Hebrews 1:8 - O God
What Trinitarians Say
It is often said that the writer’s application of this Psalm to Jesus means that Jesus is actually the one true God of Israel.
What We Say
Just as the original Psalm which the writer is quoting used the word “god” (Elohim) to describe the human king of Israel at that time, this term is now being applied to the man Jesus, the new king of Israel. The word “god” is a title frequently used in both the OT and NT to describe human rulers, judges, and people whom God has placed in positions of authority. It is also important to note that the very next verse says that the Son actually has a God himself (v.9).
The writer of Hebrews in no way argues that Jesus actually is Yahweh, the one true God. In the surrounding context, the writer actually succinctly argues that Jesus is a supremely exalted man who has been given Yahweh’s authority and has become superior even to the holy angels (Heb 1:4). In the next chapter, the writer even argues that Jesus has been deemed worthy of even more glory than Moses (Heb 3:3), which is an incredibly pointless argument if both the writer and the other Christians believed Jesus was God Almighty.
So what about this “GOD” language in Hebrews 1:8?
An examination of the biblical usage of the Hebrew “elohim” and the Greek “theos” reveals that one may indeed be called "god" and not actually be Yahweh, the one true God of Israel.
It is important to note that “God” (Elohim/theos) is not a personal name of a single individual, though today we have come to usually identify the word exclusively with the Yahweh of the Bible. Nevertheless, it is a title translated many times in popular Bibles as “judge”, “ruler”, etc. It simply describes a kingly-type of powerful person, an individual with god-like powers, such as a human judge of Israel (John 10:34) or a mighty angel (Psalm 82:1).
When God imparts his authority to a human being, even God himself uses this term to describe them. Several examples of this application include Moses: “Then Yahweh said to Moses, ‘See I have made you GOD to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet” (Exodus 7:1). The Rulers of Israel: “I said, ‘You are GOD,” you are all sons of the Most High” (Psalm 82:6, John10:34). A Roman governor is also called “God” by the people (Acts 12:22), and the New Testament also calls Satan “the God of this world” (2 Cor 4:4). There are actually many “gods” mentioned in the Scriptures, though there is clearly one true God. Incredibly, the Apostles Paul even defines WHICH god is the one that the Christians worship: “There are many GODS, but for us there is ONE GOD, THE FATHER…” (1 Cor 8:6). Indeed, as Christ said, “the Father” is clearly “the only TRUE God” (John 17:1a, 3).
While Jesus is called “god” here in Hebrews 1:8, he is no more Yahweh than Moses is. Strong's provides these meanings for the word: "a god or goddess, a general name of deities or divinities, whatever can in any respect be likened unto God or resemble him in any way, God's representative or vice-regent, magistrates and judges."
It is therefore biblically appropriate to describe the resurrected, exalted Jesus as “God,” just as it was appropriate to describe Moses, the kings of Israel, and other men in this way. In fact, if we read the Psalm which the writer of Hebrews is quoting here, we can see that it was originally about a man, the king of Israel at that time:
“I address my verses to the king… Grace is poured upon your lips, therefore God has blessed you forever… Your throne, O God, is forever… you have loved righteousness, therefore God, YOUR GOD, has anointed you with the oil of joy above your fellows… King’s daughters are among your noble ladies; at your right hand stands the queen…” (Psalm 45)
So the Psalmist calls this man “God”, because as the King of Israel, he has God’s authority over his kingdom. Of course, this applies directly to Jesus because Jesus is the King of Israel (John 1:49). Certainly, the writer of Hebrews’ intentions are not to identify the man Jesus as Yahweh. For good measure, let us examine the information that the writer gives us about Jesus that surrounds verse 8.
Before verse 8 we read that the Son:
1) was not speaking to the fathers in ages past (1:1-2)
2) had to become superior to angels since he previously was not (1:4)
3) gained an inheritance of something he didn’t have a right to previously (1:4)
4) will be a Son to God (interestingly, not God himself) (1:5)
5) is a representation of God (interestingly, not God himself) (1:3)
Now, after verse 8 we read that the Son:
1) has a God (1:9)
2) has been anointed above his fellows (1:9) (God has no fellows)
3) was made for a while lower than the angels (2:9)
4) is NOW crowned with glory and honor because he died (2:9) (since he wasn’t crowned beforehand)
5) is the pioneer of man’s salvation (2:10) (the first to receive salvation)
6) calls men his brothers (2:11) (God does not have brothers)
7) says that he will put his trust in God (2:13)
8) is made like his brothers in every single way (2:17)
9) was tempted (2:18) (God cannot be tempted)
10) is now counted worthy of more glory than Moses (3:3) (if he’s Yahweh, shouldn’t this go without saying?)
Clearly the writer is not describing the Almighty Yahweh. Of course, Jesus is never called Yahweh by the writer of Hebrews or by any other biblical author, but he is called “a man” (Acts 2:22, 1 Tim 2:5, John 8:40) who has been invested with divine authority (Matt 28:18). Jesus is a "god" in the sense that he is a chief dignitary, a holy prince, and a powerful ruler who represents his Father. God himself has given the man Jesus this lordly status (Acts 2:36, Phil 2:9), and the writer of Hebrews explains that it is precisely because he suffered to the point of death he has "now been crowned with glory and honor" (Heb 2:9).