In Hebrews 11 the writer explained what he meant by faith, and then gave numerous examples of faith.  Based on these examples, Hebrews 12:1 exhorts the reader to “run the race marked out for us.”  This is possible because we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses.” They are spectators at a sports event, watching present believers “run the race.” But more than that, they are also people who have already run the race and know what must be done in order to win the race.

Lay AsideSince we have this great crowd of witnesses, the writer urges his readers to run the race with perseverance. There are two ways in which the runner might not finish the race – by being hindered or entangled.  “Everything that hinders…” refers to weight or bulk. A runner in training would want to lose every extra pound that might hinder then from winning the race. Greek athletes competed naked, just as modern runners will wear very little clothing and shoes designed to be as lightweight as possible.

But the Christian is not simply training to compete, but is running the race already. If this is the case, there is an urgency to the writer’s encouragement to dispense with the things we do not need to run the race properly.

He calls the things which slow us down “the sin that so easily entangles.” Easily entangles is a single word and is only used here in the New Testament. The word has the sense of something which is tight or constricting. If the weight of life hindered us, sin can so entangle us that running the race is no longer possible. Think of a runner that instead of a 100 pound bag of potatoes has his shoes laces tied together.  They cannot walk, let alone run the race!

In order to run the race, the writer also tells his readers to “throw off” hindrances and sin. The word here is used most often for taking off one’s clothes, an apt metaphor here since runners will try to wear as little clothing as possible. The writer is saying if you are going to run the race, run it in the proper equipment.  Imagine that marathon runner dressed in the clothes used for Arctic exploration, a huge parka, heavy gloves, snow shoes, goggles, etc. He will not compete well because he is entangled with things that he does not need, he needs to throw all that stuff off and compete in running shorts. Anything that slows you down should be tossed.

marathon-runnerThe writer says that the race is “marked out for us.” This is not a sprint, this is a race that has a course marked out, a long race like a marathon. Sprinters, though very athletic, do not usually run in marathons.  There are too many differences between sprinting and marathons that people don’t usually excel at both. (Before I get hate mail from people who run in decathlons, I get it, work with my metaphor. Yes you are special.)

Finally, the writer tells us to run with perseverance. This fits the metaphor of a marathon better than a sprint.  A sprint is a short distance, and the runner gives it all he has, in 5 seconds it’s over. Not much perseverance. The marathon runner runs much slower, he is much more methodical about how he runs, pacing himself so he can finish the race.  As the race progresses, it takes determination to keep going.  Even the best runners have to be mentally fit to run the race all the way, they have to be running with the goal of finishing, and finishing requires perseverance.

If the Christian life is like competing in a marathon, what are other ways Hebrews 12 (or the whole book of Hebrews) exhorts the reader to “compete”?

The writer of Hebrews has argued throughout the book that various elements of the Old Covenant were shadows or hints at the reality fully realized in Jesus Christ. Perhaps the most important of these comparisons is the assertion in chapter 9 that the Day of Atonement foreshadowed the work of Christ. Only some of the aspects of the Day of Atonement are important for the comparison, others are not mentioned. Entry into the Holy of Holies to make atonement is featured, but some of the other rituals are omitted.

Passover LambThe Tabernacle Jesus entered was not the earthly one, but rather the real heavenly one. This may not mean that someplace in heaven is a “perfect” tabernacle, physically similar to the tabernacle of the Old Testament.  The tabernacle servers as a metaphor for the separateness of God in heaven. God is within the holy of holies and only those who are without sin may approach his altar. This does not mean Jesus had more work to do after his death on the cross in order to complete salvation. The cross is the provision of blood in the holy place and is completely sufficient for salvation. The writer of Hebrews nowhere implies Jesus had to perform some ritual in heaven to complete the atonement.

Jesus can be the perfect sacrifice because he is “unblemished.” This is a deliberate allusion to the Old Testament law which required a worshiper to bring a lamb from the flock which was “unblemished” or “without defect.” The animal to be sacrificed was to be the best member of the flock, not a sick, unhealthy animal that was not of any value. The sacrifices were never really perfect since there was not truly perfect lamb or goat. It was only in the person of Jesus that there was a possibility of perfection because he was the God-Man, perfectly unified and perfectly fulfilling all of the law.

As the perfect Sacrifice, Christ can provide a ransom for sin committed under the first covenant (9:15).  Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, the one that administers the new salvation.  The High Priest was the mediator of the Old Covenant, administering salvation to the people.

The concept of a “ransom” is introduced here for the first time in Hebrews. “Ransom” has a different meaning in modern English that perhaps was intended by the Greek word.  A ransom is a price paid to a criminal to get them to release a person they have kidnaped.  There might be other connotations of ransom, but we tend to think forest of a bad guy getting paid off, and somehow true justice is not served.

The Greek here does not have that connotation at all.  This is the concept of buying a slave out of bondage, “to release or set free, with the implied analogy to the process of freeing a slave. This is the concept of redemption in the New Testament, God buying us out of the slave market of sin and giving us a new master, himself.  It is wrong to think of the death of Jesus as a payment to Satan in order to “ransom” us back to God.

In Hebrews, the ransom for sin is the shedding of blood (9:16-22). The often quoted verse “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” is based on a common principle in the Old Testament of God requires the shedding of blood, a death, for sin.  This is not because God is some maniac in heaven that demands death and enjoys killing.  The only penalty for sin is death.  One single sin does spoil the whole soul, and the sinner must die.

The “shedding of blood” is actually the mercy of God, allowing a substitute in our place.  Even in the garden, Adam and Eve were covered with animal skins after the first sin.  There was a shedding of blood to cover their sins.  This principle runs through scripture, leading up to the cross, which was a “once for all” shedding of blood.

Hebrews 6:4-6 says that it is impossible for those who have “once been enlightened” to be restored to repentance if they should fall away. The key to understanding this verse is the word “fall away.” The verb παραπίπτω refers to someone who has not followed through on a commitment. It only appears here in the New Testament and is rare in the LXX, occurring 5 times in Ezekiel where it refers to the apostasy of Judah that led to the exile. This verb is cognate to παράπτωμα, the noun Paul uses to describe Adam’s sin in Romans 5:15. There writer does not have in mind some small offense against God, but rather a conscious defection from the truth.

Like the verbs used to describe salvation, this verb points to a decisive moment when an individual, having experienced “such a great salvation as this” stopped “being enlightened.”  The person in view has moved from the light back into the darkness, intentionally. Louw and Nida 34.26 gloss the verb as “to abandon a former relationship or association, or to dissociate (a type of reversal of beginning to associate).”  The word appears to focus on the initial disassociation, a reversal of the process of joining a group.

Reject ChristFor example: there have been several congressmen who have “switched parties” in the last few years.  Arlen Specter for example switched parties in 1965, from the Democratic party to the Republican party, and in then in 2009 switched back. In fact, since 1890 there have been 21 senators who switched parties (according to the US Senate website). What do you suppose the chances of someone that switched parties and backed the opponent’s candidacy being accepted unconditionally back into the old party?  Likely it is impossible that someone who has once been an enlightened member of “our party” and has gone over to the “enemy” should return to their original party.  Whatever the motive, their life as a Democrat or Republican is over; they will never completely win the trust of their party back.

The actions of the person in view in Hebrews 6 are more than simply quitting a church or shifting to another (more liberal) denomination. In fact, in the context of the first century Roman world, it is more than ceasing to believe in God or the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a conscious decision to turn ones back on God at a time of persecution. They are “switching sides” in order to avoid persecution as Christians.  Given the context of Rome in the first century, the possibility of persecution makes this sort of reversal much easier to understand.  This is not someone that is upset at God for their own miserable life, but a person that is standing before a man that can take his life and recanting, even perhaps causing the death of other believers by his reversal.

The death of Jesus is set before us as a pattern: he is not asking us to do anything he did not. The writer of Hebrews is clear that Jesus died on a cross for the sins of the world.  For a person to participate in the blessings of God and recant under the pain of death is to not live up to the calling of Christ.

If this is the case, the writer is offering a strong encouragement to “suffer well” when persecution comes. This is immediately applicable in many parts of the world today, but perhaps not in the West – how should western readers of Hebrews use this text?

Hebrews 6:4-12 is one of the difficult in the Bible because it deals with a very sensitive problem: If someone recants their faith and completely turns their back on God, can they still be “saved”?  It does not take very long to find a website attributing the doctrine of Eternal Security (Perseverance of the Saints) to be a doctrine hatched in the pit of Hell, or another website declaring that Eternal Security is the central theme of God’s gospel of Grace.

CalvinPart of the emotionalism of this issue is that everybody knows someone who attended church, was involved in the ministry of the church, gave of their money and time, and may have even publicly claimed to be a believer.  But now, for whatever reason, they have walked as far from God as they can get, denying that they were even saved.  Some pastors have been caught in sin and now have left the ministry, perhaps even denying God What about them?  Were they “saved”? Are they now “saved” even if they are in a state of denial?

Presuppositions about theology often drive interpretations about this passage. Once we start talking about heavy doctrines like election, predestination, and preservation of the saints people tend to get antsy. To make a very long theological story short, Arminians tend to believe that a person can lose their salvation if they do not “persevere until the end” while the Calvinists tend to believe that a person who is truly saved will always be saved, regardless of any post-conversion behavior.  There is a lot behind those two historic positions, in fact, they are logical conclusions drawn from some presuppositions in their respective views of salvation.

ArminianA real problem for reading this text is that our personal experience clouds our thinking.  We all know someone that seemed saved, but they now appear to have walked away from their faith.  Alternatively, we all know at least one prodigal son who has returned to the father and repented of their time during which they appear to have rejected the faith.  These stories are rather emotional since these are real people whom we love.

While both sides of this “once saved always saved” discussion must deal with this passage, that is not exactly what the author of Hebrews has in mind.  He does not address church discipline or post-reformation theology.  In fact, he is neither Calvinist nor Arminian, nor is he a holiness preacher or a post-Enlightenment liberal. To a large extent our post-Reformation questions might obscure what the writer of Hebrews was trying to communicate to his original readers.

The writer of Hebrews is a Jewish Christian addressing other Jewish Christians who are about to endure a time of terrible persecution.  Does the writer of Hebrews consider it possible that his readers could deny their faith publicly, declare that they are faithful Jews, and still consider themselves Christians in secret?

Is it possible to check our Reformation Theology at the door before reading Hebrews? Or is that something we should even attempt?

JTILogos is has something a little different for their Free Book of the Month promotion. Partnering with Eisenbrauns, Logos is offering the first two issue of the Journal of Theological Interpretation for free. The Journal began publication in 2007 and is edited by Joel B. Green. It contains a wide variety of articles Theological interpretation of Scripture has been a growing movement in scholarship in recent years. This hermenutical method intentionally includes “the theological and ecclesial location of biblical interpretation, the significance of canon and creed for biblical hermeneutics, the historical reception of biblical texts, and other more pointedly theological interests. How might we engage interpretively with the Christian Scriptures so as to hear and attend to God’s voice? The Journal of Theological Interpretation aims to serve these agendas.” The articles in the first volume include:

Volume 1.1 (2007)

  • Joel B. Green, The (Re)Turn to Theology
  • Richard B. Hays, Reading The Bible With Eyes Of Faith: The Practice Of Theological Exegesis
  • Murray Rae, Texts In Context: Scripture In The Divine Economy
  • Michael A. Rynkiewich, Mission, Hermeneutics, And The Local Church
  • Christine Helmer, Trust And The Spirit: The Canon’S Anticipated Unity
  • R. W. L. Moberly, Christ In All The Scriptures? The Challenge Of Reading The Old Testament As Christian Scripture
  • D. Brent Laytham, Interpretation On The Way To Emmaus: Jesus Performs His Story
  • Michael J. Gorman, A “Seamless Garment” Approach To Biblical Interpretation?

Volume 1.2 (2007)

  • Angus Paddison, P. T. Forsyth, Scripture, And The Crisis Of The Gospel
  • Michael J. Gorman, “Although/Because He Was In The Form Of God”: The Theological Significance Of Paul’S Master Story (Phil 2:6–11)
  • Andy Johnson, The “New Creation,” The Crucified And Risen Christ, And The Temple: A Pauline Audience For Mark
  • Joseph L. Mangina, Apocalypticizing Dogmatics: Karl Barth’s Reading Of The Book Of Revelation
  • Charles J. Scalise, The Hermeneutical Circle Of Christian Community: Biblical, Theological, And Practical Dimensions Of The Unity Of Scripture
  • Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Review Article: Reading With The Subject: A Conversation With Angus Paddison
  • Steven J. Koskie, Review Article: Seeking Comment: The Commentary And The Bible As Christian Scripture

As you can see, there are some valuable articles in these first two issues of JTI. You can also enter a contest to win all twelve issues of the Journal of Theological Interpretation (six years, 2007-2012). The Journal is one of the many resources included in Logos Cloud and the premium level. Here is my review Logos Cloud in case you missed it.

In addition to the Free Book of the Month, for only $1.99. you may purchase Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology by John H. Walton. In the first half of the book Walton does a comparative studies ancient Near Eastern cosmologies and then uses that as a lens to read Genesis 1:1–2:4, concluding the the creation story uses a “functional cosmology” which evokes temple ideology.

Both of these books are excellent additions to your Logos library, so make sure to add them to your library before the end of the month.

Hahn Our FatherIn addition to the Logos Free book, two other free books are on offer. Noet is the division of Faithlife focusing on classics; this month they are offering Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides and his The Eight Chapters of Maimonides on Ethics  for only 99 cents. Verbum is offering Scott Hahn’s Understanding “Our Father”: Biblical Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer for free and his Scripture Matters: Essays on Reading the Bible from the Heart of the Church for 99 cents. Both books by Hahn are worth reading, I am glad to see them as a part of this promotion!

Verbum is part of the Faithlife family of companies, focusing on Catholic resources. Both Noet and Verbum use your same Faithlife account, so these books are available to anyone with a Faithlife / Logos username and password.

Open BibleThe context of the notoriously difficult “falling away” passing in Hebrews 6:4 is critically important.  In Hebrews 6:1-3 the author of Hebrews implies his readers are immature and have failed to grow at an expected pace. They need to “build again” on the foundation and re-learn the basics of the faith. In all of the Jewish Christian literature, there is a struggle to integration Judaism and Christianity. How much of the “old covenant” ought to be brought over to the new faith?  Hebrews 6:1-3 lists six foundational items (three pairs), all of which fit into the Jewish Christian world of the original authors, but need to be considered in the light of the New Covenant.

Repentance from Sin. Both Peter (Acts 2:38) and Paul (Acts 17:30-31, 26:20) preach repentance from sin in the book of Acts. Although turning to God is turning away from sin, the phrase “acts which lead to death” is unique to Hebrews 6:1. It is similar to James 2:17, “dead faith.” The original readers of Hebrews were not pagans converted from a sinful life, but faithful Jews who may have been (from an Old Covenant perspective), not all that sinful. The emphasis is on unproductive works vs. faith. So what exactly needs to be confessed and repented of when one comes to Christ? Perhaps the readers are overly concerned with outlining the exact nature of that repentance rather than repenting and then maturing!

Faith in God. Perhaps this is simply the natural partner of “works which lead to death,” the active sense of repentance. Since the audience is Jewish, it is unlikely that they worshiped idols.  The acts that lead to death and faith in God have to do with their participation in salvation, two sides of the same coin.

Instruction on Baptisms. The word “teaching” here may be an introduction to the final four items since they are all under the heading of “teaching.” This is a fairly difficult exegetical problem; the noun didach'” was used at the end of the first century of a body of instruction on these sorts of things (Didache, for example). That the noun for baptism is plural is a strong indication the readers were still practicing Jewish ceremonial washings in mikvoth.  If this is so, then either this is evidence Jews in Rome practiced ritual purity at a much higher level than we might have thought, or that the book of Hebrews was sent to Jerusalem, where there is clear evidence of mikvoth and ritual washing. In either event, plural “baptisms” likely does not refer to Christian baptism as we understand it, an “initiation ritual.”

Laying on of Hands. Like baptisms, it is tempting to read this in terms of later Christian practice, but “laying on of hands” was practiced in Judaism before it was taken over by Christians (Gen 48:14, Num 27:15-23, Deut 34:9). Since this is paired with baptisms, it is possible that laying on of hands was associated with the beginning of Christian life in the Jewish churches (Cf. Acts 8:16-17, 19:5-7).

Resurrection of the Dead. The final pair in this list are not practices but doctrines which were subject to strong (and perhaps emotional) debates among first century Jews.  One only needs to recall the division between Sadducees and Pharisees to know that the resurrection was a controversial issue (both for Jesus, Mt 22:23-33) and Paul, Acts 23:6).

Eternal Judgment.  A related theological problem in first century Judaism was the final judgment.  If there is a resurrection in the future, what will happen to those who are raised from the dead and condemned?  Is there “eternal torment”?  There are a number of texts from the Second Temple period which describe eternal torment of the unrighteous dead.  2 Enoch and 3 Enoch, for example, seem to indicate that at least some Jews of the first century did think that the dead would face eternal (and sometimes ironic) punishment.

The author does not say these “foundational items” are unimportant, but that these ought to be settled by now to that the readers are ready to move on to more mature doctrines. The “deeper” things in this case is next section of Hebrews, the teaching on Melchizedek and the Tabernacle.  The readers are fretting over foundational issues (who is in/out, details of theology which are not critical), and they are therefore unprepared for the difficulty of the argument which he is about to make.

But more important for the writer of Hebrews, the readers are unprepared for the possibility of persecution. If they have not progressed beyond the first things of the faith, will they be willing and able to endure physical persecution in the near future? Are the mature enough to continue in their faith in Jesus?

It is fairly easy to draw some analogies to Christian maturity in the western church. Although there are some large and wealthy churches, it is possible most members of those congregations have not moved much beyond the basics (an initiation ritual and when to stand for worship, basic teachings or what political party to support). Just as for the audience of Hebrews, when persecution comes, these will not be enough to ensure loyalty to Jesus Christ.

 

 

Carnival ThangTim Bulkeley posted the heavily footnoted Biblical Studies Carnival at SansBlogue. He used some new and interesting categories to cover the best and brightest biblical and theological studies blog posts in the first month of 2016. Tim has a nice round-up of reactions to the SBL decision to move Review of Biblical Literature behind a pay-wall (or, make it for members only). Head over to SansBlogue and click all the links, leave a comment thanking Tim for his hard work.

In other biblio-blogging news, Jim West’s Alt-Carnival is more of a travel-blog this month. In case you missed it, Jim was teaching in Hong Kong in January, so he is sharing some of his photos of his time there.  Next month he promises a “Carnival of Errors,” the worst of the blogs, “the most egregiously inaccurate, the most dilettantish.”

As always, Brian Small has a great collection of Hebrews Highlights for the month. There were quite a few posts on Hebrews in January (including many I posted here Reading Acts).  If you use FlipBoard to read blogs, consider following my Biblical Studies magazine.

The next few carnivals will be:

I have included a link to the site hosting as well as a twitter account so you can nominate posts during the month by sending them directly to the host. If you do not have a twitter account, contact the host via their blog.

As always I am looking for volunteers for the rest of the year (after June). Carnivals are a great way to attract attention to your site if you are new blogger, but more importantly it gives you a chance to highlight the best and the brightest in the world of BibliBlogs. Please email me  (plong42 at gmail.com) or direct message on Twitter (@plong42). You can also leave a comment here with your contact info and I will get back to you.

 

Hebrews 8-9 are theologically more controversial than the rest of Hebrews because it appears the writer of Hebrews says the Jewish people have been replaced by the Church. The New Covenant has replaced the Old just as Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is superior to the old sacrifice in the Temple. As such, chapters 8 and 9 have been used to teach that the Jewish people are no longer God’s people and the church replaces them completely. This would therefore imply that any promises made to Israel in the Hebrew Bible are either cancelled or to be reinterpreted as applying to the Church.

Star CrossThe theological term for this is supersessionism, the view that church supersedes the Jews as the people of God. For some types of theology, the idea that the Jews were replaced by the Church is an assumption, the proof for which is found in Hebrews, especially chapters 8-9. This historic view argues the church is a new Israel and the promises of the Hebrew Bible are fulfilled in the church, often in a spiritual sense.

For example, Jeremiah 31 seems to indicate that at some point in the future, the city of Jerusalem would be rebuilt. Possibly this is fulfilled when some Jews return after the exile, but it may point to a future restoration of the Jews as well. But since this prediction is in the context of the New Covenant, older writers therefore re-interpreted spiritually.

The “wall great and high” is of no earthly material; the extension is not one of yards on miles, but of nations and ages; the consecration of the unclean places is but typical of the regenerative force of Christianity, which reclaims the moral wastes of the world, and purifies the carnal affections and sinful tendencies of human nature; and no material city could ever “stand for aye.” Only the kingdom and Church of Christ could satisfy the conditions of such a prophecy. A. F. Muir, in The Pulpit Commentary on Jeremiah 2:28.

However, when one reads Hebrews without the modern church in mind, the book does not argue Israel has been replaced and all, but that the promises made to Israel, including the New Covenant, have their fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah. Here I am following Richard Hays (“We Have No Lasting City,” pages 151-173 in The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009). Hays looks back at his work on Hebrews which indicates the book is supersessionist, but he then shows how a proper reading of Hebrews will show the book is not actually teaching the Christian Church has replaced Israel.

In fact, to put the question this way is a modern theological question which Hebrews does not really address. The writer is interested in demonstrating a proper understanding of the Hebrew Bible in the light of Jesus’ work on the cross will result in Christian faith. And that faith, according to the writer of Hebrews, is a kind of natural development out of Judaism to something new and different.

Although this is similar to Paul (the church is not new Israel but something new entirely), the problem of the status of the Gentile in the present age is absent from the book of Hebrews. Although this is a common theme in the Pauline letters, is entirely absent in this book since the writer is concerned with the status of Jewish believers in Christ.

Like human priests, Christ was divinely appointed to his office (5:5-6). The writer will deal with his points in reverse order, dealing first with the appointment of Jesus to the office of High Priest. The writer cites two Psalms which he already used in the first chapter.  The first quote is from Psalm 2:7, and emphasizes the fact that God called Jesus to the role of High Priest as he called him his Son. The second quote is from Psalm 110, and calls Jesus a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek, the mysterious “priest of the most high God” in Genesis 14.

Melchizedek was a priest of the true God in Palestine at the time of Abraham, nothing is known of him from scripture other than Abraham’s tithe after the victory that liberated Sodom and his nephew Lot. More will be said about Melchizedek in chapter 7, for now it is sufficient to say that Melchizedek is a true priest of God, before the Law, and for that reason Christ can be said to be a true priest even though he is not directly in the priestly line.

Because Christ fully human, the writer of Hebrews says he was able to fully sympathize with our struggles (5:7-10).  The humanity of Christ was mentioned in an earlier passage, making him a sympathetic high priest but now that humanity is shown to be the same humanity as ours because he submitted to the father.

Jesus PassionIn fact, Jesus “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”  “Offered” is the same word as the function of the high priest in verse one, the offering of sacrifices.  Here it is “prayers and petitions. This verse is may related to the prayers in the garden, when Jesus prayed to the Lord concerning the death he was about to endure.

Since the wording is similar to Psalm 22:24, some think that this refers to the words spoken on the Cross.  This fits better with the “loud cries” and tears, since the prayers in the Garden were not reported in this way.

Several theological issues converge here, concerning Jesus’ reason for even asking God to take the cup from his hand, and whether or not he really meant to have his death postponed. Many have pointed out that Jesus was probably praying for strength to endure the tortures awaiting him before the Cross. Whatever the case, it is also important to understand that Jesus was submitting himself to the will of God, just as every other human being must do, he fervently prayed that God’s will be done, not his own will; he made his will conform to that of the Father.

It is this submission to the will of God the writer of Hebrews wants to call to our attention. Jesus was “like us” to the point that he cried out to God. But rather than complaining about his suffering or begging for mercy, he humbly submitted to his Father’s will in all things.

The book of Hebrews emphasizes the priesthood of Jesus more than any other book in the New Testament. In fact, much of the argument of Hebrews 5-10 is based on Jesus as the High Priest. Two words of caution before discussing Jesus as a High Priest.

high priestFirst, the “high priesthood of Jesus” is based on the ideal form of priest found in the Hebrew Bible, not in the high priesthood as it actually functioned in the first century.  By the first century, the High Priest more a political figure that a religious leader.  Control of the temple and the priesthood gave the office a great deal of power, and this power usually led to great wealth. It is unlikely, however, that the writer of Hebrews has this sort of power in mind.  He consistently looks to the idea image (“the shadow”) from the Hebrew Bible in order to describe the “substance” of Jesus.

By way of analogy, we could study the office of president of the United States as it is described in the constitution, or by the way various presidents have functioned as president over the more than two centuries.  James Buchanan, for example, usually is ranked at the bottom of the list of presidents by historians, mostly for his handling of the issues which erupted into the Civil War. We would not, therefore, want to describe the office of president using Buchanan as our example!

In the same way, the high priests who held office in the first century were politically motivated and not particularly good examples of the way a priest ought to behave in his office. What is remarkable is that the book of Hebrews does not condemn the current High Priest as corrupt, nor does he say anything negative about the worship of the Temple other than it has been completed in Jesus.

Second, the word “priest” has connotations in English which are not present in the function of a Jewish priest.  We are not describing a Catholic or Orthodox priest, but rather the Jewish priest.  This modern sense of the word is not particularly helpful in understanding the priesthood in the Hebrew Bible.  The priest in the Jewish Temple was the mediator between God and man. As such, the office of priest foreshadowed the ministry of Jesus who was provides access to the throne of God for those who have entered into new life through him.

But Jesus is not just the High Priest, but the “great High Priest.” This was a title give to the High Priest Simon in 1 Maccabees (13:42, 14:27). This Simon was one of the founders of the Hasmonean dynasty and the first to take the title of both King and Great High Priest. His first year in power was “the yoke of the Gentiles was removed from Israel” (c. 142 B.C., 1 Macc 13:41). This combination of priest and king was an attempt to consolidate power into the one “office” in Maccabean revival of the kingdom in Judah.

How does the author of Hebrews distinguish Jesus as a high priest from the politically powerful priests of the first century?

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About Me

Phillip Long

Phillip Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time. Author of Jesus the Bridegroom(Wipf & Stock 2014).

My book Jesus the Bridegroom is now available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle

ACI Profile for Phillip J. Long

Christian Theology

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