†he Burros of Berea

Oikouménē in Hebrews 1:6

Oikouménē in Hebrews 1:6

“And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world (οἰκουμένη ), he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him’” (Hebrews 1:6).

According to TDNT: “hē oikouménē denotes the inhabited world and then comes into use for the Roman empire. In Philo it has primarily a general rather than a political sense. It is fairly common in the NT. In Mt. 24:14 the use is general; the gospel is for all nations. In Lk. 2:1, however, the reference is more political. The inhabited world is the point in Lk. 4:5 (Mt. 4:8 has kósmos) and Lk. 21:26 (cf. Acts 11:28; Rev. 3:10). Acts 17:6 and 19:27 are in accord with current Greek usage. Paul uses the term only in quoting Ps. 19:4 (Rom. 10:18). Heb. 1:6 and 2:5, however, reflect Hellenistic usage. The NT never contests the Roman claim that equates the oikouménē with the empire. 1 Clem. 60.1 perhaps includes the spiritual and angelic world in the concept. [O. MICHEL, V, 119-59].”

Understanding oikouménē in light of its common Hellenistic usage at the time, in Hebrews 1:6, makes perfect sense considering the royal flavor of the context. Commenting on the Writer to the Hebrews’ intention in this regard with respect to this verse’s surrounding context, Amy B. Peller writes: “He draws from a small group of texts in which God designates himself as the Father of the king (Pss. 2.7; 88.28 LXX; 109.3 LXX; 2 Sam. 7.14; 1 Chr. 17.13; 22.10; 28.6). He cites two of these and alludes to a third (Ps. 88.28 LXX) in the introduction to the quotation in Heb. 1.6…This verse is similar to the other quotations in that God designates the king as his child.”

The verse speaks of bringing the first-born into the world, and it would be tempting to simply relegate the reference to the incarnation. Of course, this is not historically inaccurate. Jesus was in fact born into the Hellenistic world of the Roman Empire. However, the NT usage of Psalm 2:7, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee” (Heb. 1:5), equates this declaration to the time when Jesus was raised from the dead (Acts 13:33). And the context of Hebrews retains this usage.

As Jared M. Compton observes: in Hebrews 1:5-14, “the author explains why the son’s resurrection makes him greater than angels. The sum: with his resurrection, the son has received the status that was reserved for David’s true heir, Israel’s long-awaited messiah, a status that far outstrips anything angels had ever received.” Compton then cites numerous scholarly sources which concur with the idea that “the introductory formula in v. 6 refers to the son’s exaltation and not his incarnation.”

Considering the thematic context of Hebrews 1:6, i.e., Christ’s enthronement as king, the usage of oikouménē, rather than kosmos (as in Heb. 4:3; 9:6; 10:5, 11:7, 38), makes perfect sense. The writer chose his words carefully and for a specific purpose. He chose a word associated with the imperial empire to convey the regal and royal context of Jesus’ exaltation to kingship. Upon His resurrection from the dead, He achieved the status of the king of God’s new oikouménē. Hence even in Hebrews 1:6, oikouménē retains its normal meaning reflective of the time period in which the NT was written.