The Letter to the Hebrews

Timothy J. Finney


Table of Contents

Course outline
Who is doing what?
Unit overview
Aims
Teaching personnel
Unit outline
Class times
Schedule
Required reading
Resources
Required
Highly recommended
Websites
Assessment
Overview
Assignment details
How to write an essay
Discovery
Analysis
Integration
Presentation
Other information
Acknowledgments
I. Lectures
1. History: How did we get Hebrews?
Introduction
How many MSS were made?
How many have survived?
How many generations intervene?
What were the MSS like?
Is the text we have the same as the original?
How did variations happen?
How do we recover the original text?
2. Canon: Should we accept Hebrews?
Introduction
Canonical tests
Early history
Hebrews in the East
Hebrews in the West
Conclusion
3. Circumstances: The author, audience, date and destination of Hebrews
Author
Audience
Date
Destination
4. Strategy: Why is Hebrews written like it is?
Genre
Rhetoric
Structure
Style
5. Sources: Where did the content come from?
Old Testament quotations
New Testament parallels
Jewish philosophy
Greek philosophy
6. Theology: What does Hebrews say about God?
Unique contributions
Theology a la Hebrews
7. Christology: What does Hebrews say about Christ?
Portrait of the heavenly king
8. Covenants and priests: What does Hebrews say about the Old and New Testaments and the role of human mediators?
Covenants
Human mediators
II. Exegesis
9. Heb 1.1-2.4
Introduction
Text
Structure
Context
Textual details
Themes
Summary
Application
10. Heb 1.1-2.4
Introduction
Text
Structure
Context
Textual details
Themes
Summary
Application
11. Heb 2.5-2.18
Text
Structure
Context
Textual details
Sources
Variants
Comments
Summary
Application
References
12. Heb 3.1-4.16
Text
Structure
Context
Textual details
Sources
Variants
Comments
Summary
Application
References
13. Heb 5.1-5.10
Text
Structure
Textual details
Comments
Sources
Themes
Summary
Application
References
14. Heb 5.11-6.20
Text
Structure
Textual details
Comments
Variants
Summary
Application
15. Heb 7.1-7.28
Text
Structure
Textual details
Comments
Variants
Summary
Application
16. Heb 8.1-8.13
Text
Structure
Textual details
Comments
Sources
Variants
Themes
Summary
Application
17. Heb 9.1-28
Text
Structure
Textual details
Comments
Variants
Summary
18. Heb 10.1-18
Text
Structure
Textual details
Comments
Sources
Variants
Summary
Application
19. Heb 10.19-10.39
Text
Structure
Textual details
Comments
Sources
Application
20. Heb 11.1-40
Text
Structure
Textual details
Comments
Sources
Variants
Summary
21. Heb 12.1-29
Text
Structure
Textual details
Comments
Sources
Variants
Summary
Application
References

List of Figures

1.1. Christian population vs date
1.2. Codex capacity vs date
1.3. Textual map
1.4. Spelling map

List of Tables

1. Sessions
2. Texts, lectures and seminars
3. Useful websites
4. Grades
5. NT422 assessment
6. NT432 assessment
7. NT622 assessment
8. NT632 assessment
9. Tutorial assessment
10. Sermon or Bible study assessment
11. Translation assessment
12. Book review assessment
13. Exegesis paper assessment
1.1. Number of MSS vs date
1.2. Codex capacity vs date
9.1. Alternation of exposition and exhortation
9.2. God has spoken...
10.1. Alternation of exposition and exhortation
10.2. God has spoken...
11.1. Psalm numbering in the MT and LXX
11.2. Cosmic hierarchy
16.1. Vanhoye's analysis of Hebrews

Course outline

Australian College of Theology subject codes NT422, NT432, NT622, NT632

T. J. Finney

Who is doing what?

Three components of the assessment for each student require written submissions. Students doing seminars or sermon / Bible studies are required to distribute an outline the week before the due date and to do a five minute presentation on the due date. Those doing a book review are required to distribute an outline at seminar 6 (Mar 31) and to do a five minute presentation and share leadership on the due date (seminar 8, Apr 28).

[Note]Note

TBA = a TLA (three letter acronym) meaning to be advised. Please advise me ASAP (as soon as possible).

Unit overview

This is a thirteen week course on the Epistle to the Hebrews delivered at the Baptist Theological College (Western Australia) in the first semester of 2005.

The syllabus is comprised of three components:

Part 1

An introduction to Hebrews including questions of authorship, date, destination, etc.

Part 2

The theology of the epistle, including such themes as the old and new covenants, sacrifice, perfection, the use of the Old Testament, the cross and ascension.

Part 3

NT422/622: Exegesis of the English text of Hebrews 1-13; NT 432/632: Exegesis of the Greek text of Hebrews 1-8, 12.

Aims

By the end of this unit, students should be:

  • familiar with the introductory issues covered in part 1

  • familiar with the theological issues covered in part 2

  • better able to analyse, understand and explain what Hebrews says, why it says so, and what difference it makes.

Teaching personnel

The lecturer is Tim Finney, a former student of BTC (WA).

Unit outline

Class times

The course is divided into thirteen weeks, with each week comprised of four sessions. The first session is a Greek tutorial and attendance is only required for those taking the Greek option. All students are required to attend the second, third and fourth sessions.

Table 1. Sessions

SessionTimesDescription
1Thur 5.40 - 6.20 pmGreek tutorial
2Thur 6.30 - 7.10 pmExegesis
3Thur 7.20 - 8.00 pmLecture
4Thur 8.20 - 9.00 pmSeminar

Lectures and seminars cover introductory and theological components (i.e. parts 1 and 2). The lecture and seminar topics for each week are listed in the schedule, below. Each seminar (apart from seminars 6 and 8, which are for NT622 and NT632 students) covers an aspect of the subject addressed in the preceding lecture, and takes the form of either a tutorial or class discussion. If a student is allocated a particular week's seminar topic, he or she will deliver a tutorial that week. If no student chooses a particular week's seminar topic then there will be a class discussion on the matter instead.

Greek tutorial and exegesis sessions cover the exegesis component (i.e. part 3). The text has been divided into consecutive passages for use in these sessions, and the passage for each week is given in the schedule, below. The same passage of text is covered in the Greek tutorial and exegesis sessions for a particular week. Students are allocated passages from the schedule for sermon, Bible study, exegesis and Greek translation assignments.

Schedule

Table 2. Texts, lectures and seminars

DateTextLectureSeminar
Week 1: Feb 24Heb 1.1-2.4Lecture 1Seminar 1
Week 2: Mar 3Heb 2.5-2.18Lecture 2Seminar 2
Week 3: Mar 10Heb 3.1-4.16Lecture 3Seminar 3
Week 4: Mar 17Heb 5.1-5.10Lecture 4Seminar 4
Week 5: Mar 24Heb 5.11-6.20Lecture 5Seminar 5
Week 6: Mar 31Heb 7.1-7.28Lecture 6Seminar 6
Week 7: Apr 7Heb 8.1-8.13Lecture 7Seminar 7
Non-teaching (2 weeks)   
Week 8: Apr 28Heb 9.1-9.28Lecture 8Seminar 8
Week 9: May 5Heb 10.1-10.18Lecture 9Seminar 9
Week 10: May 12Heb 10.19-10.39Lecture 10Seminar 10
Week 11: May 19Heb 11.1-11.40Lecture 11Seminar 11
Week 12: May 26Heb 12.1-12.29Lecture 12Seminar 12
Week 13: June 2Heb 13.1-13.25Lecture 13Seminar 13

Lecture topics

Lecture 1

Introduction: course outline; how to do written assignments; allocation of exegesis assignments

Lecture 2

History: How did we get Hebrews? (Transmission, textual issues, integrity, unity)

Lecture 3

Canon: Should we accept Hebrews?

Lecture 4

Circumstances: The author, audience, date and destination of Hebrews

Lecture 5

Strategy: Why is Hebrews written like it is? (Genre, rhetoric, structure, style)

Lecture 6

Sources: Where did the content come from? (Old Testament quotations; New Testament parallels; Jewish philosophy; Greek philosophy; Early Christian philosophy)

Lecture 7

Theology: What does Hebrews say about God?

Lecture 8

Christology: What does Hebrews say about Christ?

Lecture 9

Covenants and priests: What does Hebrews say about the Old and New Testaments and the role of human mediators?

Lecture 10

Soteriology: What does Hebrews say about salvation and perseverance?

Lecture 11

Ecclesiology: What does Hebrews say about the church?

Lecture 12

Cosmology and eschatology: What does Hebrews say about life, the universe, and everything?

Lecture 13

Conclusion: What does Hebrews say, why does it say so, and what difference does it make?

Seminar topics

Seminar 1

Introduction: How to do tutorials; how to do class discussions; allocation of tutorials

Seminar 2

What is the text of the New Testament? How do you deal with textual variation? How do you explain the phenomenon to others?

Seminar 3

When should a work be accepted as scripture? What should we do with scripture?

Seminar 4

What kind of person wrote Hebrews? Develop an evidence-based profile of the author including name, address, birthdate, convictions, education and nationality.

Seminar 5

How do you persuade people? What methods are used in Hebrews? What methods are popular today? Which methods are legitimate?

Seminar 6

NT622 and NT632 seminar (others may audit if they wish): Discuss issues raised to date through reading and course work.

Seminar 7

What does Hebrews say about the Holy Spirit? What about the baptism of the Holy Spirit?

Seminar 8

NT622 and NT632 seminar (others may audit if they wish): Presentation and discussion of book reviews.

Seminar 9

What kinds of priests does Hebrews allow under the new covenant? What are their qualifications? Does the church take any notice of Hebrews in this regard? If not, why not?

Seminar 10

What does Hebrews say about the eternal security of the believer? How can we avoid apostasy?

Seminar 11

What are the rules for Christian living according to Hebrews? Do we do this? If not, why not?

Seminar 12

According to Hebrews, how was the universe created, how is it sustained, and how will it end up? Is this consistent with the rest of the New Testament? Is this consistent with current scientific thought?

Seminar 13

What difference does Hebrews make to you?

Required reading

The following commentaries have been placed on closed reserve in the library. You are required to identify and read the relevant parts of at least one of the commentaries prior to each week's sessions. (Make sure that you read up on the week's exegesis text and the lecture subject.) There is no need to stick to the same commentary from week to week.

All students

Attridge, Harold W. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989.

deSilva, David A. Perseverance in Gratitude: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle "to the Hebrews". Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2000.

Ellingworth, Paul. The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1993.

Koester, Craig R. Hebrews: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible, vol. 36. New York: Doubleday, 2001.

Lane, William L. Hebrews. 2 vols. Word Biblical Commentary, vols 47A and 47B. Dallas: Word, 1991.

Supplementary commentary for Greek option

Ellingworth, Paul and Eugene A. Nida. A Translator's Handbook on the Letter to the Hebrews. Helps for Translators. London: United Bible Societies, 1983.

[Note]Note

The Translator's Handbook is a supplementary text; student's taking the Greek option should use the other commentaries as well.

Resources

Required

Apart from the Bible, students are not required to have any books or a reader for this course.

Highly recommended

Whether or not you wish to purchase a book on Hebrews is up to you. By the end of the course you will know the literature a lot better.

I have a copy of Turabian, which I find a very helpful style guide for written work. It specifies correct practice for abbreviation, numbers, capitalization, quotations, tables, notes and bibliographies:

Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Its method of presentation for bibliographies differs slightly from that specified in the BTC Guide to the Presentation of Essays. Nevertheless, I recommend it as a widely accepted standard guide, and you will not be penalised for following its conventions provided that you are consistent.

A useful list of Turabian-style citations is provided at http://www.lib.usm.edu/research/guides/turabian.html.

Websites

The Student Handbook includes a list of some useful sites, mainly "gateways". Some more useful ones are listed below:

Table 3. Useful websites

URLComment
www.greekbible.com Has Greek text, meanings and grammatical analysis of individual words. Enter a verse to get the text, then click on a word to get the meaning and grammatical analysis.

Assessment

Overview

As mentioned before, all students are required to attend the exegesis, lecture and seminar sessions, while students taking the Greek option are required to attend the Greek tutorials as well.

All assignments must be completed and an overall result of 50% must be achieved to pass the unit. A result of at least 40% is required in each component worth more than 20% of the total.

Work submitted after the due date will be penalised unless an extension has been granted by the lecturer. You need a good reason to be granted an extension; "I left it too late" is not a good reason.

All components of the unit are assessed by the lecturer. Copies of the exegesis papers will be sent to an ACT moderator to assess the level of marking.

Written submissions should conform to the BTC Guide to the Presentation of Essays, which incorporates ACT requirements. Please note carefully the statements against plagiarism, collusion, cheating and discriminatory language.

The BTC uses the ACT marking scale, with results given as letter grades. The BTC Student Handbook gives the learning outcomes corresponding to each result.

Table 4. Grades

ResultMeaningRange (%)
FFail0-49
PPass50-57
P+Pass plus58-64
CCredit65-72
DDistinction73-79
HDHigh distinction80-100

Individual units are assessed as follows:

Table 5. NT422 assessment

ComponentExtentDue datePercentageSyllabus component(s)
Tutorial paper1500 wordsOn the day the relevant topic is scheduled. (Outline required the week before.)25Part 1 or 2
Sermon / Bible study1500 wordsOn the day the relevant passage is scheduled. (Outline required the week before.)25Part 3
Exegesis paper3000 wordsThursday, 2 June 200540Part 3
Class participationAll required sessionsAll required sessions10Parts 1-3

[Note]Note

No two written assignments covering part 3 of the syllabus may be based on the same material.

Table 6. NT432 assessment

ComponentExtentDue datePercentageSyllabus component(s)
Tutorial paper1500 wordsOn the day the relevant topic is scheduled. (Outline required the week before.)25Part 1 or 2
Translation of Greek textThree passages, 1500 wordsThursday, 28 April 200525Part 3
Exegesis paper3000 wordsThursday, 2 June 200540Part 3
Class participationAll required sessionsAll required sessions10Parts 1-3

[Note]Note

No two written assignments covering part 3 of the syllabus may be based on the same material.

Table 7. NT622 assessment

ComponentExtentDue datePercentageSyllabus component(s)
Tutorial paper2000 wordsOn the day the relevant topic is scheduled. (Outline required the week before.)25Part 1 or 2
Book review2000 wordsThursday, 28 April 200525Varies depending on the book
Exegesis paper3000 wordsThursday, 2 June 200540Parts 2 and 3
Class participationAll required sessionsAll required sessions10Parts 1-3

[Note]Note

No two written assignments covering parts 2 or 3 of the syllabus may be based on the same material.

Table 8. NT632 assessment

ComponentExtentDue datePercentageSyllabus component(s)
Translation of Greek textFour passages, 2000 wordsThursday, 28 April 200525Part 3
Book review2000 wordsThursday, 28 April 200525Varies depending on the book
Exegesis paper3000 wordsThursday, 2 June 200540Parts 2 and 3
Class participationAll required sessionsAll required sessions10Parts 1-3

[Note]Note

No two written assignments covering parts 2 or 3 of the syllabus may be based on the same material.

Assignment details

Tutorial (NT422, NT432, NT622)

Each student required to present a tutorial is allocated one of the seminar topics listed above. An outline of the tutorial paper which includes a bibliography and discussion questions is required to be distributed one week prior to the tutorial date.

All students are required to read about the seminar topic as part of their preparation for the week's sessions. Putting effort into this aspect is bound to make the tutorial more lively.

The student giving the tutorial will make a presentation and lead the seminar for the relevant session. About half of the session should be reserved for the class discussion. I encourage you to be creative in your presentation and leadership. (E.g. Divide the class into two and let them fight it out on some contentious issue. This is just an example -- think up your own.)

The tutorial paper must:

  • address all parts of the seminar topic

  • make use of the biblical text and reference works such as commentaries, monographs and journal articles

  • contain a select bibliography of references you have consulted and found useful.

Marks will be allocated as follows:

Table 9. Tutorial assessment

ComponentExtentDue datePercentage
OutlineAbout one pageOne week prior to tutorial10
Paper1500 (NT422, NT432) or 2000 (NT622) wordsDay of tutorial60
PresentationAbout half of the sessionDay of tutorial15
Leading the seminarAbout half of the sessionDay of tutorial15

Class discussions (all)

If no student is allocated the seminar topic for a particular week, the seminar will consist of a class discussion instead. The discussion will be lead by the lecturer or by a student conscripted for the purpose.

All students must read up on the seminar topic. This is particularly important for the weeks in which no tutorial is presented. Come prepared with something to contribute to the discussion. This might be a statement or question on one of the salient points of the topic. E.g. After considering the issues, I have come to the conclusion that blah is the best position to take on this issue. My hope is that these seminars will develop your skills in doing theology in a group context.

Sermon or Bible study (NT422)

This assignment consists of preparing the exegetical basis of a sermon or Bible study or youth group devotion. One of the passages given in the schedule, above, will be allocated to students doing this assignment. You may restrict your treatment to less than the whole passage, but not to less than ten verses. The submission should concentrate on the exegetical skeleton rather than the expository flesh, to quote Steve McAlpine. That is, focus on analysing and investigating the text, drawing out its meaning and seeking its true sense rather than the particular wording you would use to deliver these insights to an audience.

[Note]Note

The presentation may not be on the same passage of text as any other one of your written submissions covering exegesis.

An outline is required to be distributed one week prior to the presentation date. The student will give a short (about five minutes) presentation of the salient features during the corresponding exegesis session.

The written submission must include:

  • A short (about 50 words) description of your audience and the setting

  • Exegetical notes (about 1200 words) on: the relationship of the passage to the broader context; the main thrust and purpose of the passage; issues relating to textual variants, the cultural background of the people to whom the Epistle was addressed, and the historical setting; theological issues; a strategy for handling any contentious or hurtful issues that may be raised; applications of the text which are appropriate for your audience

  • a separate outline (about a page) for distribution to the audience.

Marks will be allocated as follows:

Table 10. Sermon or Bible study assessment

ComponentExtentDue datePercentage
OutlineAbout one pageOne week prior to presentation10
Paper1500 wordsDay of presentation80
PresentationAbout five minutesDay of presentation10

Translation of Greek text (NT432, NT632)

The Greek translation assignment requires translation of three (NT432) or four (NT632) sections of text which the student may choose from the passages given in the schedule. Each section must be contiguous (i.e. no verses missed), at least ten verses long, and not from the same passage as any other chosen section.

[Note]Note

The translation may not be on the same passage of text as any other one of your written submissions covering exegesis.

Essential components include:

  • an interlinear, literal translation

  • a dynamic equivalent translation

  • notes on alternative readings (i.e. textual variants), alternative interpretations of words and passages (lexical and grammatical), Old Testament sources (e.g. if the text of a quotation follows the LXX rather than the MT, say so), and any other significant translation issues

  • a bibliography.

[Note]Note

All components must be your own work. Whether you include accents is up to you. The extent of accentuation advocated by J. W. Wenham (The Elements of New Testament Greek, vii-viii) is sufficient.

Marks will be allocated as follows:

Table 11. Translation assessment

ComponentExtentDue datePercentage
Interlinear translation  30
Dynamic equivalent  30
Notes  30
Bibliography  10
 Three (NT432) or four (NT632) sections of text for a total of 1500 (NT432) or 2000 (NT632) wordsThursday, 28 April 2005 

Book review (NT622, NT632)

The book review assignment consists of selecting a book from those listed below, reading it, and writing a critical review.

Croy, N. Clayton. Endurance in Suffering: Hebrews 12:1-13 in Its Rhetorical, Religious and Philosophical Context. SNTSMS 98. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Dunnill, J. Covenant and Sacrifice in the Letter to the Hebrews. SNTSMS 75. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Guthrie, G. H. The Structure of Hebrews: A Text-Linguistic Analysis. NovTSup 73. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994.

Hughes, Graham R. Hebrews and Hermeneutics: The Epistle to the Hebrews as a New Testament Example of Biblical Interpretation. SNTSMS 36. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Hurst, L. D. The Epistle to the Hebrews: Its Background of Thought. SNTSMS 65. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Käsemann, Ernst. The Wandering People of God: An Investigation of the Letter to the Hebrews. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984. German original, 1939.

Kurianal, James. Jesus Our High Priest: Ps 110:4 as the Substructure of Heb 5:1-7:28. European University Studies Series 23, vol. 693. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2000.

Lehne, Susanne. The New Covenant in Hebrews. JSNTSS 44. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990.

Peterson, David. Hebrews and Perfection: An Examination of the Concept of Perfection in the 'Epistle to the Hebrews'. SNTSMS 47. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Scholer, J. M. Proleptic Priests: Priesthood in the Epistle to the Hebrews. JSNTSS 49. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991.

Vanhoye, A. Structure and Message of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Subsidia Biblica 12. Rome: Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1989.

[Note]Note

The review may not be on the same topic as your tutorial paper (if doing NT622) or the same material covered in your exegesis paper.

A seminar will be held in week 6 to discuss issues raised to date through reading and class work. Students should have completed reading their chosen book by this time. Another seminar will be held in week 8 (immediately following the non-teaching break) for presentation and discussion of the reviews.

An outline of the review is required to be distributed at the seminar in week 6. The student will give a presentation and lead a discussion of the completed review at the seminar in week 8.

The review must follow the normal conventions and include all of the usual features. It should be camera ready; that is, formatted correctly as if ready to be printed in a journal. Examples can be found in journals such as New Testament Studies and Novum Testamentum.

Marks will be allocated as follows:

Table 12. Book review assessment

ComponentExtentDue datePercentage
OutlineAbout one pageThursday, 31 Mar 200510
Review2000 wordsThursday, 28 April 200570
PresentationAbout five minutesDay of presentation10
Leading the seminarAbout five minutesDay of presentation10

Exegesis paper (all)

This assignment consists of writing a full exegesis of a passage of text. For this purpose, each student will be allocated one of the passages given in the schedule, above.

[Note]Note

The exegesis paper may not be on the same passage of text as any other one of your written submissions covering exegesis.

Essential components include:

  • the main thrust and purpose of the passage

  • the relationship of the passage to the broader context

  • structural analysis, interpretation issues (lexical and grammatical) and textual variants

  • the historical setting, cultural background and thought world of the people to whom the Epistle was addressed

  • theological issues

  • approaches to dealing with any sensitive issues that may be raised by the text

  • the relevance of the text to the present.

The paper should cover all of these components adequately, and should not focus unduly on some aspects at the cost of others. For example, you should not devote more than a quarter of the paper to the relevance item.

Marks will be allocated as follows:

Table 13. Exegesis paper assessment

ComponentExtentDue datePercentage
Exegesis paper3000 wordsThursday, 2 June 2005100

How to write an essay

Essay writing is an important skill to develop when studying theology. Here are a few pointers that you may find helpful. Writing can be broken down into the steps of discovery, analysis, integration and presentation.

Discovery

The first part of coming to grips with a subject is the investigation stage -- the detective work. You have to use whatever resources that you have at your disposal to find out what you can about the subject. This means talking to people in the know, using logical deduction from first principles and reading learned works on the topic. For theology students, the latter is the usual place to start. You might also consider a web search; it's surprising what you can turn up provided that you have the critical skills to discern what is useful.

Computer programmers use acronyms like FIFO (first in, first out), LIFO (last in, first out), FILO (first in, last out) and GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). Taking their lead, we might coin these acronyms for the discovery phase:

NINO

Nothing in, nothing out: If you don't do any ground work then the value of the content of your essay will be precisely zero. It may look nice and have your name in the right place, but it will be worthless.

PINO

Plenty in, nothing out: There is no shortage of books on theology. As someone once said somewhere, of many books there is no end, and too much study wearies the soul. This is true; you can wear yourself out on the discovery phase and have no time or energy left for anything else. To avoid this unhappy end, allocate enough time and effort for discovery then move on.

HIHO

Half in, half out: This is regurgitation of undigested text. You look for something that looks relevant, change its appearance a bit, then reproduce it. At worst, this is plagiarism. At best, it is a waste of time. You only gain something when you engage the text -- live with it, think about it, eat, drink and breathe it.

GIGO

Garbage in, garbage out: This is self-explanatory: Not everything that you hear or read is true. Test everything and hold on to what is good.

Tole lege. Tole lege! Take up and read! Start with the abstract, introduction and conclusion to see whether it is relevant. If not, move on. Once you have selected a pile of relevant reading, sit down to feast. If you have trouble digesting the content, you might find it useful to read a paragraph at a time, taking notes at the end of each. Otherwise it's EIEIO -- in one ear and out the other.

Analysis

Some might think of analysis as anathema to theology. Nevertheless, breaking things down into their elements is a good discipline. It is a process of distillation, whereby the essentials are extracted and the superfluities left behind.

The analysis phase isolates the key aspects of an issue. You will find that there are many works but few original ideas. Remember the catch cry of the Renaissance: Ad fontes! -- Go to the sources! Go to the first person to put forward a particular viewpoint if you can. There are times when you can't, as when the book is in some obscure tongue or isn't in the library. You will then have to settle for the interpretation of others -- as through a looking glass, dimly.

Integration

Now it is time to let your meal digest. What do I make of all these views? Imagine a room full of speakers, each about to present the views you have isolated. Then let the bun fight begin!

Speaker A

I believe that the import of all this is blah.

Speaker B

Surely you jest! You must not be aware of my work, The Zorgonness of Zang. It clearly demonstrates that blah is a proleptic epiphany.

Speaker C

Ahem. I wrote Zang. I think that you might have misunderstood what zang means.

Speaker B

Blush...

You get the idea. This is a demonstration of the dialectic approach. It involves stating a thesis (e.g. flowers are pink), then one or more antitheses (e.g. roses are red, violets are blue). Next comes synthesis, the most important step. Here, you try to construct a reasonable position that takes account of the strengths and weaknesses of the others (e.g. roses are red, violets are blue; flowers are pink, and other hues too.

Once you have given all substantive sides of the argument and constructed a reasonable synthesis, write a conclusion and introduction and you are done -- almost.

Presentation

Conventions are important. Without them, your kettle would not plug into the power socket, your TV would not plug into your DVD, and every book would be arranged according to the author's whim.

There is a long tradition of book conventions that goes back well before the invention of printing. These conventions make life easier for the reader, who knows to expect a title page and table of contents at the beginning and an index at the end.

Style guides set out the conventions to follow in an essay. The BTC has produced A Guide to the Presentation of Essays, which tells you what you need to know. Turabian's Manual for Writers is good to have as well.

Apart from having worthwhile content in your essay, nothing is more important than the bibliography. It demonstrates that you have adequately investigated the topic and provides an important resource for others who may wish to discover more about the subject. A poorly composed bibliography is a sure sign of an amateur.

Bibliographies are a pedant's delight. They take a long time to get right and you can get caught out by leaving too little time for your bibliography. Do yourself a favour and record the bibliographical details of each work that you consult as you consult it. Get into the habit of being pedantic about this -- adopt a convention then stick to it, recording everything that the convention demands.

There is no point copying references from another bibliography -- only include what you have actually read. You don't need to read all of a book to include it in your bibliography -- just the relevant parts.

If you are wondering how many references is enough, here is a rough guide. For work at this level, you should aim for at least seven, including commentaries, monographs and journal articles. Recent and relevant journal articles are a very useful place to start because they are up to date and point you to the most important works in the field, assuming that the author has done his or her work properly. Use a finding aid such as the journal New Testament Abstracts to identify journal articles on your topic. The American Theological Library Association's religion indexes are helpful as well.

Other information

All students should have a copy of the BTC Guide to the Presentation of Essays, which incorporates ACT requirements.

Refer to the Student Handbook for the following:

  • assessment and academic progress, including learning outcomes

  • Bible versions

  • grievance and appeals procedures.

A copy of the current ACT Undergraduate Manual is in the BTC library, but may not be borrowed.

Acknowledgments

I am indebted to Evelyn Ashley, from whose course outline I have borrowed heavily while constructing this one.

Part I. Lectures

Chapter 1. History: How did we get Hebrews?

Introduction

As Christians, we believe in a powerful God. In the past, God spoke to us through the prophets, but in these last days has spoken to us by his Son. It is wonderful to consider how our sacred texts have been preserved through the ages -- a process that certainly involved humans, but in which the eyes of faith can discern divine agency as well. We do not claim that our texts are word perfect copies of the originals; rather, we say that our scriptures bear true witness to the One of whom they speak.

It is clear that in order for us to get Hebrews, someone had to write it. In another lecture we will look more closely at the question of the writer's identity. Today, we will look at the process by which Hebrews was handed down to us.

Before the invention of mechanized printing, written works had to be reproduced by hand. A hand copy is called a manuscript, often abbreviated as MS, with MSS used for the plural. There were costs associated with making a copy -- writing materials and the scribe's hire, unless you made your own copy. Consequently, only those writings considered to be worthy were consistently copied. This tended to make the survival of a particular writing dependent on its popularity.

Certain fundamental aspects of the process through which the Greek New Testament arrived in our hands are unknown: How many copies were made? How many have survived? How many generations of manuscripts stand between the original compositions (i.e., the autographs) and the surviving MSS which form the basis of today's Greek text?

Other aspects are better known: What were the MSS like? Is the text we have the same as the original? If variations occurred, how did they happen? If there are variations, how do we restore the original?

How many MSS were made?

The population of the Roman Empire was about fifty million during the first three centuries CE. The Christian community began small. According to Acts there were about five thousand individuals after Pentecost, around 33 CE. By 300 CE, the Christian population was much larger, despite various attempts at suppression (e.g. the great persecution (303-312) and the persecutions of Decius (250-251) and Valerian (257-260)). No one knows what proportion of the Empire's population was Christian by the time that Galerius issued the edict of toleration (311). The burgeoning Christian population may well have been what provoked the politicians to firstly instigate the persecutions and finally to adopt a conciliatory approach once they realised that resistance was useless.

A sociologist or political scientist might know at what point a formerly illegal movement becomes officially tolerated through its adherents' force of numbers; to some extent the answer depends on whether the movement is peaceful or violent. If we guess conservatively at a proportion of about one tenth of the entire population, then there would have been about five million Christians in the Empire when Galerius decided he had better make his peace with them.

Christians prized their scriptures, and no self-respecting church would be without its own copy of the Gospels, a copy of Paul's letters, the Apostolos (i.e. Acts plus the Catholic letters), and a few other books as well. The word "book" is used advisedly -- if Christians were not the inventors of the codex, they were certainly the first to use it on a large scale. It allowed a whole collection of writings to be contained in a single, portable unit that was far superior to the roll when it came to finding a particular place in the text.

Given that every church would like to have its own copy of Paul's letters, we can make a rough estimate of how many copies existed at any one time in this early phase of Christian history. Using the logistic growth equation, a growth rate of five percent per annum, and applying bounds of five thousand individuals in 33 CE and five million in 300 CE, the Christian population would have increased as shown here:

Figure 1.1. Christian population vs date

Christian population vs date

The number of MSS can be estimated if we know the size of the Christian population, the average number of members per church and the average number of MSS per church. Assuming that every church had, on average, one copy of Paul's letters and one hundred members, the number of MSS in use at various times would be roughly as given here:

Table 1.1. Number of MSS vs date

Date (CE)Number
1001
15011589
20038789
25048771
30049890

[Note]Note

This assumes that the first copy of Paul's letters appeared in 100 CE and that every church had a copy by 150 CE. The number of churches implied by these figures may seem very large. (Apart from 100 CE, there is a one to one correspondence between churches and MSS.) There may not have been fifty thousand church buildings in 300 CE, but there may well have been that many house churches in operation. These figures neglect to account for personally owned MSS.

How many have survived?

There are approximately five thousand Greek MSS and more in such languages as Latin, Coptic and Syriac. Most are late copies, with only a few hundred Greek MSS dating from the first millenium. If the estimate above is roughly correct then only a very small proportion of the earliest copies has survived.

A great deal of information concerning the surviving MSS is found in Nestle-Aland's Novum Testamentum Graece (1993, appendix 1). This shows that approximately thirty copies of Hebrews, in various states of repair, survive from the first millenium. In general, these early copies are the most valuable when it comes to determining the ancient text.

How many generations intervene?

It is very important to know how many generations of MSS intervene between the original, also called the autograph, and our earliest MSS. It is hard to say what the answer might be, and almost no one has tried. I wrote a copying simulation program in an attempt to gain some insight into the question. Whether or not it goes anywhere near reflecting the realities of the actual process remains a big question. There are all kinds of variables involved. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that there is a good chance that some of our surviving MSS are within five generations of their respective originals. Unfortunately, we can't tell which ones they are.

What were the MSS like?

It is easy to tell what the MSS were like because we have survivors. Some are extremely ancient. For example, P52 is dated to the first half of the second century.

Two major forms existed: the roll and the codex. The roll placed an upper limit on the size of a written discourse. Some think that Luke and Acts had to be published separately because of this practical limit. Happily, the barrier fell once Christians adopted the codex.

The capacity of codices seems to have grown gradually. At first, a single gospel might fill a codex. Shortly afterwards, collections began to be bound together -- perhaps two gospels or Paul's letters would fill a typical codex at the end of the first century CE. For Irenaeus (c. 180 CE), it was as natural to have four gospels as it was to have four winds. By the time Athanasius wrote down his New Testament canon (367 CE), there were codices that contained the entire New Testament. Interestingly, the progression of codex capacity as outlined here is roughly linear with time.

Table 1.2. Codex capacity vs date

Date (CE)ContentsCapacity (pages)
70one gospel (Matt)50 pages
100two gospels (Matt and Luke) or Paul's letters120 pages
180four gospels180 pages
367entire canon400 pages

[Note]Note

For the purpose of this exercise, the entire New Testament is taken to contain 100,000 words, and codex pages are assumed to contain 250 words. The actual capacity of a codex page was variable as codices had no fixed format.

Figure 1.2. Codex capacity vs date

Codex capacity vs date

No one knows what made the early Christians adopt the codex. Perhaps Mark thought he would try using a codex for his gospel? That might explain the abrupt ending: the last page of the original could have been torn off! Whatever the reason for its adoption, the codex provided a means of binding together collections of related writings. One of the first collections of this kind was Paul's letters.

Some think that Paul's writings were circulating as a collection by the end of the first century. There is a direct reference to such a collection in the account of the martyrs of Scilli (Stevenson, 1987, 44) in 180 CE. We don't know who gathered Paul's letters or how. Perhaps it was an individual -- Luke, Mark or another one of Paul's companions. Then again, a number of churches may have compiled their own collections. In Col 4.16, Paul himself encourages such a practice.

Whether Hebrews was included in this collection (or these collections) is yet another unknown. Its inclusion in a very early version of Paul's letters would help to account for the survival of this unique writing. Whatever happened, the earliest Greek MS of Paul's letters includes Hebrews. The MS is designated P46, and is dated c. 200 CE. You can see an image of one page of this codex here.

Is the text we have the same as the original?

Yes and no. For my PhD dissertation, I transcribed the text of the papyrus and uncial MSS of Hebrews, which range in date from c. 200 CE to the tenth century. It was wonderful to hold P13 in my hands -- a roll that is about 1700 years old. After completing the transcriptions, I wrote collation programs that listed every difference. Hebrews has about five thousand words, and it turns out that variations occur in about two thousand. In effect, virtually every word that can vary, does vary. There is not much that a scribe can do to simple words like "and", "the" and "but". However, more complex words are prone to every manner of alteration.

That said, the very great majority of variations are insignificant. Dictionaries did not exist, so scribes spelled as they were taught. Spelling and other orthographical differences account for many of the variations. Most lexical variations -- those where the words actually differ -- are of minor significance. Apart from changes of word order, there might be a missing article here and added conjunction there; nothing earth shattering. There are, however, some interesting variants -- ones that have a significant effect on the meaning. A good example is found in Heb 2.9.

As a consequence of textual variation, we cannot be certain what the original text was. It is very likely that in all but a few cases the original text is preserved among the variations. The problem then becomes one of trying to discern the original text at each point of variation.

How did variations happen?

Variants occurred as copies were made for no other reason than the human fallibility of the scribes. I suppose that God could have preserved the exact text of the originals by taking control of every copyist. However the manifest fact is that he did not. It is actually quite difficult to make a copy of any sizable text without introducing errors. In fact, the presence of variants in the New Testament manuscript tradition is a sure sign of its authenticity.

When a copy was commissioned, the scribe would take an exemplar and a blank codex or roll then sit down and copy away. Sometimes he or she would make transcription errors. Users of the resultant MS would correct these errors as they thought best. In some cases, this process resulted in the reading of the exemplar being restored. In other cases, it resulted in the reading of another MS being inserted, as when a dilligent corrector consulted another MS to see what the text should be. In yet other cases, it resulted in the creation of novel readings.

When the texts of the MSS of Hebrews are compared, it is apparent that some have similar texts. They are never identical, but they can be very close. It is possible to produce a "map" of MSS where similar texts are located closer to each other than dissimilar ones.

Similarity can be due to common ancestry but can also be caused by common locality. There was no reason why a MS could not be imported from another region of the Empire, but the easiest way would be to get an exemplar from nearby. It follows that MSS from a particular region would tend to be similar because they were likely to be copied from and corrected against the same exemplars. If textual and spelling variations are mapped, the distribution of MSS in the textual map tends to recur in the spelling map. Other things being equal, this fact can be interpreted to mean that MSS with similar texts have a shared ancestral home.

Figure 1.3. Textual map

Textual map

Figure 1.4. Spelling map

Spelling map

[Note]Note

These maps show the first two axes extracted through multivariate analysis of (1) textual and (2) spelling variations found among the MSS shown. The textual map is based on 401 units of variation while the spelling map is based on 200 units.

How do we recover the original text?

With the exception of a few words here and there, the original text (but not the original spelling) is likely to be preserved somewhere among the MSS. Recovery of the original text is then a matter of going through the places where variation occurs and attempting to discern the original reading at each one. This is done by applying various tests:

  • prefer the earlier reading

  • prefer the more difficult reading

  • prefer the reading which recurs in diverse witnesses.

One of the correctors of Codex Vaticanus knew the first of these. Another scribe had crossed out an ancient reading at Heb 1.3 and substituted the more common one. The corrector then reinstated the old reading, and added in the margin "Bad and ignorant scribe; leave the old reading alone!"

These are not the only tests, and none is a sure guide. In the end, it may be best to stick with the text of an early MS that seems to have consistently primitive readings. Codex Vaticanus was regarded by Westcott and Hort as the best MS. The United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament text is quite close to that of Codex Vaticanus. Unfortunately, the last part of Hebrews is missing from this codex, so we must turn to other MSS such as P46 or Codex Sinaiticus to fill in the gaps. Where it is difficult to discern which reading is original, we can do no more than ackowledge that any of the alternatives may be what the author wrote, and accept that only God knows.

Chapter 2. Canon: Should we accept Hebrews?

Introduction

The word canon means rule. In relation to the New Testament, it is the rule that states which writings are to be accepted as scripture and which are not. Souter (1954, 143) gives this definition:

A κανών is a list of biblical books which may be read in the public services of a church, and, if such be produced with the authority of a synod or council, of the Church.

The first use of the word in this sense is in Athanasius' Decrees of the Synod of Nicaea (c. 350 CE), when he describes the Shepherd of Hermas as not belonging to the canon.

Before the concept of a list of approved books emerged, canonicity was more a matter of the authority that leading lights ascribed to a book. Some of the New Testament books had it easy -- their authority was never questioned. Hebrews, on the other hand, struggled for acceptance.

Canonical tests

These rules can be applied to decide what should be in and what should be out. What rules would you come up with?

Obeys the rule of faith

Conforms to the fundamental truths of Christianity.

Apostolic

Derives from an apostle (e.g. Matthew, John) or an associate (e.g. Mark, Luke).

Acceptance by the Church

A book that had enjoyed acceptance by many churches over a long period of time was in a stronger position than one accepted by only a few churches, and then only recently. (Metzger 1987, 253)

One might add to this opinions of influential figures.

Why isn't inspiration a criterion? Metzger (1987, 254-7) gives an explanation.

Early history

Hebrews has been quoted since the earliest days of the church. Clement of Rome makes use of Hebrews in 1 Clement (c. 95 CE). Polycarp (early 100s) almost certainly knew Hebrews. Whoever wrote the Shepherd of Hermas (c. 120-140) seems to have known Hebrews (Lane 1991, clii), and the unknown author of 2 Clement (c. 150) may have known Hebrews too. Marcion (c. 145) may have known Hebrews, but, not surprisingly, did not include it in his Apostolicon. Justin Martyr (c. 150) knew and Hebrews and used it.

Hebrews in the East

Pantaenus (c. 180) was the first head of the catechetical school at Alexandria. According to Eusebius (Hist. eccl. vi. xiv. 4), Pantaenus ascribed Hebrews to Paul, who wished to remain anonymous in this instance:

Since the Lord, being the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews, Paul, having been sent to the gentiles, through modesty did not inscribe himself as an apostle of the Hebrews, both because of respect for the Lord and because he wrote to the Hebrews also out of his abundance, being a preacher and apostle for the gentiles. (Metzger 1987, 130)

Clement of Alexandria (c. 190), a learned man, followed Pantaenus as head of the catechetical school. He accepted Pantaenus' view on Hebrews, adding that it might have been translated into Greek translator by Luke.

Origen (c. 185-254), a real prodigy, succeded Clement when still young. He quoted Hebrews more than two hundred times, but had doubts whether it was Paul's own work:

He gives as his considered opinion that, in view of the literary and stylistic problems involved, it is best to conclude that, though the Epistle contains the thoughts of Paul, it was written by someone else, perhaps Luke or Clement of Rome. (Metzger 1987, 138)

Eusebius (c. 260-340) sought a canon. The best he could do was to list books that were generally received, those that were generally rejected, and those that were accepted by some and rejected by others. He included Paul's letters, and, by implication, Hebrews, in the first category. He noted that Hebrews was disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul. (Metzger 1987, 203)

We have two great uncials from this era -- codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. Both have Hebrews, although the last part of the ancient text is missing in Vaticanus.

Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-86) included the fourteen Epistles of Paul in his list, which means that he accepted Hebrews.

Athanasius (c. 296-373), as bishop of Alexandria, wrote a Festal Letter to the Egyptian churches every year setting down the dates of Easter and other Christian festivals. In 367 he included a canon list comprised of the same 27 books of the New Testament as used today.

Hebrews in the West

The Western Church accepted the possibility of post-baptismal repentance, in line with the Shepherd of Hermas. This doctrinal stance may account for the Western Church's reluctance to accept Hebrews as authoritative.

Irenaeus (c. 180), the presbyter Gaius (c. 200), and Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170-235) knew and used Hebrews but did not regard it as apostolic. The Muratonian Canon, from about the same time, does not include Hebrews among the list of documents regarded authoritative in the church of Rome.

Tertullian from Carthage in Africa, became a Christian in Rome around 195. After returning to Africa, he joined the Montanists. Tertullian wrote in Latin. He spoke of the "rule of faith", the Christian fundamentals transmitted by the baptismal formula now known as the Apostles' Creed. Tertullian cites Hebrews, which he thought was written by Barnabas, a man sufficiently accredited by God as being one whom Paul had stationed next to himself. (Metzger 1987, 159)

Cyprian (c. 200-258), also of Carthage, was converted about 246 at which point he gave away his wealth and became an ascetic. Only two years later, by popular choice, he was made bishop of Carthage, and there remained until martyred. Cyprian quoted extensively from the New Testament, but not from Hebrews. He was perhaps influenced by numbers, seeing correspondence between the four rivers of Eden and the four Gospels, the seven churches and the seven letters of Paul. Hebrews would have made eight. This kind of logic was popular at the time.

Cyprian's apparent omission of Hebrews from the canon represents a low point in its fortunes in the West. Soon afterwards, Hilary (d. 368) ascribes Hebrews to Paul and treats it as scripture. Hilary defended the orthodox line against Arianism at the Council of Seleucia (359); the exalted view of the Son painted by the author of Hebrews provided powerful ammunition in this fight.

Others in the West such as Lucifer of Cagliari (d. 370), Philaster (d. 397), and Rufinus (b. 345) accepted Hebrews.

This brings us to the time of Jerome (346-420), editor of the Vulgate. In 414 he wrote (Epist. cxxix):

The Epistle which is inscribed to the Hebrews is received not only by the Churches of the East, but also by all Church writers of the Greek language before our days, as of Paul the apostle, though many think that it is from Barnabas or Clement. And it makes no difference whose it is, since it is from a churchman, and is celebrated in the daily readings of the Churches. And if the usage of the Latins does not receive it among the canonical Scriptures, neither indeed by the same liberty do the Churches of the Greeks receive the Revelation of John. And yet we receive both, in that we follow by no means the habit of today, but the authority of the ancient writers, who for the most part quote each of them, not as they are sometimes to do the apocrypha, and even also as they rarely use the examples of secular books, but as canonical and churchly. (Metzger 1987, 236)

Augustine (354-430) at first thought that Hebrews was by Paul. Later he varied between it being by Paul or someone unknown. Finally, he always referred to it as anonymous. If uncertain about its authorship, he had no doubts about its authority, and included Hebrews in his canon (Metzger 1987, 237). Synods at Hippo (393) and Carthage (397 and 419) endorsed Augustine's list of twenty seven, including Hebrews.

Conclusion

Westcott (1899, lxvi) summarized the early situation:

At Alexandria the Greek Epistle was held to be not directly but mediately St Paul's, as either a free translation of his words or a reproduction of his thoughts. In North Africa it was known to some extent as the work of Barnabas and acknowledged as a secondary authority. At Rome and in Western Europe it was not included in the collection of the Epistles of St Paul and had no apostolic weight.

After the fifth century, Hebrews enjoyed rest from its struggles for a long time. There was a brief review of its status during the reformation; Luther and others relegated Hebrews along with some other books to a secondary rank within the canon, but did not exclude it.

What made the church accept Hebrews but not, say, the Epistle of Barnabas?

Instead of suggesting that certain books were accidentally included and others were accidentally excluded from the New Testament canon ... it is more accurate to say that certain books excluded themselves from the canon. Among the dozen or more gospels that circulated in the early Church, the question how, and when, and why our four Gospels came to be selected for their supreme position may seem to be a mystery--but it is a clear case of survival of the fittest. As Arthur Darby Nock used to say to his students at Harvard with reference to the canon, The most travelled roads in Europe are the best roads; that is why they are so heavily travelled. William Barclay put the matter still more pointedly: It is the simple truth to say that the New Testament books became canonical because no one could stop them doing so. (Metzger 1987, 286)

And so it is with Hebrews.

Chapter 3. Circumstances: The author, audience, date and destination of Hebrews

Author

Although Hebrews concludes like other New Testament letters, it does not begin like one. As a result, we do not have the author's name.

The letter itself tells us that the author:

  • seems to be Jewish, having an intimate knowledge of Jewish history and customs

  • is a Christian who had the message of salvation demonstrated by those who heard the Lord (Heb 2.3)

  • seems to be a Greek-speaking Christian who is familiar with the message preached by Stephen (cf. Acts 6-7)

  • knows Timothy, an associate of Paul (Heb 13.23)

  • is with some Italian Christians (Heb 13.24)

  • seems to be male. Heb 11.32 says, And what else can I say? There is not enough time for me to keep going on about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthae, both David and Samuel, and the prophets. The word here translated as to keep going on is διηγούμενον, a first person, masculine, singular participle.

  • has a large vocabulary. Hebrews has 4942 words, and uses 1038 different words. Of those, 169 are unique to Hebrews when compared with the New Testament. [Lane 1991, l]

  • is eloquent, trained in rhetoric

  • may be familiar with Alexandrian Jewish theology

  • is familiar with the LXX (i.e. the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). For example, Heb 10.5 quotes Ps 40.7 (LXX), which reads you did not desire sacrifice and offering, but you prepared a body for me. However, the Hebrew Ps 40.6 (MT) reads you did not desire sacrifice and offering, but you made me willing to listen and obey.

  • composed in Greek and did not translate the letter from Hebrew. The first goes without saying; the second is implied because the argument relies on subtleties of the Greek languange: Heb 9.15-20 makes use of the dual sense of διαθήκη, meaning both covenant and testament. The corresponding Hebrew word berit does not have the same double meaning.

All kinds of people have been suggested as author. The list below gives the most popular alternatives, with our source of each suggestion in parentheses:

Paul (Eastern Church, second century)

For: At least in the Eastern Church, the letter is included in early collections of Paul's letters, which probably date back to the early second century. Clement of Alexandria (c. 190), followed Pantaenus in saying that Hebrews was by Paul, but added that it was translated from Hebrew to Greek by Luke, who then published it.

Against: Heb 2.3 does not fit well with Paul. Furthermore, the style is not Paul's. Origen, in the first half of the third century, said this:

The character of the diction of the epistle superscribed To the Hebrews lacks the apostle's rudeness of expression (a rudeness of expression which he himself acknowledged); the epistle is more idiomatically Greek in the composition of its diction. This will be acknowledged by anyone who is skilled to discern differences of style. But on the other hand the thoughts of the epistle are admirable and in no way inferior to those of the acknowledged writings of the apostle. The truth of this will be admitted by any one who pays attention to the reading of the apostle...

For my own part, if I may state my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are the apostle's, but that the style and composition are the work of someone who called to mind the apostle's teaching and wrote short notes, as it were, on what his master said. If any church, then, regards this epistle as Paul's, let it be commended on this score; for it was not for nothing that the men of old handed it down to us as Paul's. But as to who actually wrote the epistle, God knows the truth of the matter. According to the account which has reached us, some say that the epistle was written by Clement, who became bishop of the Romans; others, that it was written by Luke, the writer of the Gospel and the Acts. [Bruce 1990, 15, quoting Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 6.25.11-14.]

Clement of Rome (Origen, third century)

For: An Alexandrian tradition, given to us by Origen.

Against: If Clement wrote Hebrews, he turns his back on its central argument in order to buttress his own arguments about the Church's Ministry by an appeal to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. [Bruce 1990, 14, quoting T. W. Manson, The Church's Ministry (London, 1948).] Also, It cannot be assigned to Clement, because Clement ... has too pedestrian a style to have been capable of creating that masterpiece. [Manson 1951, 170]

Luke (Origen, third century)

For: An Alexandrian tradition, given to us by Origen.

Against: Luke belonged to Gentile, not to Jewish Christianity. [Manson 1951, 170]

Barnabas (Tertullian, third century)

For: A tradition given to us by Tertullian, possibly received from Asia Minor. Barnabas is called son of exhortation in Acts 4.36. Hebrews styles itself as words of exhortation at 13.22.

Against: Had Clement of Rome known that Barnabas wrote Hebrews, surely he would have said so. However, knowledge of the author may already have been lost.

Timothy (certain manuscripts)

For: Minuscules 1739, 1881 and many Byzantine manuscripts have the subscription, written from Italy by means of Timothy.

Against: These are generally late MSS. Heb 13.23 seems to be against Timothy being the author.

Apollos (Martin Luther, sixteenth century)

For: Acts 18.24 describes Apollos as a Jew, born in Alexandria, an eloquent speaker, mighty in the Scriptures. This certainly fits the author of Hebrews.

Against: There is no early tradition that Apollos wrote Hebrews. Surely the Alexandrians would have recounted such a tradition if it existed in their time. Surely, if Clement of Rome knew Apollos wrote Hebrews, he would have mentioned the fact when writing 1 Clement to the Corinthians, seeing that Apollos had visited Corinth (Acts 19.1).

Priscilla and Aquila (Adolf Harnack, 1900)

For: They were teachers; they are associated with Timothy; they hosted a house church in Rome (Rom 16.3-5); the use of both I and we in Hebrews is explained by dual authorship; a female author may explain how authorship details were lost so early -- the early church may have suppressed the information (cf. the apparent bias against Priscilla displayed by Codex Bezae, a fifth century representative of the Western text).

Against: There is no early tradition that Priscilla and Aquila wrote Hebrews.

someone else (various)

Among other suggestions are Silas (my favourite -- Heb seems to be by a rhetorically skilled Hellenic Jew and has points of contact with 1 Peter), Epaphras, Philip, Stephen, Jude, and Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In the end, the best answer is Origen's: God knows. It may well have been someone who is not even mentioned here.

[Bruce 1990, 14-20] [Manson 1951, 167-172] [Moore 1994, 332-3]

Audience

Lacking any reliable early tradition, we turn to the letter for clues about the people to whom it was addressed. We can create a profile by reading between the lines. Accordingly, the audience may be characterised as:

known to the author

The author is familiar with the audience's past and present circumstances. Timothy is their brother (Heb 13.23).

Greek-speaking and Jewish

The author's constant use of the Septuagint in this word of exhortation shows that the audience regarded the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible as authoritative. This is not likely to have been the case if they were Hebrew-speaking or formerly pagan.

second-generation Christian

This is implied by Heb 2.3, if indeed the author's us includes the audience.

having witnessed God's power

Heb 2.4 and 6.4-5 indicate that the hearers had tasted the powers of the coming age.

having suffered persecution

Heb 10.32-34 outlines privations the audience had already suffered for their beliefs.

in danger of apostasy

The whole thrust of the letter is to convince the audience not to drift away, not to neglect the great salvation first announced by the Lord, not to turn from the living God, not to recrucify the Son of God, not to treat the Spirit of grace with contempt, not to draw back, not to refuse the One who speaks from heaven.

[Bruce 1990, 3-9] [Lane 1991, liii-lviii] [Moore 1994, 331-2]

Date

Clement of Rome apparently referred to Hebrews when composing 1 Clement, which is dated about 96 AD. Also, Heb 2.3 (which at the first having been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard) indicates that the author was a second-generation Christian. These give a terminus ante quem (literally limit before which [it was written], meaning latest possible date) of about 95 AD.

In searching for a terminus post quem (i.e. earliest possible date), if the audience was in Rome then Heb 12.4 (you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood) would indicate that the letter was written before Nero attacked the Roman Christians in 65.

Lack of any mention of the demise of the temple would seem to indicate a date before 70. However, Hebrews does not mention the temple; rather, it refers to the tabernacle. It is therefore conceivable that the author wrote after the destruction of the temple but did not mention it. However, the repeated use of the present tense in Heb 9.6-9, which relates to the work of the Levite priests, indicates otherwise. Also, Heb 8.13 says, in reference to the Old Covenant and its priesthood, that which is becoming old and grows aged is near to vanishing away. These words would be particularly appropriate if the author wrote between 66, when the Jewish uprising against Rome began, and 70, when the temple was destroyed.

Heb 10.1-2 says, For the law, having a shadow of the good to come, not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. Or else wouldn't they have ceased to be offered, because the worshippers, having been once cleansed, would have had no more consciousness of sins? This would be somewhat out of place if the author knew the sacrifices had actually ceased.

Finally, the quotation of Ps 95 at Heb 3.7-11, with its mention of the forty years of testing, may be another indication that the author is writing just before 70 AD -- almost forty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

All things considered, a date just before 65 AD seems reasonable enough for the composition of Hebrews. This is only tentative -- any date between 60 and 100 AD is consistent with the evidence we have.

[Bruce 1990, 20-22] [Moore 1994, 332-3]

Destination

Just about every imaginable destination has been suggested, from Judaea to Spain:

Jerusalem

So Sir William Ramsay, C. H. Turner and Franz Overbeck. However, Hebrews makes no explicit reference to the temple. Why should this be so, given the temple's prominence? Cf. Stephen's speech, which was delivered in Jerusalem and does mention the temple.

Alexandria

For: The author seems to be familiar with Alexandrian literature such as Wisdom, 4 Maccabees and Philo.

Against: If the letter was sent to a chuch in Alexandria, why didn't Clement of Alexandria know only one hundred years later?

Rome

Heb 13.24 says, "Those from Italy greet you." This would make sense if the author had some Italian companions and was writing to a church in Italy. However, it would also make sense if the author was writing from Italy to a church elsewhere. The only other use of the phrase from Italy in the New Testament is Acts 18.2, which says that Aquila and Priscilla had come from Italy after Emperor Claudius ordered Jews out of Rome.

Other points in support include:

  • The earliest extant literature that refers to Hebrews is 1 Clement, which was itself composed in Rome.

  • References to the audience's generosity and persecution in Heb 6.10-11 and 10.33-34 are consistent with what is known of the Roman church from other sources such as Ignatius and Eusebius.

  • The description in Heb 10.33-34 matches the circumstances of Claudius' edict of expulsion (49 AD).

  • The Greek word for leaders (ἡγούμενοι) used at Heb 13.7, 13.17 and 13.24 is also used in early literature referring to the church in Rome.

There are some notable supporters of a Roman destination, including J. J. Wettstein (the first to suggest it), Adolf Harnack and William Manson.

Somewhere else

E.g. Samaria (J. W. Bowman), Syrian Antioch or Caesarea (C. Spicq), Colossae (T. W. Manson), Ephesus (W. F. Howard), Cyprus (Antony Snell), Corinth (H. Appel, M. W. Montefiore).

Even though Rome seems plausible, there is no certainty concerning the destination of Hebrews.

[Bruce 1990, 10-14] [Lane 1991, lviii]

Chapter 4. Strategy: Why is Hebrews written like it is?

Genre

Hebrews has long been regarded as a letter -- a natural conclusion given that it has always circulated with Paul's letters. In our Bibles, it occurs at the end of Paul's letters. In P46, it comes after Romans. (Whoever copied P46 arranged the letters in order of length.) Later codices (Sinaitics A B C H I K P) place it after the letter addressed to churches but before those addressed to individuals (i.e. between 2 Thess and 1 Tim). That makes sense, doesn't it?

Hebrews ends like a letter but does not begin like one. (Neither does 1 John.) Instead, it begins like a sermon. Heb 13.22 says, Brothers, I urge you to pay close attention to this word of exhortation, for I only wrote briefly. Even though the author has written the letter or sermon, he regards it as a spoken piece: about which we are speaking (2.5), the things that will be spoken about later (3.5), even though we speak this way (6.9).

The phrase "word of exhortation" is used to preface the message given by Paul at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13.15-13.41). Do the two match? There are common elements: formal introduction, authoritative examples (typically scriptural quotations), conclusions taken from the examples and applied to the audience, and a final exhortation. In Hebrews, this structure recurs.

Whoever wrote Hebrews was a creative genius. It is clear that he had command of the spoken medium, and could convert something meant to be spoken into the written medium for the purpose of easy transport. Whatever its genre, a remarkable thing about Hebrews is the way the author makes it sound as if he is present, delivering the speech. He doesn't say about which we are writing but about which we are speaking. The audience members are treated as hearers, not readers.

Rhetoric

The art of rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Those who listen carefully are well-acquainted with the force of the author's persuasive powers. Hebrews is a rhetorical tour de force. As an exercise, look up A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices and see how many of the rhetorical devices mentioned there are used in Hebrews.

Rhetoric was originally developed to help people win legal disputes, but soon became popular for political purposes. It is the art of making people act the way you want. This, in many cases, is ethically questionable. None however can question the motives of the author of Hebrews.

Aristotle identified three major genres for public speeches: deliberative, epideictic, and forensic. Each genre is defined by the role of the audience, the subject matter, the ends, and the time. [Smith, n.d.] These three may be defined as follows:

Deliberative rhetoric is speech-making directed at the future...; its business is exhortation and dissuasion, and its exemplary genre is the political speech. Forensic rhetoric is speech-making trained on the past; its business is accusation and defense, and its exemplary genre is the advocate's summation in a court of law. Epideictic rhetoric is the rhetoric of the present; its business, Aristotle says, is praise and blame, and its exemplary genre is the funeral oration. Epideictic rhetoric is, at the same time, a rhetoric of values: we praise people for embodying the values we admire and blame them for embodying the values we deplore. [Segal, n.d.]

Which types are used in Hebrews?

Structure

The world in which the author of Hebrews lived did not have TV. The people there were just as interested in what was going on, but had to get their news a different way. Back then, the medium was the spoken word. Audiences developed the art of listening and orators developed the art of speaking. If a speaker was no good at it then no one would listen.

Orators would include cues to alert the audience to the structure of what they were saying. They did not say, full stop, new paragraph etc. Instead, they used a range of techniques to let the audience know how what was being said was meant to hang together. Hebrews is rich in these features.

There have been many attempts to discover the structure of Hebrews. Many succeed in part, but none completely. Thien (1902) noticed that the author announces themes then develops them in reverse order. For example, Heb 2.17 has our merciful and faithful high priest. The faithful theme is developed first (3.1-4.13), followed by the merciful theme (4.14-5.10). Other examples are 5.9-5.10: author of eternal salvation (8.1-10.18) and a priest like Melchizedek (7.1-7.28), and 10.36-10.39: endurance (12.1-12.29) and faith (11.1-11.40).

Buchsel (1928) observed the alternation between exposition and exhortation -- the pattern according to which I have divided up the text for this lecture series.

Vaganay identified hook words: a rhetorical device used to tie together adjacent units of discourse; a word occurs near the end of one section and at the beginning of the next.

Descamps (1954) wrote about characteristic terms used within thematic units. For example, angels occurs 11 times in Heb 1.5-2.16 but only twice thereafter.

Albert Vanhoye (1963) building on the work of the others, listed an array of literary devices:

  • announcement of subject

  • transitional hook words

  • change of genre

  • characteristic terms

  • inclusio

  • symmetrical structures.

Welch (1981 220) gives a chiastic outline of Hebrews. He also gives a list of references that discuss chiastic structures within Hebrews (351).

More recently, Guthrie (1991) has used discourse analysis, an approach based on the science of linguistics. He identified no less than nine ways that the author of Hebrews uses to move from one section to another including: hook words, distant hook words, hooked key words, overlapping constituents, parallel introductions, direct intermediary transition and woven intermediary transition.

After all this work, there is no consensus concerning the structure of Hebrews. We can see the author using an impressive range of techniques. But as with authorship and audience, we have to say with respect to the pattern that the author had in his mind, God knows.

Style

Hebrews is written in polished, literary Greek. It is nearer to the classical style than other writings of the New Testament.

The language of Hebrews constitutes the finest Greek in the NT, far superior to the Pauline standard both in vocabulary and sentence-building. [Lane, 1991, xlix]

Chapter 5. Sources: Where did the content come from?

Old Testament quotations

Hebrews is filled with quotations from the Greek version of the Old Testament scriptures, that is, the Septuagint (LXX). The author assumes the audience knows its scriptures well. The author treats scripture as the speech of God. He uses it as a source of archetypes for the fulfillment seen in Christ.

OT quotations may be the essential clue to the arrangement of Hebrews. This is not a new theory -- in the 1700s, Bengel recognized the importance of Psalms 2, 8 and 110 in understanding why Hebrews procedes as it does. More recently, Caird and others have come up with a set of OT quotations that they regard as the backbone of Hebrews: Ps 8 (Heb 2.5-2.18), Ps 95 (Heb 3.1-4.13), Ps 110 (Heb 4.14-7.28), Jer 31 (Heb 8.1-10.31), Hab 2 (Heb 10.32-12.2), Prov 3 (Heb 12.3-13.19). [Lane 1991, cxiv]

New Testament parallels

The author of Hebrews thinks like other New Testament writers. He has an apocalyptic outlook and looks forward to the end of the old order of things. The speech by Stephen in Acts has many points of contact. Parallels may exist with other New Testament writings as well (e.g. Heb 6 and 1 Cor 3). The idea of the priesthood of Christ is uniquely developed in Hebrews. However, it shows up in other places, even Revelation!

Jewish philosophy

There is some evidence of reliance on an oral midrash on the Pentateuch (cf. 7.5, 7.27, 9.4, 9.19, 9.21, 12.21). [Bruce 1990, 27]

Fifty years ago, C. Spicq made everyone think that the author of Hebrews was influenced by Philo, an Alexandrian Jewish philosopher. More recently, others such as L. D. Hurst have pointed out that the apparent similarities between Hebrews and Philo could be due to common reliance on other forms of Judaism. According to Lane [1991, cviii]:

Hurst concludes that Philo and the writer of Hebrews shared a common conceptual background rooted in the Old Greek version of the Bible. Philo chose to develop certain OT themes Platonically. The writer of Hebrews, under the influences of Jewish apocalyptic and primitive Christian tradition, chose to develop them eschatologically.

When the Dead Sea Scrolls came to light, some people got the idea that Hebrews could now be understood as being addressed to a group from Qumran. Reasons in support include common points such as a Messiah-priest and fascination with Melchizedek. However, this theory is not so popular now. Reasons against include the context (Hebrews is hellenistic while the DSS material is semitic) and differences in the respective OT texts.

Kasemann thought that pre-Christian gnosticism was an influence. He detected behind Hebrews the gnostic motif of the heavenly pilgrimage of the self from the enslaving world of matter to the heavenly world of spirit and identified the motif of pilgrimage as central to the development of Hebrews. [Lane 1991, cix] There are problems with this theory too, among which is the lateness relative to Hebrews of the documentary sources Kasemann uses to establish his theory (e.g. Acts of Thomas).

Greek philosophy

Platonism had the idea that earthly things are mere shadows of heavenly realities. There are places in Hebrews where this kind of thinking seems to be operating. We cannot say it is Platonic thinking though -- not everyone who thought that way was influenced by Plato.

Chapter 6. Theology: What does Hebrews say about God?

Unique contributions

What if we did not have Hebrews? What would be lost? According to Richard Moore [1994, 333]:

Hebrews makes several major, indeed unique, contributions to the theology of the NT:

(1) It is the only NT writing to make specific mention of Jesus as a priest or (more accurately) high priest;

(2) It is the only NT writing to address the issue of the ceremonial law which occupies such a prominent place in the Jewish Scriptures.

Theology a la Hebrews

What if Hebrews was the only book we had? What kind of theology could we construct?

God speaks to us

God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways ...

He has a Son, Jesus Christ

has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son ...

He is generous

whom he appointed heir of all things ...

He created all things (through his Son)

through whom also he made the worlds.

He calls his Son God

But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.

He testifies to the truth of salvation through the Son

God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders, by various works of power, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will ...

He has power-sharing plans for redeemed humanity

For he didn't subject the world to come, of which we speak, to angels. But one has somewhere testified, saying, "What is man, that you think of him? Or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels. You crowned him with glory and honor. You have put all things in subjection under his feet."

He takes the initiative in redeeming humanity

... that by the grace of God he should taste of death for everyone. (This particular verse (2.9) has an alternative reading. Nevertheless, Hebrews says the same thing elsewhere (e.g. chapter 8).)

His people are his household

Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were afterward to be spoken, but Christ is faithful as a Son over his house; whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the glorying of our hope firm to the end.

He is pleased by faith and is displeased with unbelief

Beware, brothers, lest perhaps there be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God

He has prepared a rest for his people

There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. This rest is entered through faith in God and by believing his promises.

His word is powerful

For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword...

He sees everything

There is no creature that is hidden from his sight, but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

He does not forget our labour of love

For God is not unrighteous, so as to forget your work and the labor of love which you showed toward his name, in that you served the saints, and still do serve them.

He has appointed Jesus as our high priest

You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.

He wants us with him

... a better hope, through which we draw near to God.

He should be respected

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

He is a builder

For he looked for the city which has the foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

He is able to raise the dead

... concluding that God is able to raise up even from the dead.

He disciplines his children

God deals with you as with children, for what son is there whom his father doesn't discipline?

He is judge of all

... you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable multitudes of angels, to the general assembly and assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, to God the Judge of all ...

He is a consuming fire

Therefore, receiving a Kingdom that can't be shaken, let us have grace, through which we serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

He is the God of peace

Now may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an eternal covenant, our Lord Jesus, make you complete in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever

Not bad for one book.

Chapter 7. Christology: What does Hebrews say about Christ?

Portrait of the heavenly king

Hebrews chapters 1 to 10 is a splendid portrait of the heavenly king. The aspects that the author portrays are not merely theoretical musings, but practical truths that are directly relevant to the situation in which the audience finds itself. Jesus is champion, and, more centrally, sustaining advocate. [Lane 1991, cxliii]

Jesus Christ as portrayed in Hebrews

  • Son of God

  • ultimate revelation of God

  • agent of creation

  • sustainer of all things

  • heir of all things

  • the radiance of God's glory

  • the one who purged our sins and obtained our eternal redemption

  • seated at God's right

  • better than angel's

  • better than Moses

  • better than Aaron

  • better than Joshua

  • mediater of the new testament

  • addressed as God by God

  • from eternity to eternity

  • author and captain of salvation

  • great high priest, representative of and intercessor for his people

  • anchor of the soul

  • having the power of an endless life

  • able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him

  • appointed by God with an oath

  • holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, made higher than the heavens

  • minister in God's sanctuary

  • able to purge the conscience of dead works

  • allows us to receive the promise of eternal inheritance

  • pioneer of our path into God's presence

Hebrews is unique among the New Testament writings in its exposition on Jesus Christ our high priest, although we see hints of Christ performing that function elsewhere (e.g. praying for Peter in Luke and for his followers in John). Stephen testifies that Jesus is at God's right (Acts 7.56), Paul states that Christ intercedes for us (Rom 8.34), and John writes that Jesus Christ is our advocate and that he atones for our sins (1 John 2.1f).

As a priest, it is necessary for Christ to present an offering. His is the offering par excellence, a perfect sacrifice that has achieved what the former sacrifices were powerless to do -- remission of sins and a cleansed conscience. [Bruce 1990, 29-34.]

Chapter 8. Covenants and priests: What does Hebrews say about the Old and New Testaments and the role of human mediators?

Table of Contents

Covenants
Human mediators

Covenants

Hebrews dwells on two covenants: the first one instituted in Moses' time and the new one mediated by Christ. The author states clearly that the first is ineffective for dealing with sin and is superseded by the new one which is effective.

Human mediators

Under the first covenant, priests from the line of Levi were ordained to make offerings and sacrifices for sin. These priests performed these services over and over. The author of Hebrews points out that this repetition is proof that the blood of goats and bulls is ineffective for dealing with the problem of sin -- a blighted conscience and an offended God.

Nevertheless, the Levitical priesthood was necessary while the first covenant was the only covenant. If nothing else, the sacrifices were to demonstrate that breaking the Law has drastic consequences.

The new covenant, foretold by Jeremiah but made a reality through Jesus Christ, only requires one sacrifice. Is there any need for a human mediator? Yes, the one human, Jesus Christ. He is the mediator of the new covenant and there is none other.

If this is true, there is no longer any need of the offerings and sacrifices for sin performed by the Levitical priesthood. Should this priesthood then be disolved?

The author of Hebrews argues that the first covenant has been superseded. One could say that the Levitical priesthood was instituted to make offerings and sacrifices on account of offences committed under the Law of Moses. Once this Law is replaced by a new law written on hearts, and there is no need for one person to say to another "Know God", what need is there of priests?

Peter speaks of the priesthood of all believers. What is the role of priests under the new covenant? The author of Hebrews makes one thing certain -- it is not to make offerings and sacrifices for sin. This has already been done, once and for all, by Jesus Christ. He certainly is a priest -- the great high priest.

Part II. Exegesis

Chapter 9. Heb 1.1-2.4

The Son, the radiance of God's glory

Introduction

Exegesis seeks to analyse and investigate a text, to draw out its meaning, to seek its true sense. This is what we will attempt to do with the Letter to the Hebrews.

My approach will be to start with the text. Scripture quotations are taken from the World English Bible (http://ebible.org/), a public domain adaption of the American Standard Version. This is used because of its copyright-free status, not because it is better or worse than other versions. I apologise for the spelling.

After reading the text, we will look at the following aspects:

  • structure: the main components of the text and their arrangement

  • context: how the text fits into its surroundings (textual, historical, religious, philosophical)

  • textual details: sources, variants, translational issues

  • themes: important theological, conceptual and practical threads

  • summary: the main point of what is being said

  • application: what this means for us

I am indebted to Dr Richard K. Moore, who has allowed me to use a set of his slides developed for a short course on Hebrews. The summary of each exegesis session is adapted from Dr Moore's slides.

Text

{1:1} God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the
prophets at many times and in various ways, {1:2} has at the end of
these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all
things, through whom also he made the worlds. {1:3} His Son is the
radiance of his glory, the very image of his substance, and upholding
all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself made
purification for our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on
high; {1:4} having become so much better than the angels, as he has
inherited a more excellent name than they have. {1:5} For to which of
the angels did he say at any time,
"You are my Son.
   Today have I become your father?"

   and again,
"I will be to him a Father,
   and he will be to me a Son?"

   {1:6} Again, when he brings in the firstborn into the world he says,
"Let all the angels of God worship him." {1:7} Of the angels he says,
"Who makes his angels winds,
   and his servants a flame of fire."

   {1:8} But of the Son he says,
"Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.
   The scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your Kingdom.
{1:9} You have loved righteousness, and hated iniquity;
   therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness
      above your fellows."

   {1:10} And,
"You, Lord, in the beginning, laid the foundation of the earth.
   The heavens are the works of your hands.
{1:11} They will perish, but you continue.
   They all will grow old like a garment does.
{1:12} As a mantle, you will roll them up,
   and they will be changed;
but you are the same.
   Your years will not fail."

   {1:13} But which of the angels has he told at any time,
"Sit at my right hand,
   until I make your enemies the footstool of your feet?"

   {1:14} Aren't they all serving spirits, sent out to do service for
the sake of those who will inherit salvation?

   {2:1} Therefore we ought to pay greater attention to the things that
were heard, lest perhaps we drift away. {2:2} For if the word spoken
through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and
disobedience received a just recompense; {2:3} how will we escape if we
neglect so great a salvation--which at the first having been spoken
through the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard; {2:4} God
also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders, by various works
of power, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will?

Structure

1.1-4

God has spoken by His Son

1.5-14

The Son is greater than any angel

2.1-4

Warning: Do not neglect so great a salvation!

The alternation between exposition (i.e. explanation) and exhortation (i.e. persuasion) seen at 1.1-14 and 2.1-4 is the first instance of a pattern that recurs throughout Hebrews.

Table 9.1. Alternation of exposition and exhortation

Exposition (what to believe)Exhortation (how to behave)
1.1-14: Glory of the Son 
 2.1-4: Pay close attention
2.5-18: Humiliation of Jesus 
 3.1-4.16: Enter into that rest
5.1-10: High Priesthood of Christ (1) 
 5.11-6.20: Go on to the finish
7.1-10.18: High Priesthood of Christ (2) 
 10.19-10.39: Draw near, hold fast
11.1-11.40: Examples of faith 
 12.1-12.29: Run the race
 13.1-13.25: Conclusion

[Note]Note

This table is adapted from one of Dr Moore's slides.

Context

The Letter to the Hebrews (from now on, just "Hebrews") was written some time in the first century, some place in the Graeco-Roman world. We don't know who wrote it or to whom it was addressed. Nevertheless, it would be immediately apparent to the first people who heard this message that the author was educated in the art of rhetoric, one of the elements of a classical education, which included grammar and dialectic as well.

People thought differently in those days. The means of persuasion were different. Today, we might appeal to science. In those days, people might appeal to Platonic philosophy. If you knew that your audience held the scriptures in high regard then you would use scripture as an authoritative reference point as well, and this is precisely what the author of Hebrews does.

Hebrews is rich in rhetorical features:

Announcement

A brief introduction to following themes. E.g. 1.4 -- the Son superior to angels -- introduces 1.5 ff.

Inclusio

a similar beginning and end brackets a unit of discourse. E.g. "which of the angels" in 1.5 and 1.13.

Catchwords

A word or phrase from the end of one unit links forward to a similar one at the beginning of a related unit. (Other material may intervene. E.g. spirits/angels (1.14, 2.5), high priest (2.17-18, 5.1), Melchizedek (5.10, 6.20 and 7.1.)

Other canons of rhetoric

A sense of rhythm, variation of meter, alliteration (π π π π π), variation of word order, parallelism of sound (της ὑποστασεως αὐτου ... της δυναμεως αὐτου)

Hebrews also contains a number of chiastic structures. Heb 1.1-4 provides an example:

A: God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by his Son
B: whom he has appointed heir of all things
C: by whom also he made the universe
D: who being the brightness of his glory
D: and the express image of his person
C: upholding all things by his powerful command
B: when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high
A: being made as much better than the angels as the name he has inherited is better than theirs

Textual details

Sources

ἐπ’ ἐσχατων των ἡμερων (1.2) is an idiom from the LXX -- this is evidence that the author uses the LXX for his quotations. (It is also an indication that the author is thinking in apocalyptic terms.)

Heb 1.1-4 ascribes the attributes of divine Wisdom to the Son, relying on texts such as the Wisdom of Solomon 7.21-27 and Proverbs 8.22-31.

Heb 1.5-13 is a string of biblical quotations:

1.5a

Ps 2.7 (LXX)

1.5b

2 Sam 7.14

1.6

Deut 32.43 (LXX), Ps 96.7 (LXX)

1.7

Ps 103.4 (LXX)

1.8-9

Ps 44.7f (LXX)

1.10-12

Ps 101.26-28 (LXX)

1.13

Ps 109.1 (LXX)

The thoughts expressed concerning Jesus' inheritance of a supreme title resonate with other passages in the New Testament: Phil 2.9-11, 1 Tim 3.16, Eph 1.20, 1 Peter 3.22.

Variants

1.3

sustaining everything by [his|-] powerful command, when he had [by himself|-] made purification for sins

1.8

righteousness will be the sceptre of [your|his|the] kingdom

1.12

You will [fold them up|change them] like a cloak; [like a garment|and] they will be changed

Interpretation

through whom also he made "the worlds"

Hebrew idiom followed by the LXX -- better translated as "universe"

Comments

Seven facts are stated concerning the Son:

appointed heir of all things
the universe was made through him
the radiance of God's glory
the express image of God's being
upholds everything by his powerful command
made purification for sins
sat down at [God's] right

Perhaps the most stunning statements concerning the Son are are in verses 8, 9 and 10 where he is addressed as God and Lord.

Themes

An important theme of Hebrews is introduced at verse 3 -- the priestly work of the Son. A great deal of the letter is devoted to this role.

Summary

Table 9.2. God has spoken...

in the pastin this final age
to our ancestorsto us
by the prophetsby his Son

The Son's CV

Vocation
Past

the universe was made through him

Present

sustains everything by his powerful command

Future

will inherit all things

Character
  • the radiance of [God's] glory

  • the exact representation of [God's] character

Achievements
  • made purification for sins

  • sat down at [God's] right

Honours
  • has been installed in a position far superior to angels

  • has been granted a name that is just as superior

Made purification from sins

  • this is the first mention of the central theme of Hebrews -- Jesus is our great high priest

  • among the New Testament writings, this concept is unique to Hebrews

Application

How can we apply this?

Chapter 10. Heb 1.1-2.4

The Son, the radiance of God's glory

Introduction

Exegesis seeks to analyse and investigate a text, to draw out its meaning, to seek its true sense. This is what we will attempt to do with the Letter to the Hebrews.

My approach will be to start with the text. Scripture quotations are taken from the World English Bible (http://ebible.org/), a public domain adaption of the American Standard Version. This is used because of its copyright-free status, not because it is better or worse than other versions. I apologise for the spelling.

After reading the text, we will look at the following aspects:

  • structure: the main components of the text and their arrangement

  • context: how the text fits into its surroundings (textual, historical, religious, philosophical)

  • textual details: sources, variants, translational issues

  • themes: important theological, conceptual and practical threads

  • summary: the main point of what is being said

  • application: what this means for us

I am indebted to Dr Richard K. Moore, who has allowed me to use a set of his slides developed for a short course on Hebrews. The summary of each exegesis session is adapted from Dr Moore's slides.

Text

{1:1} God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the
prophets at many times and in various ways, {1:2} has at the end of
these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all
things, through whom also he made the worlds. {1:3} His Son is the
radiance of his glory, the very image of his substance, and upholding
all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself made
purification for our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on
high; {1:4} having become so much better than the angels, as he has
inherited a more excellent name than they have. {1:5} For to which of
the angels did he say at any time,
"You are my Son.
   Today have I become your father?"

   and again,
"I will be to him a Father,
   and he will be to me a Son?"

   {1:6} Again, when he brings in the firstborn into the world he says,
"Let all the angels of God worship him." {1:7} Of the angels he says,
"Who makes his angels winds,
   and his servants a flame of fire."

   {1:8} But of the Son he says,
"Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.
   The scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your Kingdom.
{1:9} You have loved righteousness, and hated iniquity;
   therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness
      above your fellows."

   {1:10} And,
"You, Lord, in the beginning, laid the foundation of the earth.
   The heavens are the works of your hands.
{1:11} They will perish, but you continue.
   They all will grow old like a garment does.
{1:12} As a mantle, you will roll them up,
   and they will be changed;
but you are the same.
   Your years will not fail."

   {1:13} But which of the angels has he told at any time,
"Sit at my right hand,
   until I make your enemies the footstool of your feet?"

   {1:14} Aren't they all serving spirits, sent out to do service for
the sake of those who will inherit salvation?

   {2:1} Therefore we ought to pay greater attention to the things that
were heard, lest perhaps we drift away. {2:2} For if the word spoken
through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and
disobedience received a just recompense; {2:3} how will we escape if we
neglect so great a salvation--which at the first having been spoken
through the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard; {2:4} God
also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders, by various works
of power, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will?

Structure

1.1-4

God has spoken by His Son

1.5-14

The Son is greater than any angel

2.1-4

Warning: Do not neglect so great a salvation!

The alternation between exposition (i.e. explanation) and exhortation (i.e. persuasion) seen at 1.1-14 and 2.1-4 is the first instance of a pattern that recurs throughout Hebrews.

Table 10.1. Alternation of exposition and exhortation

Exposition (what to believe)Exhortation (how to behave)
1.1-14: Glory of the Son 
 2.1-4: Pay close attention
2.5-18: Humiliation of Jesus 
 3.1-4.16: Enter into that rest
5.1-10: High Priesthood of Christ (1) 
 5.11-6.20: Go on to the finish
7.1-10.18: High Priesthood of Christ (2) 
 10.19-10.39: Draw near, hold fast
11.1-11.40: Examples of faith 
 12.1-12.29: Run the race
 13.1-13.25: Conclusion

[Note]Note

This table is adapted from one of Dr Moore's slides.

Context

The Letter to the Hebrews (from now on, just "Hebrews") was written some time in the first century, some place in the Graeco-Roman world. We don't know who wrote it or to whom it was addressed. Nevertheless, it would be immediately apparent to the first people who heard this message that the author was educated in the art of rhetoric, one of the elements of a classical education, which included grammar and dialectic as well.

People thought differently in those days. The means of persuasion were different. Today, we might appeal to science. In those days, people might appeal to Platonic philosophy. If you knew that your audience held the scriptures in high regard then you would use scripture as an authoritative reference point as well, and this is precisely what the author of Hebrews does.

Hebrews is rich in rhetorical features:

Announcement

A brief introduction to following themes. E.g. 1.4 -- the Son superior to angels -- introduces 1.5 ff.

Inclusio

a similar beginning and end brackets a unit of discourse. E.g. "which of the angels" in 1.5 and 1.13.

Catchwords

A word or phrase from the end of one unit links forward to a similar one at the beginning of a related unit. (Other material may intervene. E.g. spirits/angels (1.14, 2.5), high priest (2.17-18, 5.1), Melchizedek (5.10, 6.20 and 7.1.)

Other canons of rhetoric

A sense of rhythm, variation of meter, alliteration (π π π π π), variation of word order, parallelism of sound (της ὑποστασεως αὐτου ... της δυναμεως αὐτου)

Hebrews also contains a number of chiastic structures. Heb 1.1-4 provides an example:

A: God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by his Son
B: whom he has appointed heir of all things
C: by whom also he made the universe
D: who being the brightness of his glory
D: and the express image of his person
C: upholding all things by his powerful command
B: when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high
A: being made as much better than the angels as the name he has inherited is better than theirs

Textual details

Sources

ἐπ’ ἐσχατων των ἡμερων (1.2) is an idiom from the LXX -- this is evidence that the author uses the LXX for his quotations. (It is also an indication that the author is thinking in apocalyptic terms.)

Heb 1.1-4 ascribes the attributes of divine Wisdom to the Son, relying on texts such as the Wisdom of Solomon 7.21-27 and Proverbs 8.22-31.

Heb 1.5-13 is a string of biblical quotations:

1.5a

Ps 2.7 (LXX)

1.5b

2 Sam 7.14

1.6

Deut 32.43 (LXX), Ps 96.7 (LXX)

1.7

Ps 103.4 (LXX)

1.8-9

Ps 44.7f (LXX)

1.10-12

Ps 101.26-28 (LXX)

1.13

Ps 109.1 (LXX)

The thoughts expressed concerning Jesus' inheritance of a supreme title resonate with other passages in the New Testament: Phil 2.9-11, 1 Tim 3.16, Eph 1.20, 1 Peter 3.22.

Variants

1.3

sustaining everything by [his|-] powerful command, when he had [by himself|-] made purification for sins

1.8

righteousness will be the sceptre of [your|his|the] kingdom

1.12

You will [fold them up|change them] like a cloak; [like a garment|and] they will be changed

Interpretation

through whom also he made "the worlds"

Hebrew idiom followed by the LXX -- better translated as "universe"

Comments

Seven facts are stated concerning the Son:

appointed heir of all things
the universe was made through him
the radiance of God's glory
the express image of God's being
upholds everything by his powerful command
made purification for sins
sat down at [God's] right

Perhaps the most stunning statements concerning the Son are are in verses 8, 9 and 10 where he is addressed as God and Lord.

Themes

An important theme of Hebrews is introduced at verse 3 -- the priestly work of the Son. A great deal of the letter is devoted to this role.

Summary

Table 10.2. God has spoken...

in the pastin this final age
to our ancestorsto us
by the prophetsby his Son

The Son's CV

Vocation
Past

the universe was made through him

Present

sustains everything by his powerful command

Future

will inherit all things

Character
  • the radiance of [God's] glory

  • the exact representation of [God's] character

Achievements
  • made purification for sins

  • sat down at [God's] right

Honours
  • has been installed in a position far superior to angels

  • has been granted a name that is just as superior

Made purification from sins

  • this is the first mention of the central theme of Hebrews -- Jesus is our great high priest

  • among the New Testament writings, this concept is unique to Hebrews

Application

How can we apply this?

Chapter 11. Heb 2.5-2.18

Jesus, the pioneer of salvation

Text

{2:5} For he didn't subject the world to come, of which we speak, to
angels. {2:6} But one has somewhere testified, saying,
"What is man, that you think of him?
   Or the son of man, that you care for him?
{2:7} You made him a little lower than the angels.
   You crowned him with glory and honor.
   {2:8} You have put all things in subjection under his feet."

   For in that he subjected all things to him, he left nothing that is
not subject to him. But now we don't see all things subjected to him,
yet. {2:9} But we see him who has been made a little lower than the
angels, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and
honor, that by the grace of God he should taste of death for everyone.
{2:10} For it became him, for whom are all things, and through whom are
all things, in bringing many children to glory, to make the author of
their salvation perfect through sufferings. {2:11} For both he who
sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one, for which
cause he is not ashamed to call them brothers, {2:12} saying,
"I will declare your name to my brothers.
   In the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise."

   {2:13} Again, "I will put my trust in him." Again, "Behold, here
I am with the children whom God has given me." {2:14} Since then
the children have shared in flesh and blood, he also himself in like
manner partook of the same, that through death he might bring to
nothing him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, {2:15} and
might deliver all of them who through fear of death were all their
lifetime subject to bondage. {2:16} For most certainly, he doesn't give
help to angels, but he gives help to the seed of Abraham. {2:17}
Therefore he was obligated in all things to be made like his brothers,
that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things
pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. {2:18}
For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to help
those who are tempted.

Structure

2.5-9

The lowering and raising of the son of man.

2.10-18

The oneness of the sanctifier and the sanctified.

An inclusio marks verses 5 to 16 as a unit.

Context

Another expository section begins after the admonition of 2.1-4. Verses 5 to 16 complete the author's teaching on the superiority of the Son to angels. Verses 17 and 18 explicitly introduce the theme of high priest, which recurs at the beginning and end of the next section of exhortation (3.1-4.16) and again at the beginning and end of the following section of exposition (5.1-10).

Textual details

Sources

2.6-8

Ps 8.5-7 LXX (8.4-6 MT)

2.12

Ps 21.23 LXX (22.22 MT)

2.13a

Isa 8.17 LXX

2.13b

Isa 8.18 LXX

Table 11.1. Psalm numbering in the MT and LXX

MTLXXComments
1-81-8Numbering coincides
9-109 
11-11310-112LXX one less than MT
114-115113 
116114-115 
117-146116-145LXX one less than MT
147146-147 
148-150148-150Numbering coincides

Variants

2.7

Many MSS add another clause from Ps 8.7 (LXX): you have set him over the work of your hands

2.8

In subjecting all things [to him|-], he left nothing unsubjected

2.9

in order that he should taste death for all [by the grace of God|apart from God]

Comments

Deut 32.8 (LXX) says When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he separated the children of men, he set the bounds of the peoples according to the number of God's angels. The present age is subject to angelic princes, whereas the coming age is subject to the human family of the Son.

The destiny of the saints is not yet realised, yet we do see Jesus fulfilling the prophecy of Ps 8.

The Son was made lower than the angels for a while so that he could fulfill the requirements of a high priest. It was necessary for him to take on every aspect of the human condition -- to be born, to be tempted, to die. He was perfected (or made fully qualified) by his suffering.

The saints are destined for greatness, with all things being subject to them. This is achieved by God through the Son, the pioneer of the saints' salvation, who has led the way.

As high priest, the Son has made atonement for sins. He has disarmed the tyrant of death through his own death. He has set free those bound by fear of death.

Having been tested, he is able to help those being tested.

Summary

Table 11.2. Cosmic hierarchy

From eternityIncarnationTo eternity
The Son The Son
angelsangelssaints
humansJesus, humansangels

The destiny of the saints

  • made lower than angels for a while

  • to be crowned with glory and honour

  • all things to be subjected to them.

But we see Jesus

  • the pioneer of salvation

  • made perfect by suffering

  • proud to have the saints as his family.

Requirements for a high priest

  • must be appointed by God

  • must be merciful

  • must be faithful

  • must make a sufficient and acceptable offering.

Application

Those who the Son is proud to call family need not fear death.

References

Bruce, F. F. 1990. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Rev. Ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

Lane, William L. 1991. Hebrews 1-8. Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 47A. Dallas: Word Books.

Chapter 12. Heb 3.1-4.16

Exodus

Text

{3:1} Therefore, holy brothers, partakers of a heavenly calling,
consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus; {3:2}
who was faithful to him who appointed him, as also was Moses in all his
house. {3:3} For he has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses,
inasmuch as he who built the house has more honor than the house. {3:4}
For every house is built by someone; but he who built all things is
God. {3:5} Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant, for
a testimony of those things which were afterward to be spoken, {3:6}
but Christ is faithful as a Son over his house; whose house we are, if
we hold fast our confidence and the glorying of our hope firm to the
end. {3:7} Therefore, even as the Holy Spirit says,
"Today if you will hear his voice,
{3:8} don't harden your hearts, as in the rebellion,
   like as in the day of the trial in the wilderness,
{3:9} where your fathers tested me by proving me,
   and saw my works for forty years.
{3:10} Therefore I was displeased with that generation,
   and said, 'They always err in their heart,
   but they didn't know my ways;'
{3:11} as I swore in my wrath,
   'They will not enter into my rest.'"

   {3:12} Beware, brothers, lest perhaps there be in any one of you an
evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God; {3:13} but
exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called "today;" lest
any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. {3:14} For we
have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our
confidence firm to the end: {3:15} while it is said,
"Today if you will hear his voice,
   don't harden your hearts, as in the rebellion."

   {3:16} For who, when they heard, rebelled? No, didn't all those who
came out of Egypt by Moses? {3:17} With whom was he displeased forty
years? Wasn't it with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the
wilderness? {3:18} To whom did he swear that they wouldn't enter into
his rest, but to those who were disobedient? {3:19} We see that they
were not able to enter in because of unbelief.

   {4:1} Let us fear therefore, lest perhaps anyone of you should seem
to have come short of a promise of entering into his rest. {4:2} For
indeed we have had good news preached to us, even as they also did, but
the word they heard didn't profit them, because it wasn't mixed with
faith by those who heard. {4:3} For we who have believed do enter into
that rest, even as he has said, "As I swore in my wrath, they will not
enter into my rest;" although the works were finished from the
foundation of the world. {4:4} For he has said this somewhere about the
seventh day, "God rested on the seventh day from all his works;"
{4:5} and in this place again, "They will not enter into my rest."

   {4:6} Seeing therefore it remains that some should enter therein,
and they to whom the good news was before preached failed to enter in
because of disobedience, {4:7} he again defines a certain day, today,
saying through David so long a time afterward (just as has been said),
"Today if you will hear his voice,
   don't harden your hearts."

   {4:8} For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken
afterward of another day. {4:9} There remains therefore a Sabbath rest
for the people of God. {4:10} For he who has entered into his rest has
himself also rested from his works, as God did from his. {4:11} Let us
therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, lest anyone fall
after the same example of disobedience. {4:12} For the word of God is
living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing
even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and
is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

   {4:13} There is no creature that is hidden from his sight, but all
things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have
to do. {4:14} Having then a great high priest, who has passed through
the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold tightly to our
confession. {4:15} For we don't have a high priest who can't be touched
with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points
tempted like we are, yet without sin. {4:16} Let us therefore draw near
with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and
may find grace for help in time of need.

Structure

3.1-6

Jesus better than Moses

3.7-19

See to it that you do not abandon God through an evil, untrusting heart.

4.1-11

Make every effort to enter God's rest

4.12-13

God's word is living and active

4.14-16

Since we have a great high priest, approach with confidence to receive mercy and grace.

Starts and ends with high priest -- another unit.

Context

Heb 3.1-4.16 is an exhortation sandwiched between the expositions of 2.5-18 and 5.1-10

Textual details

Sources

3.7-11, 15; 4.3-5, 7

Ps 95.7-11

Variants

3.2

as also Moses was faithful in [ - | all ] his house

3.6

but Christ is faithful as a son over his house, [ whose | which ] house we are if we maintain our confidence and the hope in which we boast [ - | firm unto the end ].

4.2

For we have indeed been evangelized just as they were, but the message which they heard did them no good since [ they were not united with the hearers by faith | the hearers did not combine the message with faith ].

This is one of Westcott and Hort's "Suspected Readings". They say "some primitive error probable." [Westcott and Hort 1881] By this they mean that an error seems to have occurred early in the manuscript copying process. There are in fact four possible readings listed in the UBS apparatus. Numerous alternatives can indicate that Greek readers had difficulty with a text, their sustained efforts at restoration multiplying the readings.

4.3

[ For | Therefore ] we who believe [ - | may ] enter into [ that | - ] rest.

Comments

What is rendered in 3.6 above as our confidence and the glorying of our hope might also be translated our open assurance and proud hope. παρρησία has a range of meanings including frank, open, bold, fearless and confident. καύχημα can mean boast, object of boasting, the thing of which one is proud and what is said in boasting. Here that for which we are proud to hope may be best. [BAGD 1979, 426, 630] My feeling is that holding on to a bold expression of our hope is the same as not being ashamed of the gospel, not being afraid to proclaim the good news.

What was the good news heard by those who came out of Egypt? It seems to me that this is alluding to the good report of Joshua and Caleb concerning Canaan. The wilderness generation decided not to believe it.

Heb 4.10 resonates with Paul's statements concerning becoming right with God through trusting God -- justification by faith.

Heb 4.11 gives us the wonderfully paradoxical statement, Make every effort to enter that rest. For what do we need to strive? It is faith. What do we have to try hard to attain? It is belief. What should be our principal aim in life, the thing to put in front of all else? It is to trust God. When a person trusts God, he or she rests in God.

Jesus has suffered the trials of being a human, apart from sin. Sin is a trial in itself, deceiving the one who sins. Christ was never deceived, although the devil tried.

Summary

Seeing that Jesus is who he is, consider him -- the one we declare to be apostle and high priest. Just as Moses was faithful in his dealings with God's household, Jesus is also faithful. However, Jesus' faithfulness is better than that of Moses because Moses was a mere servant whereas Jesus is God's Son. He is the one through whom God built the house, and is more than just a caretaker. We are Christ's household, if we hold on to our open assurance and proud hope.

As the Holy Spirit says [in Ps 95], don't ignore God when he speaks, like your ancestors did in the wilderness. Because of their rebellion, God would not let them enter the promised land. With this in mind, make sure that you do not desert the living God through not believing his promises. Instead, encourage each other while you can so that you do not become like those stubborn people, deceived by sin.

Who was it that rebelled against God in those days? Wasn't it the same ones who came out of Egypt? And who tried God's patience for forty years? The same ones who sinned, whose bodies littered the desert! To whom did God swear, You will not enter my rest? Wasn't it those who disobeyed? We can see by this that they could not enter because they did not believe God.

We are afraid that some of you will miss out on God's promised rest. We have heard the good news just like our ancestors. It did them no good because they didn't believe it. We who believe do enter God's rest.

The fact that God said They will not enter my rest means that such a rest must still remain open for entry. Anyone who enters this rest -- God's rest -- takes a rest from his or her own works. For this reason, we should try our hardest to enter that rest.

God's message is alive, able to throw things into stark relief, even our true motivations. Nothing is hidden from God -- the One to whom we are ultimately accountable sees everything. Since we have Jesus -- God's Son -- as our great high priest, we should maintain our confidence. Our high priest is sympathetic to our plight, having gone through the same trials as us, except for sin. We should therefore approach God's throne with open confidence so that we can receive mercy and grace, so that we can find timely help.

Application

Believe what God says! Make trusting God and his promises your first priority. We can confidently approach Jesus -- our great high priest -- for help in the trials of life, the things that deceive us into not trusting God.

References

Bruce, F. F. 1990. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Rev. Ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

Westcott, Brooke Foss and Fenton John Anthony Hort, eds. 1881. The New Testament in the Original Greek. Vol. 1. Text. Cambridge: Macmillan.

Chapter 13. Heb 5.1-5.10

A high priest of the order of Melchizedek

Text

{5:1} For every high priest, being taken from among men, is
appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both
gifts and sacrifices for sins. {5:2} The high priest can deal gently
with those who are ignorant and going astray, because he himself is
also surrounded with weakness. {5:3} Because of this, he must offer
sacrifices for sins for the people, as well as for himself. {5:4}
Nobody takes this honor on himself, but he is called by God, just like
Aaron was. {5:5} So also Christ didn't glorify himself to be made a
high priest, but it was he who said to him,
"You are my Son.
   Today I have become your father."

   {5:6} As he says also in another place,
"You are a priest forever,
   after the order of Melchizedek."

   {5:7} He, in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and
petitions with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save him
from death, and having been heard for his godly fear, {5:8} though he
was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered. {5:9}
Having been made perfect, he became to all of those who obey him the
author of eternal salvation, {5:10} named by God a high priest after
the order of Melchizedek.

Structure

5.1-5.4

Qualifications of a high priest

5.5-5.10

The Son's qualifications

Textual details

Comments

Requirements for a high priest:

  • must be compassionate

  • must make an offering

  • must be appointed by God.

The high priest's disposition lies at the golden mean between indifference and indulgence. [Bruce 1990, 120]

The high priest has compassion for ignorant and wandering people because he shares their frailty. On the day of atonement, a high priest like Aaron had to make an offering for his sins and those of his family. The author would be the first to agree that this kind of offering is unnecessary for Jesus, who is without sin. Nevertheless, he has compassion because he shares our humanity and knows the temptations we face.

Just as Aaron was appointed a priest by God (Ex 28.1), so Christ did not take this honour upon himself. God declared him to be of the order of Melchizedek: not only a priest but king as well! Such a priest is impossible under the former arrangements, where priests are of Levi and kings are of Judah. (However, this did not stop the Hasmonaeans taking on the duel role. The Qumran commentaries call the Hasmonaean high priest the wicked priest. [Bruce 1990, 125])

This is the first mention of Melchizedek in Hebrews, but certainly not the last. The Hebrew means righteous king. This Melchizedek who met Abram (Gen 14.18) is king of Salem, which may be identified with Jerusalem (see Ps 76.2). He is also the priest of God Most High. (In Abram's reply to Melchizedek (Gen 14.22) the title God Most High is identified with LORD, the ineffable name.)

With tears and loud shouting, he brought needs and pleas before the One able to save him from death, and was heard because of his reverence. This gives us a glimpse of the Jesus the author knows through eye-witnesses -- a man in deadly earnest -- fully caught up in what he had to do. Whether it refers to the whole of his earthly ministry or just the garden of Gethsemene, we don't know.

Son though he was, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. This is not the kind of learning that comes through being punished for disobedience. Rather, it is finding out what obedience to God means in a corrupt world where obeying God carries with it suffering. Learning comes by suffering. [Bruce 1990, 130]

Having been made perfect. The Son did not lack anything before his incarnation. However, in order to become the author of our salvation, it was necessary that he should become one of us. Now that he has, and has endured the trial, he has become the source of unending salvation to those who obey him, and has been acclaimed by God as a high priest of the order of Melchizedek.

Sources

Heb 5.5

Ps 2.7 (LXX)

Heb 5.6

Ps 110.4

Themes

Christ is a high priest of the order of Melchizedek.

Summary

The prerequisites for a high priest (Heb 5.1-4, 2.17):

  • must be merciful

  • must be faithful

  • must make an offering

  • must be appointed by God.

Christ has been appointed by God as a high priest of the order of Melchizedek -- both king and priest. He is merciful, having learned by hard experience what it means for a human to obey God.

Application

Christ is the source of unending salvation to those who obey him. He knows what it is to be human and to suffer for the sake of what is right. He can help us in our struggle.

References

Bruce, F. F. 1990. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Rev. ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

Chapter 14. Heb 5.11-6.20

Take hold of the hope set before you!

Text

{5:11} About him we have many words to say,
and hard to interpret, seeing you have become dull of hearing. {5:12}
For when by reason of the time you ought to be teachers, you again need
to have someone teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the
oracles of God. You have come to need milk, and not solid food. {5:13}
For everyone who lives on milk is not experienced in the word of
righteousness, for he is a baby. {5:14} But solid food is for those who
are full grown, who by reason of use have their senses exercised to
discern good and evil.

   {6:1} Therefore leaving the teaching of the first principles of
Christ, let us press on to perfection--not laying again a foundation of
repentance from dead works, of faith toward God, {6:2} of the teaching
of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of
eternal judgment. {6:3} This will we do, if God permits. {6:4} For
concerning those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly
gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, {6:5} and tasted the
good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, {6:6} and then
fell away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance; seeing
they crucify the Son of God for themselves again, and put him to open
shame. {6:7} For the land which has drunk the rain that comes often on
it, and brings forth a crop suitable for them for whose sake it is also
tilled, receives blessing from God; {6:8} but if it bears thorns and
thistles, it is rejected and near being cursed, whose end is to be
burned.

   {6:9} But, beloved, we are persuaded of better things for you, and
things that accompany salvation, even though we speak like this. {6:10}
For God is not unrighteous, so as to forget your work and the labor of
love which you showed toward his name, in that you served the saints,
and still do serve them. {6:11} We desire that each one of you may show
the same diligence to the fullness of hope even to the end, {6:12} that
you won't be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and
patience inherited the promises. {6:13} For when God made a promise to
Abraham, since he could swear by none greater, he swore by himself,
{6:14} saying, "Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I
will multiply you." {6:15} Thus, having patiently endured, he
obtained the promise. {6:16} For men indeed swear by a greater one, and
in every dispute of theirs the oath is final for confirmation. {6:17}
In this way God, being determined to show more abundantly to the heirs
of the promise the immutability of his counsel, interposed with an
oath; {6:18} that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible
for God to lie, we may have a strong encouragement, who have fled for
refuge to take hold of the hope set before us. {6:19} This hope we have
as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and entering
into that which is within the veil; {6:20} where as a forerunner Jesus
entered for us, having become a high priest forever after the order of
Melchizedek.

Structure

"Melchizedek" occurs at the end of the preceding expository section (5.10) at the beginning and end of this section of exhortation (5.11 and 6.20) and at the beginning of the following expository section (7.1). Coincidence? I don't think so.

5.11-6.12

Warning against apostasy

6.13-6.20

God's sure promise

The section from 5.11 to 6.12 is an inclusio, marked by the Greek word νωθροί.

Textual details

Comments

With the mention of Melchizedek in v. 10, one might expect some explanatory material now. Instead, the author moves into exhortation. By now we should know that he is not merely meandering, having lost sight of the goal. Instead, he has announced his next topic and is going to cover it. But first he wants to admonish the audience.

Are there parallels with 1 Cor 3.1-23? If so, what are the implications?

Heb 5.13 describes developing a skill in making the right decisions. Do we make enough effort to develop this faculty?

Unlike 1 Cor 3, where Paul says that he still has to give them milk, the author of Hebrews says, Let's move forward, if God allows it. There seems to be at least a hint that if we don't move on, we will become incapable of moving on.

Why is baptisms plural? (The word translated here as baptism is normally used of washing, as in Mk 7.4. There is a textual variant at Col 2.12, where the word is used of Christian water baptism.)

What does laying on of hands signify? Are these last two questions related? (See Num 27.18, 27.23; Acts 6.6, 8.17, 9.17-18, 19.6; Heb 2.4, 6.4-5, 10.29.)

What are some examples of seeing the light, tasting the heavenly gift, sharing in the Holy Spirit, tasting God's good message, and the powers of the coming age? (Cf. Acts 2.38, 8.20, 10.45, 11.17.)

What constitutes apostasy? Is anyone who wilfully sins after seeing the light a hopeless case? (Cf. Heb 10.29, Mk 3.29, 1 Jn 5.16, Saul, David, Judas, Peter.)

The (a) Montanists and (b) Novations used Heb 6.4-6 to say that (a) a baptized person can't repent after serious sin and (b) those who lapsed under persecution can't be readmitted to the Church. Not everyone agreed, and the popularity of Hebrews suffered as a result.

Before (5.11-6.3) and after (6.9-6.12), the author uses we. In 6.4-6, he uses those and they. In 6.9-6.12, the author makes it clear that he does not regard the audience as apostate.

Was the author a sea-farer?

Do you think of yourself as an asylum-seeker?

What is the fixed and certain hope that lies before us?

Variants

5.12

Some MSS have teaching as genitive while others have it as accusative. Reading the genitive results in three pairs of basics:

  • repentance from dead works, faith in God

  • instructions about baptisms, laying on of hands

  • resurrection of the dead, eternal judgment

Reading the accusative places teaching in apposition to foundation in 6.1, giving this:

not laying again the foundation of ..., teachings on ...

[Note]Note

Apposition: A construction in which a noun or noun phrase is placed with another as an explanatory equivalent, both having the same syntactic relation to the other elements in the sentence. [http://www.answers.com/apposition]

6.3

And this we [ shall | might ] do, if God allows it.

Summary

Stop being babies and grow up

  • What we have to say is lengthy and not easy to understand.

  • Why? You have developed lazy listening habits.

  • Diet: milk or solids?

  • Let us leave the elementary aspects of Christ's message and press on to maturity.

A strong warning

  • We will move forward, if God allows us.

  • For it is impossible to bring back those who have:

    • seen the light

    • tasted the heavenly gift and shared in the Holy Spirit

    • tasted God's good message and the powers of the future age

    yet have fallen away.

Encouragement

  • As for you, we are convinced of better things... accompanied by salvation.

  • God is not unjust: He cannot forget all you have done or your love.

  • Our goal for you: Not to be slack, but to be imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit what has been promised.

Promise and oath

  • When God made his promise of blessing to Abraham, he guaranteed it with an oath.

  • He did this to show the heirs of the promise that it was unchangeable, so that we refugees might have real encouragement to take hold of the hope lying before us.

A secure hope that leads us all the way into God's presence

  • This hope is like an anchor of the soul, fixed and certain.

  • It leads into the Holy of Holies, where our forerunner Jesus has already entered, becoming high priest in the order of Melchizedek for ever.

Application

  • Move on from the basics.

  • Don't fall away!

  • Take hold of the hope before you.

Chapter 15. Heb 7.1-7.28

A high priest like Melchizedek

Text

{7:1} For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of God Most High,
who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed
him, {7:2} to whom also Abraham divided a tenth part of all (being
first, by interpretation, king of righteousness, and then also king of
Salem, which is king of peace; {7:3} without father, without mother,
without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life,
but made like the Son of God), remains a priest continually. {7:4} Now
consider how great this man was, to whom even Abraham, the patriarch,
gave a tenth out of the best spoils. {7:5} They indeed of the sons of
Levi who receive the priest's office have a commandment to take tithes
of the people according to the law, that is, of their brothers, though
these have come out of the body of Abraham, {7:6} but he whose
genealogy is not counted from them has accepted tithes from Abraham,
and has blessed him who has the promises. {7:7} But without any dispute
the lesser is blessed by the greater. {7:8} Here people who die receive
tithes, but there one receives tithes of whom it is testified that he
lives. {7:9} We can say that through Abraham even Levi, who receives
tithes, has paid tithes, {7:10} for he was yet in the body of his
father when Melchizedek met him. {7:11} Now if there was perfection
through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people have received
the law), what further need was there for another priest to arise after
the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
{7:12} For the priesthood being changed, there is of necessity a change
made also in the law. {7:13} For he of whom these things are said
belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the
altar. {7:14} For it is evident that our Lord has sprung out of Judah,
about which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. {7:15}
This is yet more abundantly evident, if after the likeness of
Melchizedek there arises another priest, {7:16} who has been made, not
after the law of a fleshly commandment, but after the power of an
endless life: {7:17} for it is testified,
"You are a priest forever,
   according to the order of Melchizedek."

   {7:18} For there is an annulling of a foregoing commandment because
of its weakness and uselessness {7:19} (for the law made nothing
perfect), and a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw
near to God. {7:20} Inasmuch as he was not made priest without the
taking of an oath {7:21} (for they indeed have been made priests
without an oath), but he with an oath by him that says of him,
"The Lord swore and will not change his mind,
   'You are a priest forever,
   according to the order of Melchizedek.'"

   {7:22} By so much, Jesus has become the collateral of a better
covenant. {7:23} Many, indeed, have been made priests, because they are
hindered from continuing by death. {7:24} But he, because he lives
forever, has his priesthood unchangeable. {7:25} Therefore he is also
able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him,
seeing that he lives forever to make intercession for them.

   {7:26} For such a high priest was fitting for us: holy, guiltless,
undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;
{7:27} who doesn't need, like those high priests, to offer up
sacrifices daily, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the
people. For he did this once for all, when he offered up himself.
{7:28} For the law appoints men as high priests who have weakness, but
the word of the oath which came after the law appoints a Son forever
who has been perfected.

Structure

7.1-7.3

Introduction

7.4-7.19

Two types of priest contrasted

7.20-7.28

Jesus, guarantor of a better covenant

The author takes up again the subject that he announced at 5.10, just before the admonishment that runs from 5.11 to 6.20: a high priest like Melchizedek. At 5.11 he warned us that he has much to say on this subject, and now he begins the development.

Textual details

Comments

In order to understand why the author of Hebrews argues as he does, it helps to remember the mindset of his time. In Platonic thought, earthly appearances are mere shadows of heavenly realities. The earthly Melchizedek is a shadow of the heavenly reality, Christ. In Melchizedek, the eye that is trained to see can discern the characteristics of Christ the heavenly priest -- king of righteousness, king of peace, without beginning or end of days. He remains a priest forever.

The fact that Melchizedek received tithes demonstrates that he was greater than Abraham. Even Levi might be said to have paid tithes in the same event, thus demonstrating that Melchizedek is Levi's better. This logic may seem far-fetched to us, but to minds accustomed to seeking transcendent truths from mundane types, the argument would be perfectly reasonable.

The author is concerned to demonstrate that the Melchizedek priesthood is superior to the Levitical one. Why? Scriptures such as Jer 33.15-22 and Mal 3.1-3 were well known. Given that Jesus is the promised son of David's line, how do the Levites fit into the picture? This would be a very pointed question to an early Christian Jew. The author answers that the Levites are part of an inferior system that is now superseded.

The author highlights differences between two priesthoods:

  • If the Levitical priesthood was sufficient, there would have been no need for the Melchizedek priesthood

  • the Melchizedek priesthood is based on the power of an indestructible life, not a law of earthly commandment

  • the previous deal is being abolished because of its inability to perfect anything, but the new deal is bringing in a better hope by which we can draw near to God

  • the Levitical priesthood does not involve God's oath whereas the Melchizedek one does

  • Levitical priests are temporary because of their mortality; the Melchizedek priesthood is permanent because of immortality

  • Levitical high priests have to make daily sacrifices for their own sins and those of the people whereas the Melchizedek high priest has made an all-sufficient sacrifice.

Heb 7.12 is important: if the priesthood changes, so does the law. He returns to this point later when speaking of the new covenant.

The fact that Jesus was made high priest by an oath of God makes him the guarantor of a better covenant -- a better deal. Due to his indestructible life, he is always able to plead on our behalf, meaning that he can save to the uttermost those who come to God through him.

Variants

7.21

You are a priest [-|forever|forever according to the order of Melchizedek]

7.27

like those [high|-] priests

Summary

Melchizedek is an archetype of Jesus, our great high priest. The account in Gen 14 implies that the Melchizedek priesthood is superior to the Levitical one. The Levitical priesthood is subject to weakness whereas Jesus, high priest in the order of Melchizedek, is able to save completely those who come to God through him. He is the guarantor of a better covenant.

Application

The old law is replaced by a new one, based on an oath from God. The new covenant is better than the old, and Jesus guarantees it. We can be completely saved by Jesus, the perfect priest, who lives to plead on our behalf.

Chapter 16. Heb 8.1-8.13

The main point of what is being said

Text

{8:1} Now in the things which we are saying, the main point is this.
We have such a high priest, who sat down on the right hand of the
throne of the Majesty in the heavens, {8:2} a servant of the sanctuary,
and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. {8:3} For
every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices.
Therefore it is necessary that this high priest also have something to
offer. {8:4} For if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all,
seeing there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law;
{8:5} who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, even as Moses
was warned by God when he was about to make the tabernacle, for he
said, "See, you shall make everything according to the pattern that was
shown to you on the mountain." {8:6} But now he has obtained a more
excellent ministry, by so much as he is also the mediator of a better
covenant, which on better promises has been given as law. {8:7} For if
that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been
sought for a second. {8:8} For finding fault with them, he said,
"Behold, the days come," says the Lord,
   "that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with
      the house of Judah;
{8:9} not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers,
   in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land
      of Egypt;
for they didn't continue in my covenant,
   and I disregarded them," says the Lord.
{8:10} "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of
      Israel.
   After those days," says the Lord;
"I will put my laws into their mind,
   I will also write them on their heart.
I will be their God,
   and they will be my people.
{8:11} They will not teach every man his fellow citizen,
   and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,'
   for all will know me,
   from the least of them to the greatest of them.
{8:12} For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness.
   I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more."

   {8:13} In that he says, "A new covenant," he has made the first old.
But that which is becoming old and grows aged is near to vanishing away.

Structure

8.1-8.2

The main point is this: we have a high priest appointed to sit at God's right and to serve in the true sanctuary.

8.3-8.7

This high priest has a better ministry, serves in a better sanctuary and is mediator of a better covenant established on better promises.

8.8-8.13

The new covenant is better than the first one.

This begins a new section that continues until 9.28. (An inclusio is formed by the statement concerning the need for an offering at 8.3 and the offering of Christ himself in 9.28.) It flows smoothly from the exposition on Melchizedek in 7.1-7.28.

The author is probably doing more than just summarizing the preceding section when he says at 8.1, The main point of what we are saying is this... In a section entitled Summary View of a Masterpiece, Albert Vanhoye [1989, 32f.] sets out a symmetrical arrangement for Hebrews:

Table 16.1. Vanhoye's analysis of Hebrews

IThe Name of Christ1.5-2.18
II AJesus, high priest worthy of faith3.1-4.14
II BJesus, merciful high priest4.15-5.10
 Preliminary exhortation5.11-6.20
III AHigh priest after the manner of Melchizedek7.1-28
III BMade perfect8.1-9.28
III CCause of an eternal salvation10.1-18
 Final exhortation10.19-39
IV AThe faith of the people of old11.1-40
IV BThe necessary endurance12.1-13
VThe straight paths12.14-13.21

The five parts are marked by five announcements of subject. According to Vanhoye, the resulting outline is symmetrical: the first and fifth parts have only one section, the second and fourth have two, while the central one has three. The lengths of texts in the corresponding parts are comparable. Vanhoye also notes correspondences in subject matter (e.g. II A: Jesus ... worthy of faith and IV A: the faith of the people of old).

The normal effect of a concentric arrangement is to call attention to the center of the structure. This is certainly what the author of Hebrews wanted... In the central part (5,11 - 10,39) the section B (8,1 - 9,28) is itself central... Better still, it is explicitly presented in the first sentence (8,1) as the main point of the exposition. We would do well, then, to study it in greater detail. [Vanhoye 1989, 35]

This is not the only example of symmetry in Hebrews. Vanhoye and others have identified many other instances.

Textual details

Comments

If this really is the key part of the whole document, would you expect to see a correspondence with the beginning (i.e. chapter 1), where the author announces what is going to be addressed? Does such a correspondence exist?

What are the sayings to which the author refers in 8.1?

Does the author tell us what the high priest has to offer here, or should we expect to hear more on this later?

Do we hear Platonic thought in 8.5?

Would you have noticed the implication of Ex 25.40 (i.e. that there must be a heavenly sanctuary on which the earthly one is modelled)? The fact that the earthly tent is a model of a heavenly tent and not a heavenly temple might explain why the author doesn't bother with the earthly temple.

Who, under the first covenant, would have said Know the Lord?

Verse 8.12 is not a bad working definition of grace and forgiveness.

Does 8.13 show that the author composed this message just before 70 CE?

Sources

8.2

Num 24.6 (LXX)

8.5

Ex 25.40, Acts 7.44

8.8-8.12

Jer 31.31-34 (Jer 38.31-34 LXX)

Variants

8.8

for finding fault [with them he says|he says to them]

Some MSS have the accusative αὐτούς while others have the dative αὐτοῖς. Reading the dative allows the thing in which God finds fault to be the first covenant rather than the people.

Themes

  • Jesus the great high priest

  • the earthly sanctuary

  • the heavenly sanctuary

  • the new covenant is better than the first.

Summary

The main point is that we have such a high priest: appointed to sit at God's right and to serve in the sanctuary made by God himself.

Every high priest is appointed to make an offering. Therefore, this high priest must have something to offer.

Those who serve in the earthly sanctuary serve in a mere model of the heavenly one. By contrast, our high priest serves in the real sanctuary. Just as the sanctuary is better, so is his ministry. He is the mediator of a better covenant that is set up with better promises.

If the first covenant had been alright, there would have been no place for a new one. However, there is a new one, the one spoken of in Jeremiah:

  • I will give my laws to their minds and write them on their hearts.

  • I will be their God and they will be my people.

  • They won't need to tell their fellow-citizens Know the Lord because they will all know me, from the smallest to the greatest.

  • I will be merciful with regard to their wrongdoings and will not keep their sins in mind.

Application

The first system is superseded by the new, which allows direct access to God's sanctuary through our mediator, Jesus Christ. Under this system, God deals directly with us and we stand to benefit accordingly.

Verse 8.12 is a good summary of the gracious attitude that the high priest tells us to have.

Chapter 17. Heb 9.1-28

Christ, mediator of the new covenant

Text

{9:1} Now indeed even the first covenant had ordinances of
divine service, and an earthly sanctuary. {9:2} For a tabernacle was
prepared. In the first part were the lampstand, the table, and the show
bread; which is called the Holy Place. {9:3} After the second veil was
the tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, {9:4} having a
golden altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all
sides with gold, in which was a golden pot holding the manna, Aaron's
rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; {9:5} and above it
cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat, of which things we
can't speak now in detail. {9:6} Now these things having been thus
prepared, the priests go in continually into the first tabernacle,
accomplishing the services, {9:7} but into the second the high priest
alone, once in the year, not without blood, which he offers for
himself, and for the errors of the people. {9:8} The Holy Spirit is
indicating this, that the way into the Holy Place wasn't yet revealed
while the first tabernacle was still standing; {9:9} which is a symbol
of the present age, where gifts and sacrifices are offered that are
incapable, concerning the conscience, of making the worshipper perfect;
{9:10} being only (with meats and drinks and various washings) fleshly
ordinances, imposed until a time of reformation.

   {9:11} But Christ having come as a high priest of the coming good
things, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with
hands, that is to say, not of this creation, {9:12} nor yet through the
blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once
for all into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption. {9:13}
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer
sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify to the cleanness of
the flesh: {9:14} how much more will the blood of Christ, who through
the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse your
conscience from dead works to serve the living God? {9:15} For this
reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, since a death has occurred
for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first
covenant, that those who have been called may receive the promise of
the eternal inheritance. {9:16} For where a last will and testament is,
there must of necessity be the death of him who made it. {9:17} For a
will is in force where there has been death, for it is never in force
while he who made it lives. {9:18} Therefore even the first covenant
has not been dedicated without blood. {9:19} For when every commandment
had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the law, he
took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool
and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people,
{9:20} saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God has
commanded you."

   {9:21} Moreover he sprinkled the tabernacle and all the vessels of
the ministry in like manner with the blood. {9:22} According to the
law, nearly everything is cleansed with blood, and apart from shedding
of blood there is no remission. {9:23} It was necessary therefore that
the copies of the things in the heavens should be cleansed with these;
but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.
{9:24} For Christ hasn't entered into holy places made with hands,
which are representations of the true, but into heaven itself, now to
appear in the presence of God for us; {9:25} nor yet that he should
offer himself often, as the high priest enters into the holy place year
by year with blood not his own, {9:26} or else he must have suffered
often since the foundation of the world. But now once at the end of the
ages, he has been revealed to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
{9:27} Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this,
judgment, {9:28} so Christ also, having been offered once to bear
the sins of many, will appear a second time, without sin, to those
who are eagerly waiting for him for salvation.

Structure

9.1-5

A description of the earthly sanctuary

9.6-10

The first sacrificial system is ineffective

9.11-14

Christ's sacrifice is effective

9.15-22

The blood of the sacrifice seals the covenant

9.22-28

Christ's sacrifice is complete

The author here picks up the thread of sacrifice announced at 8.3.

Textual details

Comments

Variants

9.1

Now the first system [ - | also] had rules for worship...

9.10

They are only a matter of foods, drinks and various [ baptisms, carnal rules | baptisms, a carnal rule | baptisms and carnal rules ] imposed until the time of the new order

9.11

high priest of the good things [ - | about] to come

9.14a

through the [ eternal | holy ] Spirit

9.14b

cleanse [ our | your ] conscience

9.17

since it is [ never | not then ] in force while the testator lives

9.19

the blood of the [ calves | calves and the goats | goats and the calves | calves and goats ]

Summary

The first covenant had regulations concerning ministry and a worldly sanctuary. The sanctuary has two parts. Priests perform services in the first part on a regular basis. However, only the high priest is allowed into the second part -- the Holy of Holies. He is only permitted to enter once a year and not without sacrificial blood. This arrangement can be interpreted to mean that the way into the holiest place was not yet revealed.

Now Christ has come as high priest and has made a way. He has entered the true sanctuary with his own blood offered for purification. Unlike the sacrifices of the first covenant, his sacrifice is sufficient to cleanse our conscience, thus freeing us to serve God. His sacrifice is effective and need not be repeated as the ineffective earthly sacrifices are.

Chapter 18. Heb 10.1-18

Christ's perfect sacrifice

Text

   {10:1} For the law, having a shadow of the good to come, not the
very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by
year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near.
{10:2} Or else wouldn't they have ceased to be offered, because the
worshippers, having been once cleansed, would have had no more
consciousness of sins? {10:3} But in those sacrifices there is yearly
reminder of sins. {10:4} For it is impossible that the blood of bulls
and goats should take away sins. {10:5} Therefore when he comes into
the world, he says,
"Sacrifice and offering you didn't desire,
   but you prepared a body for me;
{10:6} You had no pleasure in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for
      sin.
   {10:7} Then I said, 'Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book
      it is written of me)
   to do your will, O God.'"

   {10:8} Previously saying, "Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt
offerings and sacrifices for sin you didn't desire, neither had
pleasure in them" (those which are offered according to the law),
{10:9} then he has said, "Behold, I have come to do your will." He
takes away the first, that he may establish the second, {10:10} by
which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of
Jesus Christ once for all. {10:11} Every priest indeed stands day by
day serving and often offering the same sacrifices, which can never
take away sins, {10:12} but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for
sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God; {10:13} from that time
waiting until his enemies are made the footstool of his feet. {10:14}
For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being
sanctified. {10:15} The Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after
saying,
{10:16} "This is the covenant that I will make with them:
   'After those days,' says the Lord,
'I will put my laws on their heart,
   I will also write them on their mind;'"

   then he says,
{10:17} "I will remember their sins and their iniquities no more."

   {10:18} Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering
for sin.

Structure

Here, the author concludes his exposition on Christ's offering, a topic announced at Heb 8.3.

10.1-4

The Law ineffective in dealing with the problem of sin

10.5-10

The first is superseded by the second

10.11-18

The second is sealed by the sacrifice of Christ, which was offered once and is perpetually effective.

Textual details

Comments

Is shadow and image Platonic thought?

In verse nine, the author mentions a first and a second something. What is the something? Why doesn't the author just say covenant?

What are the wider implications of a one-off sacrifice that is perpetually effective?

For whom is the offering effective?

Sources

10.5-7

Ps 40.6-8 (MT 40.7-9 = LXX 39.6-8)

10.16-17

Jer 31.33-34

Variants

10.1

... [ is | are ] never able ...

10.11

Every [ priest | high priest ] stands daily ...

Summary

The Law of Moses cannot make perfect those who seek to approach God. If it did, the sacrifices would have stopped because no worshiper would have a guilty conscience. Instead, the sacrifices made under the Law are a constant reminder of sin.

By saying Sacrifice and offering you didn't desire and You had no pleasure in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin, Christ annuls the first in order to establish the second. We are sanctified by the second, through the one-off offering of Christ's body. (The Holy Spirit says as much when he speaks of the new covenant.)

Under the Law, priests stand to make daily sacrifices and offerings that can never take away sins. By contrast, Christ sat down at God's right after offering a single sacrifice that is perpetually effective.

This one offering perfects forever those who have been sanctified. Once sins are forgiven, there is no longer a need for sacrifice.

Application

Don't rely on the Law of Moses as an effective way of dealing with the problem of sin.

Chapter 19. Heb 10.19-10.39

A new and living way

Text

{10:19} Having therefore, brothers, boldness to enter into the
holy place by the blood of Jesus, {10:20} by the way which he dedicated
for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his
flesh; {10:21} and having a great priest over the house of God, {10:22}
let's draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our
hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and having our body washed
with pure water, {10:23} let us hold fast the confession of our hope
without wavering; for he who promised is faithful.

   {10:24} Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good
works, {10:25} not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom
of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as you see
the Day approaching. {10:26} For if we sin willfully after we have
received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice
for sins, {10:27} but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a
fierceness of fire which will devour the adversaries. {10:28} A man who
disregards Moses' law dies without compassion on the word of two or
three witnesses. {10:29} How much worse punishment, do you think, will
he be judged worthy of, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and
has counted the blood of the covenant with which he was sanctified an
unholy thing, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? {10:30} For we know
him who said, "Vengeance belongs to me," says the Lord, "I will
repay." Again, "The Lord will judge his people." {10:31} It is
a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. {10:32} But
remember the former days, in which, after you were enlightened, you
endured a great struggle with sufferings; {10:33} partly, being exposed
to both reproaches and oppressions; and partly, becoming partakers with
those who were treated so. {10:34} For you both had compassion on me in
my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your possessions,
knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an
enduring one in the heavens. {10:35} Therefore don't throw away your
boldness, which has a great reward. {10:36} For you need endurance so
that, having done the will of God, you may receive the promise.
{10:37} "In a very little while,
   he who comes will come, and will not wait.
{10:38} But the righteous will live by faith.
   If he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him."

   {10:39} But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but
of those who have faith to the saving of the soul.

Structure

10.19-25

Various exhortations

10.26-31

A dire warning against deliberate sin

10.32-39

Encouragement to persevere

This section reads like a summary. It pulls together a number of threads previously met. (Compare, for example, Heb 10.19-25 with 6.17-20.) It also announces themes that will be amplified in following chapters (e.g. approach, perseverance, Christian community, encouragement, patience and faith).

There are a number of parallels between 10.19-25 and 10.32-39, which bracket the warning of 10.26-31. E.g approach : do not draw back (10.22 : 10.39), maintain hope and patience while waiting for God's promises to be fulfilled (10.23 : 10.36), maintain community (10.24 : 10.34).

Textual details

Comments

The book could have ended here and no one reading today would have thought it incomplete. These first ten chapters stand on their own as a masterpiece of Christology. As it is, this section provides a springboard into the rest of the book.

A new and living way -- through a living being, the great high priest. (Cf. John 14.6.)

The veil is compared with Christ's body. Cf. Matt 27.51, Mark 15.38, Luke 23.45.)

so much more as you see the day approaching: The author indicates that the audience can see signs that judgment day is approaching.

Anyone who was convicted, on adequate testimony, of a deliberate breach of Israel's covenant law was liable to the death penalty. [Bruce 1990, 262] (Cf. Deut 13.6-11.) Perhaps rejection of the new covenant is the deliberate sin which leaves the perpetrator without hope of redemption. In the Shepherd of Hermas, allowance is made for a second chance after delberate sin, but none after that. Other early church solutions to the problem of post-baptismal sin include the cycle of confession, penance and absolution. This, however, could hardly sit well with the author of Hebrews, being just like the system of the first covenant. [Bruce 1990, 263-4] The author regards sin as an extremely serious matter.

As in chapter six, a terrible warning is followed by reassurance. The warning is not to discourage the hearers, but to encourage them to persevere.

The description of the audience's experiences gives us clues to their identity. If the audience is in Rome, the author must have written before Nero's persecution (64 CE), when Christians were put to death in the most dreadful ways. The experiences may well relate to the expulsion of Jews from Rome ordered by Claudius (49 CE). Philo gives this description of another purge, which was directed against the Jews of Alexandria in 38 CE: Their enemies overran the houses now left empty and began to loot them, dividing up the contents like spoils of war.

Sources

10.30

These two quotations are taken from the Song of Moses (Deut 32), perhaps from Theodotion's version of the LXX. [Bruce 1990, note 130]

Application

Therefore, seeing that Jesus is our great high priest and has made a new and living way into God's presence with his own body and blood, let us approach God with confidence, maintain our hope, care for one another, and practice Christian community.

Chapter 20. Heb 11.1-40

By faith

Text

   {11:1} Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, proof of things
not seen. {11:2} For by this, the elders obtained testimony. {11:3} By
faith, we understand that the universe has been framed by the word of
God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which are
visible. {11:4} By faith, Abel offered to God a more excellent
sacrifice than Cain, through which he had testimony given to him that
he was righteous, God testifying with respect to his gifts; and through
it he, being dead, still speaks. {11:5} By faith, Enoch was taken away,
so that he wouldn't see death, and he was not found, because God
translated him. For he has had testimony given to him that before his
translation he had been well pleasing to God. {11:6} Without faith it
is impossible to be well pleasing to him, for he who comes to God must
believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek
him. {11:7} By faith, Noah, being warned about things not yet seen,
moved with godly fear, prepared a ship for the saving of his
house, through which he condemned the world, and became heir of the
righteousness which is according to faith. {11:8} By faith, Abraham,
when he was called, obeyed to go out to the place which he was to
receive for an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he went.
{11:9} By faith, he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a
land not his own, dwelling in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs
with him of the same promise. {11:10} For he looked for the city which
has the foundations, whose builder and maker is God. {11:11} By faith,
even Sarah herself received power to conceive, and she bore a child
when she was past age, since she counted him faithful who had promised.
{11:12} Therefore as many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as
innumerable as the sand which is by the sea shore, were fathered by one
man, and him as good as dead. {11:13} These all died in faith, not
having received the promises, but having seen[37] them and embraced
them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and
pilgrims on the earth. {11:14} For those who say such things make it
clear that they are seeking a country of their own. {11:15} If indeed
they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they
would have had enough time to return. {11:16} But now they desire a
better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed
of them, to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

   {11:17} By faith, Abraham, being tested, offered up Isaac. Yes, he
who had gladly received the promises was offering up his one and only
son; {11:18} even he to whom it was said, "In Isaac will your seed be
called;"[38] {11:19} concluding that God is able to raise up even from
the dead. Figuratively speaking, he also did receive him back from the
dead. {11:20} By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even concerning
things to come. {11:21} By faith, Jacob, when he was dying, blessed
each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his
staff. {11:22} By faith, Joseph, when his end was near, made mention of
the departure of the children of Israel; and gave instructions
concerning his bones. {11:23} By faith, Moses, when he was born, was
hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that he was a
beautiful child, and they were not afraid of the king's commandment.
{11:24} By faith, Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the
son of Pharaoh's daughter, {11:25} choosing rather to share ill
treatment with God's people, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a
time; {11:26} accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the
treasures of Egypt; for he looked to the reward. {11:27} By faith, he
left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as
seeing him who is invisible. {11:28} By faith, he kept the Passover,
and the sprinkling of the blood, that the destroyer of the firstborn
should not touch them. {11:29} By faith, they passed through the Red
Sea as on dry land. When the Egyptians tried to do so, they were
swallowed up. {11:30} By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down, after
they had been encircled for seven days. {11:31} By faith, Rahab the
prostitute, didn't perish with those who were disobedient, having
received the spies in peace. {11:32} What more shall I say? For the
time would fail me if I told of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David,
Samuel, and the prophets; {11:33} who, through faith subdued kingdoms,
worked out righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of
lions, {11:34} quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of
the sword, from weakness were made strong, grew mighty in war, and
caused foreign armies to flee. {11:35} Women received their dead by
resurrection. Others were tortured, not accepting their
deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. {11:36}
Others were tried by mocking and scourging, yes, moreover by bonds and
imprisonment. {11:37} They were stoned. They were sawn apart. They
were tempted. They were slain with the sword. They went around in
sheep skins and in goat skins; being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated
{11:38} (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts,
mountains, caves, and the holes of the earth. {11:39} These all, having
had testimony given to them through their faith, didn't receive the
promise, {11:40} God having provided some better thing concerning us,
so that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Structure

11.1-2

Prologue

11.3-12

From the beginning to Abraham and Sarah

11.13-16

The City of God

11.17-31

From Abraham to Rahab

11.32-38

More examples

11.39-40

Epilogue

The author picks up the theme of faith announced in 10.38-39, and in many other places before (2.13, 2.17, 3.2, 3.5-6, 3.14, 4.3, 6.12, 10.22).

Verses 1-2 have connections with verses 39-40, indicating an inclusio: Faith is the realization of things hoped for, the proof of things not seen (βλεπομένων). Βy this the ancients were commended (ἐμαρτυρήθησαν). And all these who faith commends (μαρτυρηθέντες) did not receive the promise, God having something better in store (προβλεψαμένου) concerning us -- that they should not be perfected without us. The word translated here as commends has the same root as witnesses (μαρτύρων) in 12.1.

Textual details

Comments

Heb 10.38 says, My righteous one will live by faith. The author now introduces examples of faith, using the words by faith no less than eighteen times.

Faith is the hypostasis of what we [ hope for | expect], the elenchus of what can't be seen. The word hypostasis also occurs at 1.3 (The Son is the radiance of his glory, an exact representation of God's real being), and 3.6 and 3.14 (if we maintain our frame of mind to the end). This word can also be translated as substantial nature, essence, actual being or reality, and is often used as a contrast to that which merely seems to be. Neither confidence nor assurance is an appropriate translation at 3.6, 3.14 or 11.1 since examples of it cannot be found (acc. to Dörrie and Köster). [BAGD 1979, 847] Instead, a better translation is frame of mind or realization. Hence, the phrase can be translated By faith, things hoped for become realities. Moulton and Milligan suggest Faith is the title-deed of things hoped for.

The phrases beginning with hypostasis and elenchus are parallel, indicating that these words play a similar role. According to [BAGD], elenchus might be best translated as inner conviction in this instance. Other possibilities include demonstration and proof. Your eyes let you see what is visible, but faith lets you to see what is invisible. [Bruce 1990, 277]

Faith is what you need to please God. Nothing more, nothing less. What then, is faith? The examples that follow give us an idea.

In the first by faith, the author makes a cosmological statement: that which is visible, including the universe, has been made from what is invisible. This repeats what has already been said in verse 1. It is against the Greek idea of a universe that existed from the eternal past. However, it agrees with the Platonic concept of the mundane being a manifestation of the heavenly (or ultimate) reality. The author's statement agrees with modern cosmology, which gives a starting point before which the physical universe did not exist.

Most of the other examples of by faith refer to people. The order tends to follow that of the Bible: creation to the flood, Abraham and Sarah, the other patriarchs, Moses, the exodus, and Rahab. However, in the list of 11.32, the order of appearance is inverted for Gideon and Barak, Samson and Jephthah, and David and Samuel.

Abel (Gen 4.1-11): Why did God accept Abel's sacrifice but not Cain's? (See Gen 4.7.) In what sense does Abel continue to speak even though dead? (See Gen 4.10. Later, in Heb 12.24, the author refers to the same episode, again.)

Enoch (Gen 5.24): Enoch walked with God. The author of Hebrews adds that it was by faith that Enoch was translated. The logic proceeds as follows:

  • Scripture says that Enoch pleased God before being translated.

  • Without faith, it is impossible to please God.

  • Therefore, Enoch must have had faith.

Noah (Gen 6.7-8.22): Noah acted on God's warning, thereby condemining the world and becoming heir of the righteousness that is by faith. This is justification by faith, a central theme of the New Testament. (Cf. John 3.18.)

Abraham and Sarah (Gen 12-22): By faith, Abraham obeyed God and went, not knowing where he was going. He lived as a renter, even though the real estate had been promised to him; he lived in tents but was looking forward to a permanent place, the City of God.

Was it Abraham or Sarah's faith that produced Isaac? By faith, though Sarah herself was sterile, [ he | she ] received the ability to sow seed, though past child-bearing age, since [ he | she ] regarded the One who promised as faithful.

Abraham's obedience in offering Isaac is given as an example of authentic faith both here and in James. It is the faith with actions of which James speaks. Here, however, the emphasis is on Abraham's continuing belief in God's promise that the promise of descendants would be fulfilled through Isaac. Therefore, so the author reasons, in being prepared to go through with the sacrifice, Abraham must have believed that God could bring Isaac back from the dead. (Note Gen 22.5.)

Joseph is also mentioned as an example in Stephen's speech (Acts 7), along with Abraham and Moses. The author singles out Joseph's desire to have his bones taken back to the promised land as an example of faith: faith that the exodus to the promised land would take place.

In the story of Moses and the exodus, the author concentrates on:

  • the faith of Moses' parents in civil disobedience

  • Moses' faith in refusing to be called Egyptian royalty

  • Moses' faith in leaving Egypt (probably referring to his final departure)

  • Moses' faith in keeping the passover

  • the Israelites' faith in passing through the Red Sea

  • the faith of the walls of Jericho in falling down (!)

  • the faith of Rahab the harlot in harbouring the Israelite spies (!)

No doubt it is the faith of Joshua and the Israelites by which the walls fell down. Surely rocks and stones do not live by faith? Or do they? (Cf. Luke 19.40.)

Rahab is also mentioned as an example in James 2.25. The account of Rahab in Josh 2 shows that she is indeed an example of faith, believing that the Israelites would take Jericho (Josh 2.9-13). Rahab and her family were saved from the destruction. The line of Jesus Christ goes through her.

Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel: As mentioned above, the order of appearance in each pair is inverted with respect to the biblical order. The first four appear in the book of Judges. (A comparable list is given in 1 Sam 12.11.) Some of these may seem strange examples of faith. What did they do to deserve inclusion in the author's hall of fame?

As an exercise, identify those described in verses 33-38.

And all these who faith commends did not receive the promise, God having something better in store concerning us -- that they should not be perfected without us. What is this all about?

Sources

11.21

Jacob worshiped, leaning on his walking stick. This is the reading of the LXX. The MT has Israel bowed down at the head of his bed.

11.29

The Red Sea is another reading of the LXX. The MT has Sea of Reeds.

Variants

11.1

Faith is the [ foundation | apostasy ] of things hoped for ... The apostasy reading (found in P13) would seem to be a scribal blunder.

11.11

There are a number of readings here. The text is problematic.

11.23

Some MSS add, By faith, when he had grown up, Moses killed the Egyptian when he saw the oppresion of his brothers.

11.37

They were stoned, sawn in two, [ - | tempted, | burned, ] killed by the sword ...

This reading is in Westcott and Hort's list of "Suspected Readings". They say that Ἐπειράσθησαν is probably either a primitive interpolation or a primitive error for some other word, as ἐνεπρήσθησαν or ἐπειρώθησαν (ἐπηρ.). [Westcott and Hort 1881]

Summary

Faith is what makes things hoped for real; it is what demonstrates the reality of what is not [yet] seen [Heb 11.1]. Without faith it is impossible to please God because it is essential for the one approaching God to to believe that he is, and for those seeking him out that he is a rewarder [Heb 11.6]. Those who have faith obey God [Heb 11.7, 8, 17]. They are persuaded of what they hope for even if they do not receive it during their earthly existence, for they seek the City of God, built by God himself [Heb 11.13-16]. They believe in resurrection [Heb 11.19, 35], value the reproach of Christ more than mundane treasures [Heb 11.25-26], endure because they see the invisible [Heb 11.27]. They do amazing things [Heb 11.33-35] and suffer terrible things [Heb 11.36-37]. The world is not worthy of them; they wander in deserts, mountains, caves and dens [Heb 11.38].

Chapter 21. Heb 12.1-29

The City of God

Text

   {12:1} Therefore let us also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a
cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily
entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before
us, {12:2} looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for
the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame,
and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. {12:3} For
consider him who has endured such contradiction of sinners against
himself, that you don't grow weary, fainting in your souls. {12:4} You
have not yet resisted to blood, striving against sin; {12:5} and you
have forgotten the exhortation which reasons with you as with children,
"My son, don't take lightly the chastening of the Lord,
   nor faint when you are reproved by him;
{12:6} For whom the Lord loves, he chastens,
   and scourges every son whom he receives."

   {12:7} It is for discipline that you endure. God deals with you as
with children, for what son is there whom his father doesn't
discipline? {12:8} But if you are without discipline, of which all have
been made partakers, then are you illegitimate, and not children.
{12:9} Furthermore, we had the fathers of our flesh to chasten us, and
we paid them respect. Shall we not much rather be in subjection to the
Father of spirits, and live? {12:10} For they indeed, for a few days,
punished us as seemed good to them; but he for our profit, that we may
be partakers of his holiness. {12:11} All chastening seems for the
present to be not joyous but grievous; yet afterward it yields the
peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been exercised
thereby. {12:12} Therefore, lift up the hands that hang down and the
feeble knees, {12:13} and make straight paths for your feet, so
that which is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. {12:14}
Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which
no man will see the Lord, {12:15} looking carefully lest there be any
man who falls short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness
springing up trouble you, and many be defiled by it; {12:16} lest there
be any sexually immoral person, or profane person, like Esau, who sold
his birthright for one meal. {12:17} For you know that even when he
afterward desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he
found no place for a change of mind though he sought it diligently with
tears. {12:18} For you have not come to a mountain that might be
touched, and that burned with fire, and to blackness, darkness, storm,
{12:19} the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which those who
heard it begged that not one more word should be spoken to them,
{12:20} for they could not stand that which was commanded, "If even an
animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned;" {12:21} and
so fearful was the appearance, that Moses said, "I am terrified and
trembling."

   {12:22} But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the
living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable multitudes of
angels, {12:23} to the general assembly and assembly of the firstborn
who are enrolled in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of
just men made perfect, {12:24} to Jesus, the mediator of a new
covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better than
that of Abel.

   {12:25} See that you don't refuse him who speaks. For if they didn't
escape when they refused him who warned on the Earth, how much more
will we not escape who turn away from him who warns from heaven,
{12:26} whose voice shook the earth then, but now he has promised,
saying, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the
heavens." {12:27} This phrase, "Yet once more," signifies the
removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been
made, that those things which are not shaken may remain. {12:28}
Therefore, receiving a Kingdom that can't be shaken, let us have grace,
through which we serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, {12:29}
for our God is a consuming fire.

Structure

12.1-3

Keep your eyes on Jesus

12.4-11

God disciplines his children

12.12-17

Stand up and walk straight

12.18-24

The City of God

12.25-29

Listen to God!

Textual details

Comments

Jesus, the pioneer of faith: Was he the first?

Keeping our eyes on Jesus: Remember earlier (2.9), but we see Jesus.

Disgrace of the cross: Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion -- it was too disgraceful. Can you think of an equally shameful contemporary form of punishment? (I.e., one reserved for non-citizens.)

Sources

12.2

4 Macc 17.9f?

12.5-6

Prov 3.11-12

12.20

Ex 19.12-13

12.21

Deut 9.19?

Variants

12.1

sin which so readily [ ensnares | distracts us ]

12.3

he has borne such hostility of sinners against [ him | himself | themselves | them ]

12.18

For you have not come to a [ thing | mountain ] that can be touched

Summary

Since we have so many forerunners cheering us on, let us drop every weight and distracting sin to run the marathon before us. We must keep our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer who has already finished the race. He pressed on to the prize beyond even though it meant going through the disgrace of the cross and the hostility of sinners. Keep Jesus before your eyes; this will stop you giving up.

You haven't suffered like him, to the point of bloodshed. Don't forget that God disciplines his children. The hardships you face are God's discipline. The fact that you encounter such hardship proves that you are his children. Our fathers disciplined us and we respect them for it; if we submit to God's discipline we will gain much more -- life. No discipline is enjoyable, but God's discipline brings a share of his holiness and a harvest of good.

So pick yourself up and walk straight. Be peacemakers and seek the purity of heart without which you will not see God. Watch out for the community, and weed out those who promote bitterness and immorality. Don't be like Esau, who gave up his inheritance for short-term gain. What he lost could not be regained. It was gone for good.

You are not approaching something like Mount Sinai, awesome as it was. Instead, you are approaching the City of God, with its myriads of angels, the firstborn whose names are written in heaven, the righteous who have been made perfect, to God -- the judge of all -- and to Jesus -- the mediator of the New Covenant -- and to his blood, which says something better than Abel's.

Don't ignore the one who speaks from there! Those who ignored the voice at Mount Sinai did not escape; it is even worse for those who ignore the voice from heaven. Then he shook the earth; in the future he will shake heaven and earth. Only unshakeable things will be left. The kingdom that we will receive is unshakeable. We should therefore thank God and worship him in awe and reverence. For God is a consuming fire.

Application

Keep your eyes on Jesus. Don't be discouraged by hardship. Don't ignore what God says.

References

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Manson, William. 1951. The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Historical and Theological Reconsideration. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Metzger, Bruce M. 1987. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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