Friday, July 31, 2009

Hebrews Carnival July 2009

Instead of listing new postings on Hebrews every week, I have decided to list them once a month, modeling them after the monthly carnivals for other topics.

Jared Calaway in his posting The Sharp Word in 1 Enoch and Hebrews sees a correlation between 1 Enoch 62:2 and Hebrews 4:12-16 regarding the word of God. I don't see the correlation nearly as "sharply" as Jared. I think the word functions in two different ways in the two passages. In 1 Enoch the word is used to destroy the unrighteous, while in Hebrews it has the function of revealing the inner thoughts of human beings. While both passages may be viewed as relating to judgment, the 1 Enoch passage is much more severe.

Jared Calaway also has a discussion on Hebrews 2:10-11 regarding the confusing pronouns in these verses. Be sure to read the comments section that follows.

Jared also has a post on Hebrews in Codex Sinaiticus, noting some of the features of this particular text.

Jared then has a reflection on Hebrews 11:27, Moses' Vision of the Invisible. Moses is the only one of whom it was said that he saw the invisible.

Jim West has a review of the new book The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology. He chose to focus on Richard Hays' essay on supersessionism. West contends that "New Covenantalism"--the term used by Hays--appears to be no different from supersessionism. He only makes scant references to a couple of other essays, so the review is by no means exhaustive.

Clifford Kvidahl, however, in his post New Covenantalism with Richard Hays, tends to agree with Hays that Hebrews is not supersessionistic.

For the moment I am going to have to side with Jim West on this one. I have not been persuaded by recent attempts to downplay Hebrews as supersessionistic. If the New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant and replaces it, then that is supersessionism. I believe the recent to downplay the supersessionism of Hebrews is an attempt to be sensitive to our Jewish colleagues. But isn't the Rabbinic Judaism that developed after the destruction of the Temple also supersessionistic?

Jim West also posted a quotation by John Calvin on Hebrews 11 on the topic of hope.

Stephen Hebert has begun an eight-part series on the textual variants of Hebrews 2:9, entitled "separated by grace." Part one sets up the problem. The majority reading reads χαριτι θεου, while the minority reading is χωρις θεου. Part two notes that the external evidence favors the majority reading. Part three begins to examine the internal evidence. He argues that if the original reading was χαριτι θεου, then it is hard to explain how it gave rise to the alternate reading of χωρις θεου.

Word has gotten out among the blogs that the program book for the upcoming SBL conference in New Orleans is now available online. Several papers on Hebrews are scheduled for the conference. Since this is only the preliminary program book and the program is bound to change, I will not list the papers on Hebrews until sometime in November.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Two New Book Reviews on RBL

The Review of Biblical Literature has recently added two new reviews on books related to Hebrews.

The first review is by Alan C. Mitchell (who has written his own Hebrews commentary for the Sacra Pagina series) on James W. Thompson's Hebrews commentary in the Baker Paideia series. This review was overwhelmingly positive. Thompson is a leading Hebrews scholar and is currently Professor of New Testament at Abilene Christian University in Texas. He has written books on Hebrews previously, including The Beginnings of Christian Philosophy: The Epistle to the Hebrews (1982) which is based on his 1974 dissertation with Vanderbilt University; Strategy for Survival: A Plan for Church Renewal from Hebrews (1980); and The Letter to the Hebrews in the Living Word Commentary (1971). He has also written numerous articles on Hebrews, so it is safe to say that this newest commentary is the culmination of numerous years of study on the book.

The second review is on Jason A. Whitlark's Enabling Fidelity to God: Perseverance in Hebrews in Light of Reciprocity Systems in the Ancient Mediterranean World. This book is based on Jason's 2006 Baylor University dissertation. I think the review gives a fair summary of the content of the book.

I read both of these reviews with interest since they both have a "Baylor" connection as well as a personal connection for me. Jason, of course, is one of my predecessors in the Ph.D. program at Baylor. The fact that he was able to do his dissertation on Hebrew was encouraging for me since I also had an interest to do a dissertation on the book. He is currently Assistant Professor of Religion at Baylor.

Thompson's connection to Baylor is by way of the fact that the Paideia commentary series is edited by two of my Baylor professors, Mikeal C. Parsons and Charles H. Talbert. Although I had previously met Dr. Thompson at SBL, I got to know him much better when I went to the Hebrews and Theology conference at St. Andrews University in the summer of 2006. When the conference was over we just happened to ride the same train to Edinburgh. I ended up having dinner with him that evening (along with his wife and another professor). He was willing to talk to me about research in Hebrews and even suggested a dissertation topic to me (I have ended up doing something else, but appreciated his willingness to share his ideas with me). Since he teaches in Texas, I also see him whenever I go to our annual regional SBL meeting in the DFW area.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I just learned about this useful site, Best It includes numerous reviews on commentaries, as well as extensive lists ranking the commentaries. You may not entirely agree with the rankings, however. I know I don't. What I found to be of interest is the listing of forthcoming commentaries. The list is not complete, though. I know for a fact that Gary Cockerill is writing the Hebrews commentary for NICNT and Philip and Loveday Alexander are slated to write the Hebrews commentary for the ICC. I am placing a permanent link to this site under resources.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hebrews' Message to the Individual Christian

Chavasse, Francis James. “Epistle to the Hebrews: Its Lessons to the Individual Christians.” Pages 314-17 in The Official Report of the Church Congress, Held at Wolverhampton, on October 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th, 1887. Edited by C. Dunkley. London: Bembrose, 1887.

At the time of this address, Francis James Chavasse (1846-1928) was the Rector of St. Peter-le-Bailey, Oxford. He founded St. Peter’s College at Oxford. He late became the second Bishop of Liverpool (1900-1923) where he was instrumental in building the Anglican cathedral.

The epistle was written to Hebrew Christians at Jerusalem who facing persecution and were in danger of drifting into the apostasy of their former Jewish faith. Likewise, today the epistle calls us to stand fast and not make shipwreck of our faith. Today we meet many challenges. Criticism has called into question ancient interpretations of God’s Word, and despite nineteen centuries since Christ the vast number of people are still heathens. Many are distracted by the pressures of secular business and the struggle for existence, and the pursuit of wealth and pleasure. We have become weary in our ceaseless struggle against secularity. Hebrews has a message to address these issues of our age.

First, the epistle “fixes our eyes on the living, ascended, and glorified Christ, Who has passed by the path of suffering to His throne at God’s right hand” (315). Christ’s humiliation was not the goal, but the passage to the exaltation. We do not worship a dead Christ, but one who is alive, who lives to aid, bless, and intercede for us; who identifies with us; “to Whom we are to look every hour for forgiveness, guidance, sympathy, and strength; before Whom we are to spread our doubts, fears, cares, and ignorances; to Whom we are to commit the keeping of our souls” (315).

Second, the epistle insists on the “undivided unity of the Kingdom of Christ.” The unseen world is real; the church militant and church triumphant are one. The saints who have preceded us are models of faith to be followed and they are interested onlookers on our race and conflict. We have come to “the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, and to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven . . . and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb 12:22-23). We lose out if we limit “our Church horizon to the little company of those who worship or agree with us, to those who are called by the same name or use the same forms. We lose even by thinking only of God’s people on earth. God’s servant here are but a small fraction of His vast host” (316). We share a common faith. We should never feel discouraged or lonely, for we are one with “the innumerable multitude of the saints.”

Third, in order to break the power of worldliness, the epistle calls us to a service of love. We should “not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (6:12). God remembers our work and love in ministering to the saints (6:10). He urges us to provoke one another to “love and good deeds” (10:24). We should translate our belief into a life of love, caring for those for whom Christ died. “A service of love expands the heart, clears the eye of the soul, strengthens the spiritual understanding, and subdues self. It solves difficulties, heals sorrows, reveals truths. The selfishness of much of our modern Christianity lies at the root of half our spiritual depression and dejection” (316). A life of ministry will rejuvenate our spiritual sluggishness.

Although Chavasse spoke these words well over a century ago, he seems to speak to the struggles of our own day and age.

Hebrews' Message to the World and Church

Hoare, Edward. “Epistle to the Hebrews: Its Message to the World, and to the Church of Our Own Time.” Pages 309-13 in The Official Report of the Church Congress, Held at Wolverhampton, on October 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th, 1887. Edited by C. Dunkley. London: Bembrose, 1887.

Edward Hoare (1812-1894) was Vicar of Holy Trinity, Tunbridge Wells (1853-1894) and Hon. Canon of Canterbury. He was apparently known as the “Protestant pontiff of Tunbridge Wells.” A biography of his life can be found here.

There is no direct message to the world, since the epistle is addressed to those who had come out of the world. What does Hebrews say about the world?
1) It was created by Jesus (2:2).
2) It is now being upheld by Him (1:3).
3) It is about to be shaken, or removed by Him (12:27).
4) He has provided for His people a kingdom which cannot be shaken. The message to the world then could be that people should not seek their security in this world, but in Christ.

The message to the church: no local church is addressed, but it is addressed to Jewish Christians who were tempted to lapse back into the Jewish faith. What then is the message for the church?
1) We should not be disheartened if we encounter people who are tempted to return to the bondage from which they once appeared to have been delivered. If people were tempted to relapse into Judaism in apostolic times, we should not be surprised if we find the same attitude in our day and age.
2) We should not leave this tendency alone, but we should vigorously oppose it.
3) This tendency should be opposed with the careful, argumentative exposition of the word of God, even as the author of Hebrews did.
4) If we wish to see men established in the truth, we must direct their attention to the great realities, and not merely the framework, of the gospel. For example, in one passage he mentions the church, but he does not mention its organization–its bishops, priests, or deacons–but it is described as “the Church of the first-born which are written in heaven” (12:23). “The new birth, and the name written in the book of life, these were the distinctive realities by which alone the Church was described” (311). Moreover, he does not emphasize the sacraments, but points them to the sacrificial death of Christ.
5) The message of the epistle is that the sum and substance of all reality is in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Christ is the fulfiller and fulfillment of all the types and prophecies. The perfection of Christ is brought out in connection with his priesthood, sacrifice, and covenant: a) the successional Aaronic priesthood is now replaced by the unsuccessional priesthood of Christ; Christ’s priesthood is eternal; b) the numerous and repetitious sacrifices of the Levitical priesthood is now replaced by the one, perfect sacrifice of Christ; and c) Christ is the mediator of a better covenant which is based on better promises–holiness, fellowship with God, knowledge of the Lord Himself, and forgiveness of sins.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hebrews and the Worship of the Christian Church

Paget, Francis. “Epistle to the Hebrews: Its Bearing upon the Worship of the Christian Church.” Pages 305-9 in The Official Report of the Church Congress, Held at Wolverhampton, on October 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th, 1887. Edited by C. Dunkley. London: Bembrose, 1887.

At the time of this address, Francis Paget (1851-1911) was Canon of Christ Church and Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology at Oxford University. He later became Bishop of Oxford in 1901.

This address is filled with lofty rhetoric and appears to take the form of a sermon. Here I attempt to give a summary of this address:

At the heart of the epistle is worship, for it is in worship where the struggle of faith is most readily seen. The hardships and afflictions that the recipients of the letter endured caused some to consider turning back to their Jewish faith. It was difficult to sever themselves from the exuberant and comforting worship at the Temple. But the author of Hebrews showed them the magnificence and veracity of Christian worship. Christ’s sacrifice has gained access to God and his ceaseless intercession has obtained forgiveness of sins. While the ancient Jewish worship had its benefits, it was now surpassed by the perfection of Christian worship. Christ, the eternal High Priest was now enthroned in the true tabernacle. Melchizedek revealed the inadequacy of the Aaronic priesthood and adumbrated the eternal priesthood of Christ. The image of the tabernacle shown to Moses at Sinai was a copy of the heavenly reality. In the midst of their trials, the author of Hebrews urges his readers to worship, which takes place in the highest plane, in the heavenly realm; it is in the act of worship “where heaven and earth are one” (cf. 12:22-24). Christ himself is the one who spans the gap between the two realms.

Paget closes by debunking three “imprisoning ideas”: 1) worship should not be focused inwardly but upwardly; 2) our yearning for the presence of Christ, reality, and certainty should not be found in any earthly location, but in the heavenly realm; and 3) it is false to make a dichotomy between that which is spiritual and that which is real, for the spiritual is real.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Christ's Continual Sacrifice

Gibson, Edgar Charles Sumner. “Hebrews: It Revelation of the Person and Work of Our Lord.” Pages 301-5 in The Official Report of the Church Congress, Held at Wolverhampton, on October 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th, 1887. Edited by C. Dunkley. London: Bembrose, 1887.

Edgar Charles Sumner Gibson (1848-1924), at the time of this address, was Principal of Wells Theological College. He later became Principal of Leeds Clergy School, Vicar of Leeds Parish Church and then finally Bishop of Gloucester in 1905.

In the early church there were two books which viewed this outward and visible world as the shadow of the unseen, heavenly world: Revelation and Hebrews. While the character of the two books is very different, both books give a revelation of the heavenly tabernacle. In Revelation Christ is the eternal sacrifice, the Lamb who was slain; in Hebrews Christ is the eternal high priest seated at the right hand of God.

There are three stages in the life of the Eternal Word: 1) His preexistent life from eternity past; 2) His incarnation on earth; and 3) His glorification subsequent to the ascension. While the first two stages are touched upon, it is the third stage that is the focus of Hebrews. His preexistence is implied in the expressions the “efflugence” of God’s “glory,” and the “exact expression or manifestation” of God’s substance, and by the fact that he was involved in the creation and sustenance of the world. Jesus’ incarnation, which involved temptation, suffering, and death, is the basis for his qualification as priest.

The Old Covenant as mediated through the Law was revealed by angels, inaugurated by Moses, and administered by the Aaronic priests. In the New Covenant all three offices are now united in Christ, whose superiority to all three is demonstrated in turn by the author of Hebrews. The emphasis of Hebrews, however, is on the last of the three, since it is his present, continuous work. “Hence the prominence is given . . . not to the Resurrection . . . but to the Ascension, as marking the point of time when He entered within the veil, and His present unseen work began” (303).

The writer of Hebrews attaches the session with the high priestly work of Christ. While the Levitical priest stands daily continually offering sacrifices, Christ sat down once for all having offered one sacrifice (Heb 10:11-12). His is a royal priesthood (cf. Zech 6:13). Christ’s offering is final, yet if Christ remains a priest he must have something to offer. He enters into the veil through his own blood (9:12). Here is where Gibson makes his most interesting comment:

“It is impossible to escape the conclusion that the writer had before him the conception of our Great High Priest as continuously presenting the blood in the Holy of Holies on high, as Aaron did in the earthly tabernacle. Time is lost sight of altogether. In the sphere of eternal realities it disappears. It is but one continuous action which is spoken of from the Ascension to the Second Advent” (304).

So, whereas Christ’s sacrifice is one, it is also a continuous sacrifice. This is reinforced by the fact that Christ entered once into heaven to appear before God (9:24) “passing through the veil into the unseen, as Aaron into the darkness of the Holy of Holies” (304) but he will appear a second time, apart from sin, to those that await him (9:28). Thus Christ remains hidden behind the veil offering the one, continuous sacrifice of himself, until at which time he will reappear at his parousia.

Even after death the blood was regarded by the Jews as living. Abel’s blood still cried from the ground, but Christ’s blood speaks better than that of Abel (12:24). Blood thus not only represented the death of the victim, it also represents the life of the victim surrendered in death, but now given and consecrated to God. Christ’s sacrifice of Himself is a continuous presentation of His life, as a life that has passed through death, and is now forever an offering and a sacrifice to God. The continual presence of Christ’s blood in heaven becomes the surety for the salvation of humanity whom Christ represents.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Westcott on Hebrews' Use of the OT

Westcott, Brooke Foss. “Epistle to the Hebrews: Its Bearing upon the Study and Use of Holy Scripture, Especially the Old Testament.” Pages 289-94 in The Official Report of the Church Congress, Held at Wolverhampton, on October 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th, 1887. Edited by C. Dunkley. London: Bembrose, 1887.

Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) was a noted biblical scholar who became Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University in 1870 and later was appointed as Bishop of Durham (1890-1901). He was most famous for his text-critical edition of the Greek NT along with Fenton John Anthony Hort. Westcott also wrote a Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (1889).

This essay is found in the record of the proceedings of the congress of the Church of England at Wolverhampton in 1887. Links to both the report of the congress and the commentary on Hebrews can be found under electronic books on the sidebar.

In his introduction Westcott notes that OT quotations are more frequent in Hebrews than any other book of the NT. According to his statistics there are 29 OT quotations, 21 of which are unique to the book. 23 are quoted from the Pentateuch and the Psalms and are largely quoted from the LXX with 4 partial exceptions. The author never identifies the author of the quotations but attributes them to God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit. This mode of citation is unparalleled in comparison to the rest of the NT. There is no distinction between the Word spoken and the Word written; both are the voice of God.

According to Westcott, the epistle contains a “philosophy of revelation,” that is it “discloses a comprehensive outline of the education of the world for Christ, as traced in the books of the Old Covenant” (290). All creation was made with a certain end in view. God “appointed His Son heir of all things, through Whom He also made the worlds” (1:2). The foundation of hope is in Christ’s heirship which rests on the fulfillment of God’s original purpose in creation. Even though sin entered into the world, God renewed his promise beginning with Abraham.

Westcott sees two stages in the preparation of humanity for the Incarnation. The first is the “natural growth of mankind through the unfolding of the life of the nations.” The second is the “special discipline whereby God moulded a people against their nature for Himself.” Melchizedek is the representative of the former while Abraham represents the latter. Melchizedek is the “image of the primitive and normal relation of man to God” while Abraham was the “beginning of a new order based upon the personal call of one out of many” (291). Since the Law was also involved in molding the people of God, the work of Moses is placed alongside the call of Abraham in Hebrews.

The meeting of Melchizedek and Abraham was the “turning-point in the religious history of the world.” Here the past and future come together. The one points to the “primitive communion of God and man which had been practically lost,” while the other anticipates a “fellowship which should hereafter be consummated, without the possibility of loss, through the ministry of a Messianic nation and a personal Messiah.” The Old, while superior, blesses the New, which replaces the Old temporarily. I found this reading of Hebrews curious. It seems to me that Melchizedek should be the representative of the New, since he is a type of Christ who inaugurates the New Covenant which replaces the Old.

Westcott argues that in Hebrews “all that was glorious in the national life of the Messianic people was concentrated . . . in the prophetic portraiture of a personal Messiah” (292). The quotations of chapter 1 reveal how the majesty of the Christ could be read in the OT, while chapter 2 shows that the sufferings of Jesus could also be perceived in the OT. The prophecies of the OT are not merely fulfilled in Christ in the “coincidence of isolate phrases with isolated details in the Gospels.” Rather the quotations are representative of broader ideals “which enable us to see, not only that the Old Testament contains prophecies, but that the Old Testament is one vast prophecy, even as Israel itself” (293).

I found Westcott’s explanation of Hebrews’ use of the tabernacle, rather than the temple imagery, to be fascinating: “The temple . . . was an accommodation to man’s infirmity, and so he goes back to the tabernacle, which in its very structure declared its transitory purpose, and pointed to a spiritual and not a material antitype.” In other words, the use of tabernacle imagery better exemplified the transitory nature of the Old Covenant than the temple did.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hebrews in the Blogosphere

In the roughly last two weeks of June there was some activity on the blogs regarding Hebrews.

Darrell Pursiful has tried his hand at creating traditional liturgies based on the Book of Hebrews. In the first posting he has a greeting, scriptures sentences, and a bidding prayer. In the second he has a call to confession, a confession of sin, a declaration of forgiveness, and a hymn of praise. In the third he has a prayer for illumination, responses to scripture readings, an affirmation of faith, prayers, and the peace. In the fourth he has an offertory sentence and liturgies related to the eucharist. In the fifth he concludes with the responses to the eucharist and a benediction. Basically, he has created a liturgy to cover every aspect of the traditional worship. Clayboy offers a critique of this experiment.

In the blog Joe Versus the Volcano, there is a posting on how Thomas Aquninas mapped out the relationship of the Pauline epistles (including Hebrews) according to the unifying theme of grace.

Finally, Brian LePort gives a brief review of the Tyndale Life Application Bible Study on Hebrews. A second review by Jason can be found here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New Book by Knut Backhaus

Mohr Siebeck has just announced a new book on Hebrews by Knut Backhaus entitled Der sprechende Gott: Gesammelte Studien zum Hebraerbrief. The catalog gives this description of the book:

"This volume includes thirteen articles on the interpretation of Hebrews written between 1993 and 2009. They focus on the concept of God, Christology, the intertextual and figurative modes of generating and developing biblical theology, the relationship between Israel and the church, the history of Christian hope and anxiety and the ethical foundation of Christian sociality. The Epistle to the Hebrews shows the connection between these areas in the first sentence: God's self communication in Israel's history of promise, completed and guaranteed in the Christ drama. Thus the book presents the multifacted image of a pioneer of theology who has often been underestimated by the church and by scholars. Biblically oriented, thoughtful, rhetorically skilled and (contrary to many a prejudice) practically competent, Hebrews explores the 'speaking God' in order to define and deepen Christian identity in the crisis of its liminal period."

In addition to this collection of articles, Backhaus has authored another book on Hebrews: Der Neue Bund und das Werden der Kirche: Die Diatheke-Deutung des Hebraerbriefs im Rahmen der fruhchristlichen Theologiesgeschichte. Neutestamentliche Abhandlungen 29. Munster: Aschendorff, 1996. [It seems I have an autographed copy of this book in my collection]

He was professor of New Testament Exegesis at Paderborn (1994-2003) and since 2003 has been chair of New Testament Exegesis and Biblical Hermeneutics at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat in Munich.