They will all wear out like a garment: rethinking the quotation of Psalm 102:25-27 in Hebrews 1

Generative AI summary:

The passage explores Hebrews 1:10-12, linking it with the eschatological outlook of the Son’s superiority over angels. It suggests that the Son’s future role in a new political order, symbolized by Psalm 102, denotes a transition to a renewed covenant and governance. The psalm’s imagery of creation’s renewal mirrors this transition, emphasizing God’s unchanging nature amid changing worldly orders. The Son’s enthronement signifies a shift from an old era to a new one, prompting reflection on how the living God will redefine His people’s place in a changing world.

Read time: 7 minutes

I had a go at explaining the place of the quotation from Psalm 102 as an apparent address to Christ as YHWH in a recent post on the “Is Jesus Yahweh?” debate between James White and Dale Tuggy, but I’m not sure I got it quite right. So I’m going to try again, at least in outline—I won’t repeat all the detail.

The argument about the Son and the angels

What we must grasp, first, I think, is that the argument of the passage is controlled by its “eschatological” outlook. Shifts in status are determined temporally or diachronically, not theologically or metaphysically. Scholars disputing about the relation of the Son to the Father tend to overlook this dimension.

So it is the prospect that the “firstborn”—Israel’s king—will be introduced into the Greek-Roman political realm or oikoumenē (Heb. 1:6) that has diminished the status of the angels. The Son has a more excellent name than theirs (1:4). They have not been given the nations as a future inheritance, which is the point of the “today I have begotten you” taken from Psalm 2:7. They do not have the status of sons in relation to God as a father (1:5). Instead, they will be expected to do obeisance to the firstborn when he is finally acclaimed as Lord by the nations.

The Son is superior to the angels because of the role that he will play in a foreseen future.

The Son has been anointed by God with the oil of gladness beyond his companions and will rule justly. Perhaps he is even conceived as a divine ruler, a “god” whose throne will last throughout the ages (1:8-9). He has been told to sit at the right hand of God until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet (1:13). Here is the proper political or theocratic dynamic of the now-and-not-yet aspect: the Son has been enthroned in heaven as ruler designate, but the nations are still hostile and need to be subdued by YHWH.

The angels, by contrast, are wind and fire, servants of God (1:7), “ministering spirits sent for service for the sake of those about to inherit salvation” (1:14*). Their role is the subordinate one of sustaining believers, such as the readers of the letter, who will eventually also “inherit” the life of the oikoumenē to come.

Admittedly, the readers of the letter do not yet see all things subjected to Jesus (2:5, 8). The old gods and divine rulers still ostensibly run the show. But they have “seen”—perhaps in a visionary sense—the crucified Jesus “crowned with glory and honour” by God (2:9), and they can take that as a sign or guarantee that the envisaged sweeping political-religious transformation will materialise.

The word spoken through the Son

The subordination of the angels to the Son, who as Israel’s king will inherit the nations in the civilisation to come, underpins a further contrast.

The Law of Moses, which was spoken through angels (Heb. 1:2; cf. Deut. 33:2; Jub. 1:27; 2:1, 26-27; Acts 7:38, 53; Gal. 3:19), prescribed a just recompense for “every transgression and disobedience.” Given the superiority of the Son, as just outlined, how much more serious and more certain will be the “recompense” for those who neglect “such a great salvation” spoken to the first disciples “through the Lord” (Heb. 2:3; cf. 1:2), validated by God himself “by signs and wonders and various acts of power and distributions of the Holy Spirit” (2:4*).

The exaltation of the Son, therefore, constitutes not only the inauguration of a new kingdom reality but also a decisive break from the life of God’s people under the Law of Moses. I think that this transition may direct us towards a solution to our problem.

You in the beginning, Lord…

The story of impending régime change has accounted in outline for pretty much everything in Hebrews 1:1-2:9, with the exception of the quotation of Psalm 102:25-27 in Hebrews 1:10-12*, with its prominent creation themes:

And, “You in the beginning, Lord, founded the earth, and the heavens are works of your hands; they will perish, but you remain, and all as a garment will become old (palaiōthēsontai), and as a robe you will roll them up, as a garment (himation) also they will be changed (allagēsontai). But you are the same, and your years will not fail.”

In its canonical form, the psalm combines two quite different narratives. In the one, the psalmist is gravely ill and derided by his enemies because of God’s anger towards him (Ps. 102:1-11, 23-24). In the other, the psalmist expects YHWH to have mercy on Zion and to restore the city to greatness so that “Nations will fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory” (Ps. 102:12-22, 26).

The section quoted by the writer to the Hebrews is not obviously linked to either of these narratives. The psalmist asserts that God made the earth and heavens; but the created order will perish, it will wear out like a garment. Therefore, God will change the earth and the heavens as a person changes a robe, and they will pass. But God remains the same; he does not grow old, he is not replaced; his years have no end.

Now it would be easy to read this as an account of the end of earth and heaven in some absolute sense, but the figurative language seems rather to suggest that earth and heaven grow old, wear out—like an item of clothing—and therefore need to be replaced.

The verb allassō is used in the Septuagint for changing garments. Jacob says to his household, for example: “Remove from your midst the foreign gods that are with you, and purify yourselves, and change (allaxate) your garments” (Gen. 35:2 LXX). David “washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes (ēllaxen ta himatia autou)” (2 Sam. 12:20 LXX).

In the context of the psalm, the immediate point may be that either the sick psalmist or the destitute community of Israel will come into a new state of affairs—a return to health, an age of renewed covenant life: “The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you” (Ps. 102:28).

In Hebrews, the meaning is that the creator God remains the same, but from time to time the created order grows old, wears out like a garment, and the creator must change it for a new created order—probably metaphorically, as always in the Old Testament, a new earth and heavens. The writer says later that the days are coming when God will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel (Heb. 8:8) using a similar metaphor:

In speaking of a new, he has made old (pepalaiōken) the first; and what is becoming old (palaioumenon) and aged is close to disappearing.” (Heb. 8:13*)

The creational language is appropriate because this is the work of the creator God, but it is applied at the level of kingdom, at the level of the management of God’s people and their relation to the nations. The writer has in view a change in Israel’s circumstances that will entail both a new covenant for his people and a new government for the nations of the Greek-Roman oikoumenē.

It is in this respect that the passage from Psalm 102 is applied to the Son in Hebrews 1:10-12. His enthronement marks the transition from an age that is wearing out and passing away to a new political order. The ancient world is going through a major upgrade, and this is the work of the God who made the earth and heavens in the beginning.

From our point of view, of course, that new age has itself grown old after seventeen hundred years or so, and we are wondering how the living creator God will remake our reality, how he will redefine the place of his people in a new oikoumenē or civilisation.

John M Baumberger | Wed, 04/24/2024 - 02:36 | Permalink

Hi Andrew. Thx for the quick response. After a quick read, I think I’m in agreement with a lot of what you have to say, but it will take some time on my part to carefully work through it all in order to see if I have any points of difference. 


Hi Andrew. If I’m understanding your correctly, you view Heb. 1:10-12 as not an address to the Son by God the Father?

If so, how do you avoid attributing vv. 10-12 from being an address of God [the Father] to the Son, especially given that from beginning to end, the writer is contrasting things said by God [the Father] ‘of’ and ‘to’ the Son and NOT ‘to’ or ‘of’ the angels?

“For to which of the angels did GOD ever say” (1:5a)

“And again” (1:5b)

“And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, HE says [λέγει]” (1:6)

“Of the angels HE says [λέγει]” (1:7)

“But of the Son” (1:8)

“And” (1:10)

“And to which of the angels has HE ever said” (1:13)


@John M Baumberger:

It’s a fair question, John, but I think we could say that the simple Kai that introduces the quotation of Psalm 102:25-27 allows this to stand as a comment on the epochal transition entailed in the assertion that Jesus will reign, perhaps as a divine king, on the throne of God throughout the coming ages.

Even if we think that Jesus is addressed as a god-king in verse 8, there is a clear relational dynamic throughout the passage: YHWH begets the Son, becomes a Father to the Son, introduces the Son as king into the world, anoints the chosen king, seats him at his right hand. YHWH is the sole actor in this narrative, and what verses 10-12 show is that YHWH acts in the created order while the Son exercises divine rule in the oikoumenē—that is, in the political order to come (Heb. 2:5).

@Andrew Perriman:

Hi Andrew. I’m still mulling over your last reply to me. Have you had a look at Thomas Gaston’s below article on Hebrews?

(66) Why does Hebrews 1:10-12 cite Psalm 102:25-27 | Thomas Gaston —

I like [and agree with] a lot of what he says, but I don’t necessarily agree with his particular point, “Like the heavens and earth, the angels will ultimately “grow old” and “perish” and “be changed.”

I think the Hebrews author is using the dissolution of “the foundations of the earth” and “heavens,” as referenced in Ps. 102:25-27 as imagery for the removal old covenant [the old age that is passing away], which he later addresses or alludes to in Heb. 8:13 & 12:26-27.

Donald Guthrie, Hebrews, p 265, makes the point that “the imagery of physical changes is often used in Scripture to express spiritual truths…”

@John M Baumberger:

Yes, I read Gaston’s essay and thought I’d commented on it somewhere, but now can’t find it. His point about the rhetorical relationship between the two quotations may have some merit.

But I agree with you about his argument about the angels growing old and perish. It doesn’t that God created the angels, rather he either makes his messengers winds and fire, or makes winds and fire his messengers. It’s outside his argument that the angels will perish and be replaced eventually.

I would see more than covenant renewal at issue, though. The quotation of Psalm 2:7 in 1:5 brings the nations into view, and the reference to the oikoumenē to come into which Israel’s king will be introduced (1:6; 2:5) points to a broader horizon of transformation than Israel.