Excerpt from the book of Hebrews (1:8-9) from P46, which is the earliest Greek manuscript of Hebrews (c. A.D. 200)
The prologue of Hebrews is one of the most Christologically significant prologues in the NT. The context of the prologue is crystal clear: The author presents a marked well-defined contrast between all created things (viz., angels and the heavens and the earth) and the eternality of the divine Son (cf. vv. 3, 6, 8), the unchangeable Creator (cf. vv. 2, 8-10-12), who was worshiped as God(v. 6). The author initiates his context by stating first that God’s final revelation is found in His Son alone (i.e., the NT), who is the Creator of all things.
Specifically, in verses 1-2, a contrast is drawn between the particular way God the Father spoke to His people in the OT—“in the prophets in many portions and in many ways”—and how God subsequently speaks to His people today—namely, through His Son: “through whom also He made the world”—God’s final revelation. Thus, it is the apostolic “writings,” concerning the Son, by which God speaks to us today (cf. Eph. 2:20). Verses 3-4 clearly present the Son’s person, nature (as God-man), sacrificial cross-work (“purification of sins”), and exaltation “at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” After affirming that the Son is the Creator of the world in verse 2, the author then exalts the distinct person of the Son as fully God—in the same sense (i.e., the very nature) as that of God the Father.
“And He [the Son] is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature. . . .” (NASB)
Greek: Hos ōn apaugasma tēs doxēs kai charaktēr tēs hupostaseōs autou.
The entire prologue of Hebrews presents a clear distinction of persons, Jesus, the Son who provided “purification of sins” (vv. 3-4) and the Father, who commands His angels to worship someone other than Himself, the eternal Son. In verses 8-12, the Father directly addresses the Son as a distinct person from Himself: “But of the Son He [the Father] says.”
Let us now note the fine points of the exegesis of Hebrews 1:3, which provide a fantastic refutation to unitarian groups such as the Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and especially Oneness Pentecostals who deny the deity and unipersonality of the Son, thus rejecting the biblical revelation of the triune God:
- “He is the radiance of His glory” (hos ōn apaugasma tēs doxēs). As we have noted elsewhere regarding John 1:18 and Romans 9:5, the present tense active participle wn, ōn (“is/being”) is a very significant feature in exegesis. The present participle ōn can indicate a continuing state of being. Here the author says that the Son is always, that is, in a continuing state(ōn) as the radiance of God’s glory, and “exact representation of His nature.” The present tense participle ōn (“is”/being) in this passage is set in contrast with the aorist epoiēsen (“He made”) in verse 2 and in contrast with the aorist genomenos (“having become”—referring to the incarnation) in verse 4.This is similar to the use of the imperfect ēn (“was”) in John 1:1, which is set in contrast with aorist egeneto (“came to be”) in 1:14, and similar to the use of the present participle huparchōn (“existing/always subsisting”) in Philippians 2:6, which is set in contrast with the aoristgenomenos (“having become”) in verse 7. In each case, there is an outstanding contrast between the eternal preincarnate Son and all things created.
- “He is the exact representation of His nature” (charaktēr tēs hupostaseōs autou). The present active participle ōn (“is”) at the beginning of the phrase governs the phrase—thus, “He is [ōn, “always is/being”] the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.” As we commented on Philippians 2:6, Paul expresses the same idea by using the present tense participle huparchōn (“being” NIV) to denote that the Son is always subsisting/existing in the very nature or essence (morphē) of God.The Greek term charaktēr (appearing only here in the NT) refers to the exact reproduction or representation expressing the reality or essence of the very image it is representing. The Septuagint (LXX) usage of charaktēr signifies the exact character or nature of the thing to which it is applied (cf. Lev.13:28; 2 Mac. 4:10; 4 Mac 15:4). It denoted the exact imprint left by a signet ring such as a king, for example, after having been placed into wax—it is his exact non-replicable imprint. It also referred to the “engraving” stamp of a Caesar on a coin that exactly represented his honor, authority, and power.
- Louw and Nida define charaktēr as “a representation as an exact reproduction of a particular form or structure—‘exact representation of his being’ He 1.3.” One of the most recognized and cited Greek lexicons, BDAG, defines the meaning of charaktēr, as applied to the Son in Hebrews, as something “produced as a representation, reproduction . . . Christ is [charaktēr] an exact representation of (God’s) real being, Heb. 1:3.” In the clearest sense, then, the Son is the “exact representation” of the God’s nature.The Greek term translated “nature” (NASB; “person” in the KJV) is from the Greek term,hupostaseōs (from hupostasis). According to the lexical support, the term carries the meaning of substantial nature,essence, actual being, reality (cf. BDAG). The term indicates “the substantial quality, nature, of any person or thing: Heb. 1:3”(Thayer). Note below how hupostaseōs is rendered in this passage by major translations:
- “Flawless expression of the nature of God” (Phillips)
- “The express image of His person” (KJV, NKJV)
- “The very image of His substance” (ASV)
- “[The] exact expression of His essence” (ALT)
- “The true image of his substance” (BBE)
- “He is an exact copy of God’s nature” (ICB)
- “The exact reproduction of His essence” (Wuest)
- “All that God’s Son is and does marks him as God” (TLB)
- “The very imprint of his being” (NAB)
- “The exact imprint of God’s very being” (NRSV)
- “Everything about Him represents God exactly” (NLT)
Even the biblical translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the New World Translation (NWT) reflects an accurate meaning: “He is the reflection of [his] glory and the exact representation of his very being”—although they still deny Jesus as God. Therefore, Hebrews 1:3 unambiguously teaches that the Son possesses the “exact nature” of God. Neither king, prophet, mighty man, nor created angel such as Michael the archangel is said to be, or has ever made the claim of being, the charaktēr, that is, the “exact representation” or “express image” of the hupostaseōs—namely, the essence or very nature of God’s Being. Only God can rightfully be the exact representation of the nature of God.
The prologue of Hebrews presents in the most intelligent way that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is fully God and fully man, and adistinct person from God the Father. In light of the striking contrast presented in the prologue of Hebrews (things created vs. the eternal Son, Creator of all things), the author affirms straightforwardly in verse 3 that the Son is the eternal God. In a most literal sense, verse 3 says that the Son is (ōn—“always being”) the brightness, the eternal radiance (apaugasma) of the glory of God and the exact representation or impress (charaktēr) of the very nature (hupostaseōs) of God Himself.
Again, no creature can make this claim. Then in Hebrews 1:6, we read that God the Father commands all the angels to worship the Son (see also Dan. 7:14; Matt. 14:33; Rev. 5:13-14). In light of Exodus 20:5 (“You shall not worship them or serve them”), divine worship is restricted to God alone. Thus, only from within a Trinitarian context can the Son be justifiably worshiped.
Further, the Father’s attestation as to His Son’s coequality is plainly stated in verse 8 where we read of God the Father’s direct address to the Son as ho theos (“the God”), whose throne is forever and ever. That the Father addresses “another” person as “God” (the Son) is precisely what the doctrine of the Trinity teaches. In the gospels, the Son addresses His Father as “God,” but here, the Father addresses the Son as “God.”
And finally in verses 10-12, God the Father directly addresses the Son as the unchangeable Creator, the YHWH of Psalm 102:25-27. Note, in verse 10, the Father says to the Son: “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of Your hands. . . .” Two important points should be considered here, 1) the term “Lord” in the Greek (kurie) is in the vocative case (i.e., the case of direct address) signifying that the Father is actually addressing the Son and 2) verses 10-12 are citations from Psalm 102:25-27, which speak of YHWH as the unchangeable Creator. Therefore, the Father actually identifies the Son and hence addresses Him as the YHWH of Psalm 102—the unchangeable Creator.
Again, only within the context of Trinitarianism can the Son be worshiped by all of the angels and be identified and directly addressed (by God the Father) as both “God” and the “Lord,” that is, the YHWH of Psalm 102:25, the immutable Creator.Hence, along with the prologue of John and Colossians, the Trinity is expressed vividly in the prologue of Hebrews. It has been used historically by Christians to present both a positive affirmation of the deity of the Son and a clear and pointed refutation to the many non-Christian cults who “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4),—God the Son.
 The Amplified version reads: “He is the sole expression of the glory of God [the light-being, the out-raying or radiance of the divine], and He is the perfect imprint and very image of [God’s] nature. . . .”
 John 1:18: “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is [ho ōn, i.e., “the One who is/being always”] in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (emphasis added). Romans 9:5: “Whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh,who is [ho ōn] over all, God blessed forever. Amen” (emphasis added).
 The “instrument used in engraving or carving” (Thayer).
 BDAG is the abbreviation for Walter Bauer, A Greek English Lexicon.