With the first three verses of Hebrews the inspired writer discloses the entire theme of the Epistle which he afterward makes known to the readers. He begins by immediately placing the revelations of God under the Old Covenant in contrast with the revelation of God in Christ, by illustrating the divinity and superiority of Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3). In verse 3, the Hebrew writer uses several different words to describe the Divine Majesty of Jesus, the Son of God, to the Father. Over the next three weeks we will examine these different Greek words and divulge deeper into their meaning.
The first word in our study is ἀπαὺγασμα (Strong’s #541), translated “brightness” (NKJV), “effulgence” (ASV) or “radiance” (NASB) and is found no where else in the Scriptures. It is from the preposition ἀπο (Strong’s #575) “forth, from, away from”F1, and αὐγὰζω (Strong’s #826) “to shine, give light;”F2 thus, literally “to shine forth or give light from an original source or instrument.” It is explained by the Greek authorities as meaning either “a beaming forth or radiance, i.e. as a ray which flows forth from the light” or “reflected radiance, i.e. as a likeness formed by reflex rays.”F3 Bagster, says “an effulgence;”F4 Abbott-Smith affirms, “of light beaming from a luminous body, radiance, effulgence;”F5 Conybeare and Howson concurs, “emanation, as of light from the sun;”F6 but Thayer contends the meaning is “a reflected brightness;”F7 Therefore, ἀπαὺγασμα may mean either what is “flashed forth,” or what is “flashed back:” either way “radiance” or “reflection.” Dods and Robertson point out that “effulgence (ray from an original light body)” is the definition uniformly adopted by the Greek fathers.F8 F9 Paul’s usage of au)ga/zw, as the same metaphor in (2 Corinthians 4:4) represents the shining forth of the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Thus, “radiated or beamed forth” suits the context better in the Hebrew Epistle and is the meaning of Paul’s usage from the stem of this word stated above, found in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians.
The word “brightness” in our text is therefore a metaphor and suggests the idea of a flashlight or spotlight. Thus through the original Greek language we see in this word that which is radiated or beamed forth for all to see from an otherwise hidden source. We have all held a flashlight in our hands and pointed it in front of us to overcome the darkness and illuminate our way. But if we were to take that same flashlight and put it to our face and point it at our eyes, its brightness would be so great that it would blind us. Thus, our image of the Divine Glory of God is enlightened and more vivid by the beauty of the original language! The writer states that the revelation of God in Christ is more perfect than God’s revelations under the Old Covenant because Christ is God’s Son (Hebrews 1:2). He pre-existed in the form of God (Philippians 2:6) in the beginning as the Word (John 1:1). He is heir of all things for all was made through Him (Hebrews 1:2; John 1:2).
The application the inspired writer wanted his readers to draw is apparent and fitting. Christ is the “effulgence” of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3) because as the Word, He became flesh so that the grace and truth of God’s glory could be seen by all (John 1:14,17-18). Jesus is the true light that radiates forth prevailing over all shades of darkness (John 1:5). Just as no one can stare directly into the beam of the flashlight or spotlight without being blinded by the extreme brightness, in like manner, none can see the Father because of His Divine Glory. But, as the light of the flashlight shines forth from the bulb revealing its essence, Jesus shines forth as the visible manifestation by which the knowledge of the glory of God is declared to all (John 1:14,18; 2 Corinthians 4:6). For he who sees Jesus beholds the Father! (John 12:45; 14:9,10).
F1: Samuel Bagster, The Analytical Greek Lexicon (London: Samuel Bagster and Son, 1852), pg. 40.
F2: Samuel Bagster, The Analytical Greek Lexicon (London: Samuel Bagster and Son, 1852), pg. 59.
F3: Dr. Gottlieb Lunemann, H.A.W. Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, vol. 9 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1883), pg. 396.
F4: Samuel Bagster, The Analytical Greek Lexicon (London: Samuel Bagster and Son, 1852), pg. 36.
F5: G. Abbot-Smith, D.D, D.C.L., LL.D., A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1936), pg. 45.
F6: W.J. Conybeare, M.A. and J.S. Howson, M.A., Life and Epistles of St. Paul (New York: Charles Scribner, 1856), pg. 499.
F7: Joseph Henry Thayer, D.D., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1901), pg.
F8: Marcus Dods, D.D., The Expositor’s Greek Testament, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Vol. IV (Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmands Publishing Company, reprinted 1988), pg. 250.
F9: Archibald Thomas Robertson, A.M., D.D.LL.D., Litt. D., Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V (Michigan: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 335.