Thursday, February 23, 2017

My Review of Griffiths, Hebrews and Divine Speech

This review originally appeared in Review & Expositor 112.4 (November 2015): 628–29. Thanks to Nancy Declaisse-Walford and Review & Expositor for permission to publish this review here. 
Jonathan I. Griffiths. Hebrews and Divine Speech. Library of New Testament Studies 507. London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2014. xvi +200 pp. $112.00. ISBN 9780567655523.

This monograph, a revision of the author’s doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of Cambridge under the direction of Peter Head, is probably the first full-length exploration in English concerning the motif of divine speech in the Book of Hebrews. It achieves this task through an exegetical analysis of eight key passages, giving particular attention to the significant role that the terms λόγος and ῥῆμα play in the author’s theology of divine speech. The book contains a straightforward structure beginning with an introductory chapter, followed by eight chapters that treat each one of the key passages in sequential order (1:1–4; 2:1–4; 4:2–16; 5:11–6:12; 6:13–7:28; 11:3; 12:18–29; and 13:7, 17, 22), and ending with a concluding chapter. The book is punctuated with two excurses that are rather important for his overall argument.

Chapter 1 presents the purpose, thesis, and methodology of the study. The chapter also gives a brief consideration of the historical and intellectual contexts, the genre, and the structure of Hebrews. Griffiths considers Hebrews to be a homiletical address with an epistolary postscript. He offers his own structural analysis in an excursus that follows the chapter. In chapters 2–8 Griffiths engages in a detailed exegetical examination of all the key passages in Hebrews that touches upon the theme of divine speech. He addresses the critical issues and weighs the interpretive options for each passage. Each chapter ends with a conclusion summarizing the results. His exegesis is guided by three lines of inquiry, whose conclusions are encapsulated in the final chapter.

The first line of inquiry considers whether Hebrews contains a logos Christology. While Hebrews never explicitly identifies Jesus as the logos, it evinces “a discernible and sustained ‘word’ Christology” (p. 162). The term λόγος is never used to identify Jesus; instead it primarily refers to divine speech, but secondarily to the author’s own message. The term ῥῆμα also refers to divine speech, but Griffiths discerns a distinction between the two terms: “while λόγος typically imports the communication of information (particularly the Gospel message), ῥῆμα occurs in contexts where a physical manifestation of God’s speech is in view, particularly as it is expressed in the created order” (p. 164). The second line of inquiry concerns the interplay between divine speech, Christology and soteriology. He concludes that salvation is obtainable through a positive response to the divine word which finds its fullest expression in the person and work of Christ. But an encounter with the divine word may also be an occasion for judgment for those who reject it. The third line of inquiry explores the author’s own view regarding his discourse in relation to divine speech. Griffiths contends that the author identified his own sermon as a form of divine speech. God often uses human agents to communicate his divine message.

The book contains a number of strengths. First, it is written with lucid, flowing prose. Second, it is well-researched as is evidenced by the copious footnotes and fulsome bibliography. Third, the exegetical discussions are sound and generally persuasive. Griffiths does not force the exegesis, even in places where it could support his thesis (for example, he does not discern a logos Christology in 4:12). Fourth, the second excursus provides a useful overview of the term λόγος and its relationship to word/wisdom personalizations in other ancient literature.

I have a couple of quibbles with the book. First, I did not find his proposed structure for Hebrews to be entirely persuasive. Griffiths discerns eleven cycles of a threefold pattern of exempla, explanation/application, and exhortation in Hebrews. His divisions, however, seem to split up blocks of material that naturally go together. For example, some of the more natural divisions of Hebrews would be 2:5–18; 3:1–6; 3:7–19; and 4:1–13. By contrast, Griffiths detects cycles at 2:5–3:3; 3:4–13; 3:14–4:1; and 4:2–11. In my opinion, his proposed structure is the weakest part of the book. Second, Griffiths makes a novel suggestion that 4:12 is alluding to the Ehud story in Judges 3. This is an intriguing suggestion since Ehud announces to the king of Moab that he has a “secret word/thing” or a “word/thing of God” for him (there is a word-play in the Hebrew). The “word” of course is a two-edged sword that he thrusts into the king’s belly. In the Septuagint the phrase for two-edged sword (μάχαιραν δίστομον) is the same one Hebrews uses as a metaphor for the word of God in 4:12. The allusion, however, is unlikely since there is nothing in the context to suggest that the author had this story in mind and an allusion to Ehud would be overly subtle. Finally, I have a suggestion for further exploration. The author of Hebrews often attributes scripture quotations to God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. While Griffiths notes this feature cursorily in his final chapter, it would be profitable to reflect more fully on how scripture as divine speech contributes to an understanding of the author’s theology of divine speech. Despite these minor reservations, I think that Griffiths has made a commendable contribution to Hebrews research.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A New Commentary on Hebrews from a "Pro-Torah" Perspective

I just got in the mail a new two-volume commentary set that would probably not be on most scholars' radar because it is not published with your standard scholarly publishers:

Tim Hegg. Commentary on the Book of Hebrews. Volume 1:Chapters 1–8; Volume 2: Chapters 9–13. Tacoma, WA: Torah Resources, 2016. Pp. 355 + 370. Paper.

Some initial observations:
The commentary is apparently written from a Hebraic perspective, and in particular, from a "pro-Torah" perspective. It takes issue with scholar who claim that Hebrews says that the new covenant has forever replaced the old covenant. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in his exegesis.

The commentary also evinces some scholarship. The author provides a modest bibliography of commentaries used—all in English. All of them are scholarly, but he is missing some key ones. Other works cited are in the modest footnotes used throughout the commentary. The author uses Greek and Hebrew, which are often translated and/or transliterated. The writing style seems accessible enough for non-specialists.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Peeler Reviews Moore, Repetition in Hebrews

Amy Peeler reviews Nicholas Moore's monograph, Repetition in Hebrews: Plurality and Singularity in the Letter to the Hebrews, Its Ancient Context, and the Early Church, for RBL.

(I've just started into the book for a review that I will be doing for BBR)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Riddles of Hebrews

Ken Schenck gives a summary of his paper delivered at the panel discussion on Hebrews at the recent midwest regional of the SBL: The Riddles of Hebrews.

British New Testament Society Call for Papers

The British New Testament Society is calling for papers for its upcoming meeting at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth on 31 August – 2 September 2017. The Hebrews seminar group led by David Moffitt ( has the following directions:

Whilst papers on any topic relating to Hebrews will be considered, the Hebrews Group particularly invites proposals relating to the much debated question of the cosmological assumptions underlying this early Christian text.

Paper proposals are due by the 21st of April.

New Articles and Book Reviews Added

In the days to come I will be adding new links to dozens, if not hundreds, of articles and book reviews. The book reviews tend to be of older works on Hebrews and shorter in length. Nevertheless, hopefully you find something useful. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Friday, February 3, 2017

Hebrews at the Midwest Regional

In a week from today I will be headed up north to South Bend, IN to attend the 2017 Midwest Regional of the SBL at St. Mary's College. Hebrews will be featured in a number of sessions, one of which I am chairing. Session C of the Hebrews & Catholic Epistles section will feature five Hebrews specialists who will be answering the question, "What Is Hebrews?" In session D, Eric Mason will be giving a response to the five papers and then a panel discussion will ensue. Fun should be had by all!

Saturday, February 11

Chair: Jason Whitlark, Baylor University

Andrew W. Higginbotham, HUC–JIR
No Time ... or No Need? Hebrews 11:32 in Light of Tannaitic Parallels and Second Temple Mentions
"While one may understand abbreviating coverage of David, Samuel and the prophets at the end of the “hall of faith” (Heb 11:32), the mention without elaboration there of Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah is curious. While the use of tannaitic materials as parallels to New Testament texts is potentially problematic, the similarities of the traditions found in Tosefta Rosh Hashanah, the Mekhiltot, and Sifre Devarim in their own mentions of the four judges are compelling enough to garner consideration. This paper will examine for the potential of a tradition that lies behind both Hebrews and the tannaitic sources."

Erhard H. Gallos, Andrews University
The Spirits of the Righteous Made Perfect
"Who are “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” in Hebrews 12:23? Are they the immortal, bodiless people in a metaphysical sphere? What is the background for understanding the phrase “the spirits of the righteous made perfect?” Is it Jewish apocalyptic literature, like 1 Enoch 22.3-9; Wis 3:1; Philo Leg. all. 3.74; 3 Enoch 43.1 or is the answer to be found within the book of Hebrews itself? A closer look, however, at the homily of Auctor ad Hebraeos will shed new light into the perennial enigma."

Chair: Eric F. Mason, Judson University
“What Is Hebrews?”—Panel Presentations

Jared C. Calaway, Illinois College
"This paper will illustrate the possibilities and limitations of examining the Epistle to the Hebrews through the lens of spatial theory, spatiotemporal theory, and migration studies."

Amy Peeler, Wheaton College
"The author’s chief concern is to present the ethos (character) of God so that the recipients can trust God and, therefore, endure in their confession."

Clare M. Rothschild, Lewis University
"Hebrews is a deliberate pseudepigraphon—its centuries-long attribution to Paul, an explicit intention of the author."

Ken Schenck, Indiana Wesleyan University
"Hebrews was a sermon sent from a Jewish male of the Pauline circle, someone acquainted with Philo, who was writing to Rome in the aftermath of the destruction of the temple to encourage a largely Gentile audience not to abandon Christian Judaism."

Jason A. Whitlark, Baylor University
"Hebrews is a deliberative speech written to former pagans in Flavian Rome to exhort them to faithfulness in view of God’s promised hope and Christ’s new covenant ministry and to warn them against apostasy, namely defection to the pagan imperial society."

Chair: Brian Small, Grand Rivers (Kentucky) United Methodist Church
“What Is Hebrews?”—Response and Discussion

Response: Eric F. Mason, Judson University

Jared C. Calaway, Illinois College
Amy Peeler, Wheaton College
Clare M. Rothschild, Lewis University
Ken Schenck, Indiana Wesleyan University
Jason A. Whitlark, Baylor University