Epistle to the Hebrews: Delay of the Name "Jesus"
In preparing for this morning's group study of the Epistle of Hebrews, a New Testament text noted for its High-Priestly Christology -- namely, a priesthood placed above even the Levitical one and identified with the priestly order of Melchizedek -- I noticed that the "Son of God" is only first called "Jesus" in verse nine of chapter two. Except for the very short letter of Third John, a text of merely one chapter consisting of just fifteen verses (which does not use "Jesus" at all), only Hebrews, among all the epistles, delays so long -- in effect, twenty-three verses -- before supplying the name "Jesus."
Why? Why this delay?
The epistle opens by emphasizing that God has spoken to mankind, or at least to believers, through his Son, a status quickly affirmed as superior to that of the angels by virtue of reflecting the glory of God, bearing the stamp of his image, and sustaining the universe, in whose creation he was the agent
The Son's subsequent role as High Priest is also soon affirmed, albeit less explicitly, in verse three of chapter one, which refers to the Son as having made purification for sins.
By first emphasizing the high status and eminent role of the Son, the author of Hebrews takes pains to ensure that there be no doubt about the theological and soteriological understanding before providing the human name "Jesus," a name quite common among first century Jews.
Note therefore that when the author of Hebrews does finally refer to the Son as "Jesus," he does so in 2:9 with implicit allusion to the incarnation and emphasizes the brevity of this 'humble' state:
τὸν δὲ βραχύ τι παρ’ ἀγγέλους ἠλαττωμένον βλέπομεν Ἰησοῦν διὰ τὸ πάθημα τοῦ θανάτου δόξῃ καὶ τιμῇ ἐστεφανωμένον ὅπως χάριτι θεοῦ ὑπὲρ παντὸς γεύσηται θανάτουThe allusion to the incarnation comes in the expression "who for a little while was made lower than the angels" (βραχύ τι παρ’ ἀγγέλους ἠλαττωμένον), which refers back to verse seven in its citation of Psalm 8:6 from the Septuagint, the Greek rather than Hebrew text of the Old Testament. The author of Hebrews understands this expression -- that the Son was, for a short time, made lower than the angels -- as meaning that the Son took on the lower status of human nature.
But the one who for a little while was made lower than the angels we see, Jesus, through the suffering of death with glory and honor crowned so that by the grace of God for all he might taste death. (translation mine, largely to preserve word order)
Even in acknowledging that the Son lowered himself, however, the author insists that this was merely temporary, for the purpose of the Son's suffering and death, and at any rate resulted in his being crowned with glory and honor, an affirmation of his supra-angelic status.
From the evidence, then, I tentatively suggest that the author of Hebrews was concerned with countering an argument to the effect that as a human being, Jesus was necessarily lower than the angels and therefore could not be divine. This is the issue of status, which the writer deals with immediately and directly by insisting on a high, pre-incarnate existence as "Son." This leads to the second issue, that of role, which explains the Son's earthly function as a priestly one in offering himself up as purification for sins, a purpose whose incarnational necessity is explicated in the remainder of chapter 2 (verses 10-18), which is at pains to justify why the Son took on flesh and blood. And note that the priesthood is later proclaimed to be of the order of Melchizedek (2:6, 10), a priestly order that appears to transcend human nature (7:1-3).
These interlinked issues of status and role are, I think, why the author of Hebrews only belatedly refers to the human name "Jesus."