven". What makes this a likelihood rather than a possibility is what immediately follows the quotation of Psalm 101:26-28 in Hebrews 1:10-12. In Hebrews 1:13, the writer quotes the latter part of Psalm 109:1 LXX: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool." The unquoted introductory part of this verse mentions two Lords: "The Lord said to my Lord". In the MT (Psalm 110:1), the reference is to the divine name YHWH and the word אדן, "Lord." In the LXX, however, the divine name and אדן are both translated ho kyrios.

Since we know that the writer of Hebrews interpreted the two Lords of Psalm 109:1 LXX as God and his Son immediately after quoting Hebrews 1:10-12, it is also likely that the writer interpreted the two apparent Lords of Psalm 101:16-17 LXX as God and his Son. Making this connection would have followed the ancient rabbinic hermeneutical principle of gezerah shavah.6 The eschatological connotations of the language in vv. 14-23 ("appointed time," "another generation," "when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to be subject to the Lord") would have strengthened the conviction that one of these Lords is the Messiah—perhaps the one who will be "seen in his glory," since God himself is invisible. The writer would then have pondered which of the two Lords was being addressed as kyrie in v. 26, and he evidently concluded either that it was the second Lord (i.e. the Son), as direct agent of creation (cf. Heb. 1:2), or else that because the psalmist did not distinguish which Lord was being addressed, the words are equally applicable to both Lords. This is, in my view, the most plausible solution to the puzzle of how the writer of Hebrews came to interpret the Son as the Lord addressed in Psalm 101:26-28 LXX.7

How might God be the Speaker of Psalm 101:26-28?

We have suggested a solution to how the writer of Hebrews came to see the Son as the one addressed as kyrie ("O Lord") in Psalm 101:26-28. A second puzzle remains: how did the writer of Hebrews come to see God as the speaker of these words, the one addressing the Son ("But of the Son he says, [quotes Psalm 44:7-8 LXX], and, [quotes Psalm 101:26-28]")? After all, we have already noted, as per v. 1, that all the words addressed to the Lord in this psalm (vv. 2-17/18, vv. 24b-29) are spoken by "the poor one," the weary, afflicted human. Moreover, the speaker in vv. 24b-25a cannot possibly be God, since they concern about the fewness of the speaker's days.

The solution to this conundrum lies in the view of Scripture that is presupposed by the writer of Hebrews: since Scripture is literally the Word of God, any words of Scripture can be thought of as spoken by God, regardless of who the speaker is in the text's own local context. This view is evident in the unique way the writer introduces Scripture quotations: he consistently identifies them as spoken by God, even when the text itself refers to God in the third person. For instance, "when he leads the first-born into the world, he says: “Let all the angels of God worship him.”" (Heb. 1:6). "But of the Son [he says]...You loved justice and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, anointed you..." (Heb. 1:8-9; the speaker in Psalm 44 LXX is the psalmist, addressing the king). Hebrews 4:7 declares that the words of Psalm 94:7-8 LXX were God "saying through David...'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts'." Hebrews 8:8-13 uses "he says" to introduce a quotation from Jeremiah 31:31-34 that repeatedly contains the words "declares the Lord." For other examples that have God speaking of himself in the third person, see Hebrews 7:21; 10:30.8

These examples show that even scriptural words that, in their original context, were spoken by human psalmists and prophets, and may even have mentioned God in the third person, were also considered by the author of Hebrews to have been "said" by God inasmuch as they were divinely inspired Scripture. Therefore, the writer of Hebrews would have recognised that the speaker's voice in Psalm 101:26-28 LXX was that of the human psalmist. However, just as he regarded the words of Psalm 94:7-8 LXX as God "saying" something "through David," so he would have regarded the words of Psalm 101:26-28 LXX. By inspiring the psalmist to address these words to the Son, God had endorsed their content as a true description of the Son.


It is not difficult to see that the writer of Hebrews understood the words quoted in Hebrews 1:10-12 to have been said by God to or of the Son.9 10 What is difficult is to see why the writer understood these words to have been said by God to the Son, particularly since, in the original context of Psalm 101:26-28 LXX, they are part of a prayer said by the psalmist to God.

In this article we have attempted to resolve this difficulty. First, noting that Psalm 101:16-17 LXX seems to refer to two Lords (kyrioi) in an eschatological context, we argued that the writer of Hebrews was prompted to identify these as God and the Son, as he did the two kyrioi of Psalm 109:1 LXX immediately thereafter (Heb. 1:13). This would have primed him to interpret the "Lord" addressed in v. 26 as the Son, or at least as equally applicable to God or his Son, both of whom are "Lord." Second, we noted the unique tendency in Hebrews to identify God as having "said" words of Scripture even when the psalmist or another human was the speaker in the immediate sense in the original context. We argued that this principle enabled the writer of Hebrews to construe God as having "said" the words of Psalm 101:26-28 LXX to/of the Son, albeit through the psalmist (as the writer says explicitly when quoting another psalm in Hebrews 4:7).


  • 1 George H. Guthrie, "Hebrews," in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 940-41.
  • 2 Albert Pietersma, "Psalms," in A New English Translation of the Septuagint, ed. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 597.
  • 3 On the Septuagint translation of Psalm 102:23(101:24 LXX) and its meaning, see Jody A. Barnard, The Mysticism of Hebrews: Exploring the Role of Jewish Apocalyptic Mysticism in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012), 229-33.
  • 4 The verb apokrinomai ("answer," "reply") would normally presuppose some prior speech to which one is responding (cf. Ps. 118:42 LXX: "I shall render answer to them that reproach me"), which does not fit Psalm 101, where the Lord has not said anything. However, apokrinomai can denote the continuation of speech (cf. Matt. 12:38; Mark 10:24), thus, "He continued (praying) to him in the way of his strength, '..." (cf. BDAG 113-14). "In the way of his strength" seems more suited to describing a divine response than the petition of a poor, afflicted man. In favour of the second reading, apokrinomai is used elsewhere of God's responses to human speech (cf. Ex. 19:19 LXX), and God's responsiveness to the prayer of the poor has already been emphasised in v. 18 ("He regarded the prayer of the lowly and did not despise their petition"). The main difficulty with the second option is its abruptness: the Lord's unspecified answer does not flow smoothly from what comes before (the prayer having broken off in v. 17/18), and cannot introduce the speech that follows in 24b (since the one speaking of the paucity of his days and pleading not to be taken away is clearly not the Lord). However, the abruptness can be explained by the LXX translator having misunderstood the Hebrew here.
  • 5 The NETS has the prayer of the "he" of v. 24a end in v. 25, with the original first-person speaker resuming his speech in v. 26. There is no reason to see a change of speaker at the end of v. 25, however, even though the speaker never refers to himself in the first person thereafter. In any case, the addressee is clearly still the Lord throughout, for reasons already discussed.
  • 6 This ancient rule of biblical exegesis entails interpreting two passages jointly when they share an important phrase (David Instone Brewer, Techniques and Assumptions in Jewish Exegesis before 70 CE [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992], pp. 17-18). Scholars have noted the use of this principle elsewhere in Hebrews (Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006], 24), including in the joining of Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14 in Hebrews 1:5 (Richard N. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, 2nd edn [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999], 81-82).
  • 7 Guthrie, focusing on the LXX text of Psalm 101:24, suggests it implies that "the words of our quotation" (i.e., Psalm 101:26-28) "can be taken as the words of Yahweh spoken to one addressed as 'Lord'" ("Hebrews," 940; similarly, Radu Gheorgita, The Role of the Septuagint in Hebrews: An Investigation of its Influence with Special Consideration to the Use of Hab 2:3-4 in Heb 10:37-38 [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003], 61-62). However, not only is it unlikely that Yahweh would directly address the Son as kyrie, as though he were Yahweh's superior; it is also very unlikely that Yahweh could be construed as the speaker of vv. 24b-25c ("Tell me the paucity of my days. Do not take me away at the mid-point of my days")! Since it would be very awkward to have Yahweh's "answer" begin only in v. 26 after several intervening lines of direct speech by someone else, the solution here seems preferable.
  • 8 This tendency seems to be unique to Hebrews within the New Testament. Paul, for instance, usually introduces biblical quotations with the formula, "It is written." Occasionally he refers to biblical quotations as having been "said" by God, but seemingly only when God was being quoted making first-person speech in the original context (Rom. 9:15; 9:25; 2 Cor. 4:6; 6:16). In other instances, Paul refers to what "Scripture" says, what "the Law" says, or what Moses, David or Isaiah says (Rom. 4:3; 9:17; 10:11; 10:16; 10:19; 10:20; 11:2; 11:9), but as far as I can tell he never construes God as "saying" something in Scripture that refers to God in the third person. Again, I am obliged to Mike MacDonald for drawing my attention to this idiosyncrasy of Hebrews (at least among the NT writings).
  • 9 This is implied by the parallelism between vv. 8 and 10, with the word "And" in v. 10 showing that the writer is adding another example of what God says "to/of the Son" (pros de ton huion) in contrast to what he says "to/of the angels" (pros men tous aggelous, v. 7). (Compare v. 5, where only "and again" (kai palin) separates consecutive quotations from Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7).
  • 10 In writing "to/of" I am acknowledging the semantic ambiguity of the preposition pros when modifying an accusative: it could mean "towards, to" or "with reference/regard to" (BDAG 874-75).  The second-person address of the Son in vv. 8-9 and 10-12 might seem to favour "towards," but the parallelism with v. 7 (where the angels are referred to in the third person despite pros being used) neutralises this. Anyway, the distinction between "to" and "of" does not seem especially important to the meaning of Hebrews 1:7-12.