Upholding all things by his powerful word

Hebrews 1.3
Just consider the passage—

being (present participle)
the brightness of his glory
and the express image of his substance/essence
carrying/upholding (present participle) all things by the word of his power
SAT DOWN (aorist indicative) on the right hand of the majesty on high
having made (aorist participle) cleansing of our sins
having become (aorist participle) so much better than angels…

The present participles (“being” and “upholding”) describe conditions in which the redemptive work of Christ was completed. Specifically, both conditions, viz., the Son’s “being” the brightness of God’s glory and the image of his substance as well as his “upholding” the universe (cf. Col 1), obtain with respect to the Son while he went about his incarnate work of redemption (cleansing sin and becoming better than angels) culminating in his “sitting down.”

(Picture from here.)

7 comments on “Upholding all things by his powerful word

  1. These participles can be concessive, meaning: “although he is the brightness of his glory… – after making purification for sins, he sat down”. The same thought as in Phil.2:6 – “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself…”


    • tgbelt says:


      Concession implies that the action of the main verb (“sat”) is completed in spite of the action of the participles (“being” and “upholding”). This wouldn’t necessitate that the action of the participles ENDS before the action of the main verb is completed. So whether we understand the relationship between the first participles (“being” and “upholding”) and the main verb (“sat”) as “while” or “although,” it remains the case that the activities of “being” and “holding” are activities that continue to obtain relative to the main verb and the participles that follow. What cannot be said is that the meaning is, “Having [previously, at one time] been the exact representation of his being, and having [previously, at one time] upheld all things by his work, he sat down, having made purification….”

      The Phil 2 passage is equally interesting:

      “…Christ Jesus, who…
           being (present ptc) in the form of God
                 thought it not (aorist verb) robbery to be equal with God
                 but emptied himself (aorist verb)…”

      The relationship between the present participle (“being in the form of God”) and the aorist verb (“emptied”) doesn’t require us to assume the activity describe by the participle ENDS in and with the activity described by the aorist verb (“emptied”), any more than we should think that the activity described by the same participle ENDS in and with the activity described by the aorist verb “thought it not….” In fact, it’s obvious that “being in the form of God” and “he thought it not” are coincident. That is, he was “in the form of God” WHEN and WHILE and AS he “thought it not.”

      We also don’t think the following participle “being found in human form” ENDS or cease with “he humbled himself.” On the contrary, he is still in human form when and as he humbles himself. In fact, his being in human form is necessary to his humbling himself. Similarly, he remains in the form of God when he “thinks no” and “empties himself” (or when he makes himself no reputation).


      • Probably you are correct in your interpretation. I just wanted to point, that it can not be decided grammatically. There is not just one way these participles can be interpreted. By the way, here is what Michael Gorman is arguing concerning Phill.2: we will argue that the Greek phrase en morphe theou hyparchon in Phil 2:6 (“being in the form of God”) has two levels of meaning, a surface structure and a deep structure (to borrow terms from transformational grammar), one concessive and one causative: “although he was in the form of God” and “because he was in the form of God.” These two translations, which, as we will see, are really two sides of the same coin, correspond to two aspects of Paul’s understanding of the identity of the one true God (or “divine identity”) manifested in this text: its counterintuitive character (“although”) and its cruciform character (“because”).’


      • tgbelt says:

        Hi Vladimir. How is Cairo? You live in such an unpredictable part of the world!

        Participles are tricky, and they serve different uses. I like Gorman’s thoughts on Phil 2. I agree that Paul can have both uses in mind (concessive and causative). But that just establishes my point, namely, that the concessive doesn’t (grammatically speaking) entail discontinuity. Both the concessive and the causative can obtain in/through the same action. They just offer different perspectives on this action.

        So the concessive means “in spite of” (which is at the heart of “although”) without requiring discontinuity of action. Thus: the actions of “being in the form of God” and “being found in human form” (Phil 2) and “being the exact representation of substance” and “upholding all things by his word” (Heb 1) may all be concessively related to their main verbs without at all having to assume that these actions cease with the action of their main verbs (which is what all kenoticists argues we have to do; i.e., the Logos can’t possibly be ruling the universe while (whether consessively or causally) getting his diapers changed). Not only does concessive not entail discontinuity, but in these specific cases it cannot imply discontinuity. The Son doesn’t cease being the exact representation of the Father’s substance in order to make purification for our sins.


  2. Cairo is loud, dirty, busy, hot, and beautiful as always. )) economic situation is very unstable. Muslims are in power. But we are having our first graduation this August, so I am exited about that. )


  3. tgbelt says:

    Kenoticists are committed to believe this:


               the brightness of his glory
               and the express image of his substance
         NOT CARRYING/UPHOLDING all things by his powerful word…
         MADE PURIFICATION for our sins, etc.


    • tgbelt says:

      And it’s debatable whether they can consistently affirm that the incarnate Christ is, as incarnate, the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of his substance.


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