T. Desmond Alexander, Face to Face with God: A Biblical Theology of Christ as Priest and Mediator

Alexander, T. Desmond. Face to Face with God: A Biblical Theology of Christ as Priest and Mediator. ESBT 6; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2022. 156 pp. Pb; $24.  Link to IVP Academic

T. Desmond Alexander is senior lecturer in biblical studies and director of postgraduate studies at Union Theological College in Belfast. Has contributed the Apollos commentary on Exodus as well as numerous other works on biblical theology, including From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch (fourth edition, Baker 2022) and Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission (with Andreas Köstenberger; second edition 2020).

Jesus Priest Alexander, Face to FaceThis new volume in the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology presents a biblical theology of Christ as Priest and Mediator. What does it mean to speak of Jesus as a priest? Alexander answers this question beginning in Genesis with Adam as a priest in Eden, but the primary text he uses is the book of Hebrews. Hebrews is an exhortation centering on the priesthood of Jesus Christ. How does this portrayal of Jesus as a priest and mediator contribute to a deeper understanding of our relationship with God?

The first three chapters of the book look back to the Old Testament description of the Tabernacle as a model of the heavenly sanctuary, representing God’s holy presence on earth. Here he follows closely the work of John Walton, who argued the cosmos is God’s temple and Eden is an archetypical temple. Alexander thinks the evidence is strong, but he also acknowledges Daniel Block’s caution: sanctuaries resemble Eden rather than the other way around. After all, God never dwelt in the garden of Eden (27).

The Tabernacle is a model of the cosmos and a “portable Mount Sinai,” the place where Israel experienced God’s presence. The innermost part of the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, is the place “where God is.” This anticipates Israel’s experience in Jerusalem in the Temple. The closer one approaches the holy place, the closer one comes to God, therefore, high levels of holiness and consecration are required.

Only the high priest can enter the innermost part of the sanctuary, and then only after fully consecrating themselves. The next four chapters deal with the role of the high priest as an intercessor and mediator of the covenant. Alexander begins with Moses in the tent of meeting (Exodus 33), a story deliberately incorporated into the Golden Calf incident. This highlights the importance of intercession: Moses is the covenant mediator who enters God’s presence because Israel’s covenant relationship is in danger. The Aaronic high priest follows the same pattern. Aaron is a mediator in the book of Numbers, in contrast to the rebellion of the sons of Korah. The Aaronic high priests make daily intercessions in order to maintain Israel’s covenant relationship. The high priest sacrifices for the sins of the people who cannot themselves approach God.

To explain what a priest is, Hebrews looks back to Exodus and Leviticus and the nature of the sanctuary and the Aaronic priesthood. What happens at the tent of meeting? The high priest makes intercession for sinful humanity and reconciliation with God. Turning to Hebrews 7:27, Jesus Christ as priest makes a once for all sacrifice on behalf of the people for the sins of the people. Hebrews also compares Jesus to the mysterious Old Testament priest Melchizedek. “The introduction of Melchizedek enables the author of Hebrews to unite the priestly activity of Jesus with his royal status as the ‘son of David’ and the ‘anointed one/Christ/Messiah’” (106).

The final two chapters of the book deal with Christ as a mediator of a “better covenant.” Beginning with the discussion of the new covenant in Hebrews 8, Alexander describes the new covenant as a better covenant because it ensures the two parties will be reconciled (115). Just as Moses was the mediator of the old covenant (Galatians 3:19-20), Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant. Alexander observes there are no priests in the Christian Church because the church itself is a community described as a royal priesthood. Adam served as a royal priest in the garden and failed; Israel served as a Kingdom of priests and failed. Jesus is the ultimate high priest because he succeeds by reconciling sinful humanity to God through his sacrifice.

Conclusion. Alexander does an excellent job describing the importance of the sanctuary and sacrifices in the Old Testament as well as the role of high priest as intercessor and covenant mediator. He examines these as “shadows of the reality in Christ” through the lens of Hebrews and focuses on that book’s description of Christ as priest, intercessor and mediator of a new covenant. In fact, this book could be considered an introduction to the theology of Hebrews.


Other reviewed commentaries in Essentials of Biblical Theology series:

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the wor

Giveaway Winner: Grant Osborne, Hebrews

Hebrews CommentaryNot as many entries for this one as usual, I blame November for this. Too many distractions (SBL, Thanksgiving, etc.) So the winner of the Grant Osborne’s Verse by Verse commentary on Hebrews is Claire Cannon. Congrats, even though she did not give her favorite Hebrews commentary. If she had, I am sure it would have been F. F. Bruce, his was the runway best of the best from the other commenters.

I reviewed Grant Osborne’s commentary on Hebrews in his Verse-by-Verse series here.

If you didn’t win this book, check back later today for another giveaway.



Book Giveaway: Grant Osborne, Hebrews: Verse by Verse

Book Giveaway: Grant Osborne, Hebrews Verse-by-Verse

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Grant Osborne’s commentary on Hebrews in his Verse-by-Verse series. Thanks to the kindness of Lexham Academic, I have an extra copy of the book to give to a reader of this blog.

Hebrews CommentaryGrant Osborne’s Verse by Verse commentary on Hebrews is the twelfth in the series and the first published after Osborne’s death in November 2018. The commentary was nearly complete when he died, missing only summary sections on chapters 10-13, commentary on the final verses of chapter 13, and the introduction. Osborne requested Lexham allow George Guthrie to finish the commentary. Even though George Guthrie is a well-known Hebrews scholar himself, the commentary belongs to Osborne.

Osborne’s commentary readable for academic readers, yet the layperson will have no trouble working the commentary as they read Hebrews. Like other volumes in this series, Osborne achieves his goal of helping pastors to “faithfully exposit the text in a sermon.”  Go read the rest of the review, I make some comments on Osborne’s views on the

If you want a free copy of this book, leave a comment with your favorite Hebrews commentary and your name and email (if it is not in your profile already) so I can contact you if you win. I will put all the names in a spreadsheet, randomize them, then use a random number generator to select a winner on November 29, 2021 (two weeks from today).

If you don’t win this book, check back for another giveaway starting November 29 (after Thanksgiving).



Grant Osborne, Hebrews: Verse by Verse

Osborne, Grant R. and George H. Guthrie.  Hebrews: Verse by Verse. Osborne New Testament Commentaries; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2021. 360 pp.; Pb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

Grant Osborne’s Verse by Verse commentary on Hebrews is the twelfth in the series and the first published after Osborne’s death in November 2018. The commentary was nearly complete when he died, missing only summary sections on chapters 10- 13, commentary on the final verses of chapter 13, and the introduction. Osborne requested Lexham allow George Guthrie to finish the commentary. As Guthrie explains in the preface, he followed Osborne’s original outline for the book of Hebrews, although he has a slightly different view (see his The Structure of Hebrews: A Textlinguistic Analysis, Brill, 1994; Baker, 1998). Even though George Guthrie is a well-known Hebrews scholar himself, the commentary belongs to Osborne.

Hebrews CommentaryIn terms of its message, Hebrews is unique among the New Testament writings. The author’s interaction with the Old Testament shines a light on early Christology and offers a unique view of Jesus’s sacrificial work. In the introduction, Osborne suggests Hebrews may have been a Jewish synagogue sermon, but the author addresses challenges faced at a critical time in the church’s development. This means the book of Hebrews is pastoral and relevant to the church in the twenty-first century.

Any commentary on Hebrews must deal with authorship of the anonymous letter. Osborne is clear: the author was not Paul (for the usual reasons). He suggests Apollos, although this cannot be known with certainty. We can know the author was well-educated, had synagogue training, had experiences in Jewish exegetical strategies, and was a concerned Christian minister who deeply cared about the congregation.

Regarding destination and date, Osborne argues the book was addressed to Rome (based on Hebrews 13:24, and similarities with 1 Clement). “Hebrews is profoundly Jewish” (7), although the original audience may have included God-fearing gentiles. The recipients of the letter struggled with persevering in the faith (as seen in the warning passages). Based on 5:11-6:3, Osborne dates the book of Hebrews after AD 49 (Claudius’s edict expelling Jews from Rome), but also before Nero’s persecution. Hebrews 12:9 implies the church has not yet suffered death. Osborne concludes “early to mid-60s AD” (9).

With respect to the purpose of Hebrews, he observes Hebrews is a complex and rich theological text, but it is also deeply pastoral. Perseverance in the Christian faith is in direct proportion to the clarity with which the reader understands who Jesus is and what Jesus has accomplished. If the readers really grasp Christ’s identity as the eternal son of God, the creator of the world, and the Lord of all that there is, the one who became incarnate and lived and died for us as our high priest and great sacrifice for sin, it will help an enduring in the Christian life (10).

A major issue for any commentary on Hebrews is the warning passages. Commenting on Hebrews 6:4-8, Osborne suggests members of house churches in Rome are guilty of indifference and low spiritual commitment. The author is afraid they may fall into total spiritual ruin and commit apostasy. The writer does not think they will, but a serious warning is in order. Typically, this passage is interpreted through a theological lens, whether Calvinist or Armenian. Osborne admits he is arguing one side of this debate, but also trying to be open and respectful towards the other side. He does not want to force his opinion on the reader but will provide data so the reader can decide for themselves (117).

He believes this passage teaches there is a final apostasy from which someone cannot possibly be redeemed. Apostasy is the “absolute rejection of Christ as Lord and Savior (121). All five of the blessings listed 6:4b-5 result from a “conversion to Christ” (119) and “define what it means to be a Christian” (121). “Have fallen away” is not a conditional sentence but rather a coordinate clause. The writer is not saying “if they should fall away” but pointing out what will happen when they fall away.

Regarding the warning passage in Hebrews 10:26-27, Osborne points out two factors that make this sin particularly heinous. The apostasy the author has in mind is both continuous and a deliberate, direct defiance of God. The person who has fallen into apostasy “obviously delights in thwarting God and persists,” turning the sin “from an act into a lifestyle” (219). Osborne relates the judgment described in 10:28-29 to someone in Israel who turned from God to worship idols, repudiating the God of Israel. According to Deuteronomy 13:8 and 17:1-6, the one who has turned to idols must be executed without mercy! Since the readers of Hebrews are under the new covenant, the penalty is much more severe, involving eternal, spiritual death (220).

The body of the commentary is divided into fifteen chapters following the outline in the commentary’s introduction (Hebrews 11 is divided between two chapters). The goal of the commentary series is to provide study notes for devotional reading or a small group Bible study. Chapters are brief and do not interact with secondary literature. There is a short bibliography of major commentaries for further study. Osborne’s comments are based on the English text of Hebrews, but he occasionally refers to Greek words (always appearing in transliteration). Uncommon terms appear in bold and are defined in a glossary (midrash, for example).

This makes the commentary readable for both academic readers, yet the layperson will have no trouble reading the commentary as they work their way through the book of Hebrews. Like other volumes in this series, Osborne achieves his goal of helping pastors to “faithfully exposit the text in a sermon.”


The Osborne New Testament Commentaries appear in both print and electronic Logos Library editions. Reviews of previous volumes:


NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Herbert Bateman and Steven Smith, Hebrews (Kerux)

Bateman, IV Herbert W. and Steven W. Smith. Hebrews: A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching . Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2021. 389 pp. Hb. $36.99   Link to Kregel Ministry  

This Hebrews commentary is part of Kregel’s new Kerux commentary series. Projected to be a 46-volume series, seven are available at this time. In the preface to the series, Herb Bateman explains the Kerux commentary series attempts to join experts in biblical exegesis with experienced communicators. The commentary intends to provide solid exegesis, the theological focus and preaching strategies (“big idea,” contemporary connections, and success suggestions for creative presentations). Although the commentary is intended to help a busy pastor, the pastor in mind has a knowledge of both Hebrew and Greek and spends a significant amount of time preparing to preach and teach the word of God. Each volume in this new series will have two authors and exegete and a preacher. In this Hebrews commentary, Herb Bateman IV writes the exegetical portion and Steven W. Smith writes the preaching portions.

Hebrews (Kerux)The commentary begins with fifteen pages summarizing the twenty preaching passages (units, pericopes) for the book of Hebrews. Each unit begins with an exegetical idea, theological focus, and preaching ideas and preaching pointers. These units are as few as four verses (Heb 1:1-4) but sometimes as long as an entire chapter (Heb 11:1-40). Although this is not explicit in the commentary, this section is basically a pastor’s preaching outline for a long series in the book of Hebrews.

In the twenty-eight-page introduction to Hebrews, Herb Bateman begins with his view of the authorship of the book. As is well-known, Hebrews is anonymous and there are a bewildering number of suggestions for who the author might be. Bateman argues passionately for Barnabas as the author of Hebrews. He provides several pieces of evidence and provides a two-page chart listing other advocates for Barnabas as the author of the book (from Tertullian in the third century to Albert Vanhoye in 2015). Throughout the introduction, he refers to Barnabas as the author.

The book of Hebrews is a “sermonic-midrash-like letter” written to Jewish followers of Jesus who lived in Rome either just before Nero’s persecutions in A. D. 64 or just before the Jewish war with Rome began in A.D. 66. Given his view on the date for the book of Hebrews, Bateman provides a brief sketch of the history of Jews in Rome.

A common view on the occasion for the writing of Hebrews is the danger of Jewish Christians returning to Judaism to avoid this occasion. For Bateman, the political instability in the Roman Empire and Judea may have caused some Jewish Christians to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. The book therefore argues Jesus is, in fact, the divine son of God, who has an eternal priesthood and who inaugurated God’s new covenant.

Each unit in the commentary’s body begins with a one-page summary of this section. This begins with a single brief sentence summarizing the exegetical idea, the theological focus, and the preaching idea for the unit. Following these brief notes are two paragraphs of suggestions for taking the exegesis and making it “work” in contemporary preaching. Exposition is verse by verse, often phrase by phrase. Bateman bases his exegesis on the Greek text. Given the constraints of the format of the commentary, Bateman’s exegesis is excellent (as expected from his Epistles of John and Jude commentaries).

Following the exegesis is a brief section entitled preaching ideas. This begins with a brief exegetical and theological synthesis and a repetition of the preaching idea. The next section is “contemporary connections” and asks questions like, “What does it mean?” “Is it true?” “Now what?” Finally, there is a section entitled creativity in presentation. Here, Smith suggests connections to popular cultural artifacts such as films, TV, or contemporary news stories. Following the preaching ideas are a few discussion questions and occasionally a further reading section offering bibliography for the unit. It is unclear why this further reading section does not appear in every section. Given the goals stated for the commentary, it is surprising that the preaching section is so brief. One might have expected a balance between exegesis and homiletics, but that is not the case.

Bateman supplements the commentary with a series of extremely helpful sidebars which deal with issues of historical background or exegetical detail. For example, there are sidebars on the Jewish theology of rest, the theology of Jewish tithes, and the Qumran document Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4Q400-407). There is a long excursus of Psalms 2 in the context of Hebrews 1. There are several sidebars defining terms or key people, such as “Who was Philo?” “Who was Ben Sira?” Sidebars include detailed word studies of key Greek terms, and occasionally comments on the syntactical structure of Greek verses. In addition to sidebars, there are a handful of notes entitled “translation analysis,” “textual analysis” and “lexical analysis” scattered throughout the book. These are printed slightly differently than the regular sidebars, although it is difficult to see any difference in the content. I noticed that the number of sidebars diminishes later in the commentary. There are only seven sidebars for Hebrews 10-13, although early in the commentary there seven in the first chapter which on;y covers four verses (Heb 1:1-4)

The commentary includes many charts scattered throughout the volume, offering a convenient summary of key ideas. Bateman loves charts! (See my review of Charts on the Book of Hebrews, Kregel Academic, 2012). On at least one occasion, he cites his earlier book and the charts for Hebrews 11 are also similar to the Chartbook. This is not a problem, of course. Looking back at that book, I notice Bateman collects evidence for several of the potential candidates for the authorship of Hebrews but in the brief introduction to this commentary; he can only advocate for his preference (Barnabas).

Conclusion. When I first saw volumes of this commentary series, I was reminded of the venerable Pulpit Commentary. The goals are similar: to provide solid exegesis from leading scholars and teaching ideas for pastors. This volume of the Kerux series achieves the goal of solid exposition of the text and it does offer help for busy pastors preparing to teach Hebrews from the pulpit, Sunday School classes or small group setting.


NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Other volumes reviewed in this series: