The Key to the Trinity: “Your Throne, O God”

I wonder how many times the following conversation has played out between someone who denies the Trinity doctrine (the first speaker) and someone who believes it:

“Where does it say in the Bible that Jesus is co-equal with Almighty God?”

“Well, for starters, in Hebrews 1:8 Jesus is called ‘O God.’”

“True, but the very next verse calls the Father ‘God.’”

“Which just proves my point: they’re both God. Co-equal.”

“Oh, no, it doesn’t! Addressing the Son it says, ‘The Father is your God.’ The Father is the Son’s God. Clearly the Son is not co-equal with Him.”

Thus, a trinitarian prooftext (Heb 1:8) becomes a trinitarian problem text, because of the verse that follows it (1:9). And the first speaker isn’t finished. He shows his bewildered companion verses in which Paul calls the Father “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:3,17), and where Christ Himself calls the Father “my God” (Joh 20:17). “See!” he adds triumphantly, “The doctrine of the Trinity is man-made and unbiblical. Jesus’ own words contradict it.”

And with that we come to the final and most challenging gate on our journey:

“Does this doctrine stem from Scripture, or is it a human invention?”

We will approach this gate the same way we did our earlier objections – by looking to Christ, the key to understanding the Trinity. We look at Him by gazing at Him in His Word. Let’s do so through the text already referenced.

“But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions’” (Heb 1:8-9).[1]

Between the two of them, the above conversation partners made three correct observations. We’ll consider them carefully one at a time and test whether this text affirms or denies the Trinity.

First, in verse 8, the Lord Jesus is identified as God. It doesn’t just say that the Son is divine in nature; it actually calls Him “God.” But as we’ve seen, none of this troubles those who deny the Trinity, because of the following verse. So we’ll move on.

Second, in verse 9, the Lord Jesus is distinguished from God. Do you see that? In the same breath, Scripture identifies Jesus as God and distinguishes Him from God. We will come to the phrase “your God” in a moment, but for now please notice that this second observation, far from contradicting the doctrine of the Trinity, provides one of its vital components. For here we have two Persons identified as God – the Father and the Son – in a document written by an author to recipients firmly entrenched in the Jewish belief that there is only one God.[2] Thus, one God, in two Persons. But does the third observation upend all this trinitarian evidence?

Third, putting verses 8 and 9 together, the Lord Jesus is God, who has God, as His God.[3] Please think through this carefully. Make sure you can see it in the text. The Son is called God in verse 8, and is said to have God as His God in verse 9. Putting the two verses together, the Son must be God, who has God as His God.

To the non-trinitarian, this spells disaster for the doctrine of the Trinity. The Father alone must be Almighty God; the Son is clearly great, but He’s at least one notch inferior to the Father. After all, the Father is never said to have the Son as His God.

But this view misses a crucial, final observation: Fourth, putting chapters 1 and 2 together, the Lord Jesus is both God and man. Both chapters are like parallel panels with the same structure: a heading about angels (1:5; 2:5), followed by the Son’s superiority to them (1:5-14; 2:6-18), culminating in another reference to angels (1:14; 2:16). The two chapters treat, in turn, the deity of Christ and the humanity of Christ. Thus, while in the first panel the Son receives worship (as God, 1:6), in the second He is the giver of worship (as our representative Man, 2:12). The author to the Hebrews is placing these twin truths side by side.

And it is this that explains how Jesus can be God while having God as His God. To make purification and propitiation for sins (1:3; 2:17), blood had to be shed (9:22). To do so, the Son had to come a little lower than the angels (2:9; 1:4) and become man. For His blood-shedding to be effective, He had to be a sacrifice without blemish (9:14) – a sinless man. And to be a sinless man, the Lord Jesus had to keep the law perfectly, including its first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exo 20:3, my emphasis). Therefore, in order to save His people from their sins, the Son had to have God as His God. He was and is the only Man who perfectly loved the Lord His God with all His heart and soul and mind and strength. And because He will never cease to be a sinless Man, He will for all eternity be God who has God as His God.

Of course, the Father doesn’t have God as His God! The Father never became incarnate. The expression “your God” in 1:9 does not signal the inferiority of the Son, but rather His perfect humanity. This also explains the other texts objectors raise (Joh 20:17; Eph 1:3,17). The moment Christ became man, He who eternally had God as His Father, because He was the Son of God, had Him also as His God, because He was fully man.

To sum up, when we look at Christ in Hebrews 1:8-9, we see that

  • the Son is God;
  • the Father is God;
  • there are thus two Persons who are each God, and yet there is only one God;
  • the Son is man, and will be a sinless man forever, and so, while never ceasing to be Himself God, He will always have God (the Father) as His God (Rev 3:12).

These truths are the building blocks of the doctrine of the Trinity. And note well: we didn’t get them from a man-made creed but from the Bible.

Want to go deeper?

We have space to consider three of the ways those who deny the Trinity might push back:

Objection 1: That the Son is called God in 1:8 isn’t so significant when you realize that these words are a quote from Psalm 45 and were first spoken to a Davidic king. In their historical context, these words only meant that the king was representing God’s rule to others, and that’s all they mean in Hebrews 1, too.

Response: That historical context is important, yes, but so is the literary context of Hebrews 1. The author believes that by citing Psalm 45 he is furthering his argument that the Son is superior to angels (1:4-5). If all his citation proves is that Jesus is a Davidic king, he has not helped his cause at all. But if we follow the inspired author’s flow of thought, angels are only servants who manifest themselves in changing forms (1:7), while the Son is God[4] whose divine reign is permanent (1:8-12).[5]

Objection 2: The NT calls Satan, and even human judges, “god(s)” (2Co 4:4; Joh 10:35). So what if it also calls Jesus “god”?

Response: Unlike these cited instances, the context of Hebrews 1 makes clear that the Son is being spoken of as God in the highest possible sense. Like the Father, the Son receives worship (1:6) and shares God’s attributes (eternality and immutability, 1:11-12), names (God, Lord, 1:8-10), deeds (creation and providence, 1:2-3,10), and throne (1:3,13).[6] Finally, regarding the quotation from Psalm 102 in 1:10-12, the NIV Study Bible notes: “As in v.6, a passage addressed to Yahweh … is applied to the Son.”

Objection 3: That the Son’s incarnation is the reason God is His God in 1:9 is a possible explanation, but is it the best one?

Response: It is the most contextual one. Note quickly, in addition to points made earlier, that the aorist verbs in “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness” point naturally to Christ’s incarnate life on earth,[7] and that the word “companions” in Greek is cognate with the word “partook” in 2:14.[8] This suggests that the companions in view are His redeemed people, His brothers (2:11). Christ’s divine nature and human nature are in view in 1:8-9.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV.

[2] Deu 6:4; Mar 12:29; 1Co 8:6; 1Ti 2:5. See also David Gooding, An Unshakeable Kingdom: Rock Solid Truth in Uncertain Times (Port Colborne, ON: Gospel Folio Press, 2002), 31-32, 36-37.

[3] I owe this helpful wording to Christopher Ash, Psalms for You: How to Pray, How to Feel and How to Sing (The Good Book Company, 2020), 126.

[4] Murray J. Harris, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008), 216-17.

[5] To be consistent, the critic must also treat the OT quotations in 1:5 the same way and argue that the Son isn’t actually the real Son of God but only a son in the sense that an ancient king was.

[6] Robert M. Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 278.

[7] Harris, Jesus as God, 224-25.

[8] Dennis E. Johnson, “Hebrews,” in ESV Expository Commentary Vol. XII: Hebrews – Revelation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2018), 39.