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The Nature and Work of the Angels (continued) 

Summarizing the view of Dr. K. Schilder, cited in the last issue from “Wat Is De Hemel?,” we find the following expressed: 

1. Man is from the beginning God’s highest creature, especially when he is viewed in his potential expansion: the whole of humanity. Humanity is greater than the host of angels. And before what is called the “evolution” of humanity (referring evidently to the fall), this greatness of man over the angels manifested itself in all its glory. In the sphere of the creature humanity has a richer potential of expression and a more broadly functioning life than the angel. 

2. While in itself it proves nothing that the angel is called a “ministering spirit” in Hebrews 1:7, nevertheless the excellence of man over the angels is clearly taught in Hebrews 2:7.

3. The passage in Hebrews 2 appears to teach the opposite, namely, that man was created a little lower than the angels; these words, however, are written not from the viewpoint of the original position of man in the state of rectitude, but from the viewpoint of the fallen world. In the fallen world man is lower than the angels. 

4. This view rests on several exegetical grounds. In the first place, it is claimed, Psalm 8 is written from the standpoint of the fallen world, as is evident from the mention of the “enemy” and the “avenger” in verse 2. Hence, if, as Noordtzij claims, to man is ascribed in this psalm an almost divine, being and a super-earthly glory, then even, this is true of man as he lives in a fallen world, which is only more proof of the exalted position of man in the original state of righteousness. In the second place, it is claimed that the expression “made a little lower than the angels” really refers to an act of humiliation, not to a creative act whereby man was created in a lower position than the angels. This humiliation, which took place at the fall, presupposes that man is brought from a higher position to a lower position. In the third place, the argument is that the Greek for “a little” can also mean. “for a short time,” and that in this instance it means just this, because the text draws a contrast between what man first is and what he later shall receive. He shall receive a glory in which all things shall be subject to him, including the angels. This glory pertains to Christ, in the first place; but by grace it presently pertains also to others. 

5. Hence, in conclusion, man was originally more glorious than the angels; through sin and the fall he is humiliated, for a little while beneath the angels; but in Christ the old things and the former relationship are restored. And from this restored relationship we can deduce what the original relationship between man and the angels was. 

Now what must we think of this interpretation?

In the first place, we would surely grant at once that the passage in Hebrews 2 and that of Psalm 8 are in essential agreement, and that Dr. Schilder in his book proceeds correctly when he views the two passages in connection with each other. We must certainly proceed on the supposition that the words of de quotation inHebrews 2 have essentially the same meaning as in Psalm 8, from which they are quoted. But then, if we consult the context in Psalm 8, it is plainly evident that the psalmist describes man not as he is fallen through his own willful disobedience, but as he was originally created by God and as he, according to God’s purpose, shall be through grace in Christ Jesus. The claim is made that Psalm 8 is written from the standpoint of the fall, and that this is substantiated by the mention of the “enemy” and the “avenger” in verse 2. But this hardly holds with respect to the contents of the psalmist’s contemplation. While the psalmist himself is in a fallen world, in the midst of the enemy and the avenger, he nevertheless contemplates the work of creation. There is absolutely nothing in the psalm which indicates a reference to the fact of sin and of the fall. Consider the context: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.” Ps. 8:3-8. In this entire context there is no indication whatsoever that man “Was made a little lower than the angels” through sin. The only explanation that fits is that man was thus made originally by God that he was a little lower than the angels. There is no ground in Scripture for the idea that man by virtue of his creation was king over all the works of God’s hands and that he ruled over the whole creation. Man was indeed king, but he was not king over heavenly things, and thus, not higher than the angels. According to the record in Genesis, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Gen. 1:26. And again, in verse 28: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” By virtue of his creation man was emphatically an earthly king over an earthlykingdom. And this was entirely in harmony with thenature with which he was created. For the first man, Adam, was of the earth, earthy. I Corinthians 15:47. There is no single indication in all of Scripture that he, was also king over heavenly things, the angels included. To be sure, the divinely conceived destiny of man, according to the counsel of God, was that he should have dominion over all things, the heavenly things included. But that destiny could never be reached by Adam, who was of the earth, earthy, and who was made a living soul; it would only be achieved by the Lord from heaven, who became the quickening Spirit.

In the second place, what a strange designation of the fall and of man in his fallen condition it would be to say merely that ‘he was made a little lower than the angels.'” Consider the implications here. Man, who, according to this view, stood in a position of dominion over the whole creation under God, was served even by the angels. And now he is fallen into the horrible misery of sin and guilt and death; he is dead through trespasses and sins, darkened in his understanding, perverse in his will, alienated from the life of God, is become a child of hell, and is destined, unless the grace of God rescues him, for everlasting desolation. And, mark you, the only designation of this terrible fall is that he is made lower than the angels? This would indeed be a strange and lame way of designating man’s fallen estate! Nor is it true that the original terms, either in the Hebrew (chaser) or in the Greek (elattooo) demand this interpretation. It does full justice to the meaning of the terms to understand them as meaning that man was made inferior, of a lower rank, than the angels. Moreover, to interpret the text as above and then to apply it to the deep humiliation of our Lord Jesus Christ, as is done in Hebrews 2, is incomprehensible and nothing short of preposterous. This whole interpretation, therefore, is absurd. If, a king is deposed from his throne and cast. into a vile dungeon, there to await the execution of the death penalty, would anyone be so foolish as to say that he was made a little lower than his ministers of state? And if Adam was king even over the angels, but in the fall was cast into the prison house of sin and death, would Scripture be so foolish as to say that he was merely made a little lower than the angels? 

In the third place, to interpret the original words for “a little” as meaning “for a little while” is linguistically possible, both in Psalm 8 and in Hebrews 2, i.e., as far as the terms themselves are concerned. But, in the first place, this interpretation does not fit in Psalm 8, and therefore one would not expect to find such a designation of time in Hebrews 2. And, in the second place, even if it be granted that the meaning is “for a little while,” all that we have said in our first and second points of criticism remains true. 

In the fourth place, there ,is implicit in the interpretation offered in “Wat Is De Hemel” a mistaken interpretation of Hebrews 2:9, where the quotation fromPsalm 8 is applied to the Lord Jesus Christ: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour.” The mistaken interpretation is that the Lord Jesus through the suffering of death was made a little lower than the angels. This same mistake is made in our King James Version by placing the comma after “death” instead of after “angels.” And the mistake is compounded by the marginal rendering of the word “for” by the word “by.” The original Greek does not allow this rendering. The expression in the Greek means “on account of the suffering of death (dia to patheema tou thanatou).” And the expression properly belongs with the words “crowned with glory and honour,” so that the whole sentence reads as follows: “But we Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, on account of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour.” The text therefore tells us that the reason for Christ’s glorious exaltation, His being crowned with glory and honour, lies in His deep humiliation, the suffering of death. And thus interpreted, the expression “made a little lower than the angels” refers neither to the humiliation of man in the fall nor to the voluntary Self-humiliation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, let us note the bad implications of this view with respect to the purpose of God and with respect to the work of Christ. For if it is true that man originally stood above the angels as king of the whole creation, heavenly as well as earthly, then it follows that the work of Christ merely restores the original state of things, and simply serves to carry out the original creation-idea in spite of the devil and sin. The work of Christ merely serves to bring us back to the position in which Adam once stood and which we would still occupy if Adam had not sinned. The work of Christ is in that case only repair work. And the question confronts one then: why did God follow the long way around? Why did God choose to follow the long and fearful way of the death of His only begotten Son, the deep way of sin and grace, if that death of Christ merely restores what was once a reality in Adam? Is that the way of the divine wisdom? Is not the death of Christ largely useless in that case? Could not God have far better achieved His purpose by maintaining the. original state of things? 

But if we interpret Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2 correctly, also in the light of the rest of Scripture, we obtain this view. The first man was indeed king over the earthly creation and was made a little lower than the angels. This first man, and in him the entire race, the elect included, fell into sin and death. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord from heaven, assumed our human nature, i.e., also became a little lower than the angels. And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. As our Head He tasted death, not in order to restore us to the original position of Adam, but to raise us to heavenly glory and to dominion over all things in heaven and on earth. And as far as the second Adam is above the first Adam, so far is the glory of our original destiny exalted above the glory which we had in paradise the first. Of that first glory, which man had in paradise, then he was a little lower than the angels, but ultimately of the glory to which we are predestinated in Christ, when we shall have dominion over all thingsPsalm 8 sings.

—H.C.H.