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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.

The 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”?

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.

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.

 

 

In my last post on Hebrews I looked at Hebrews 4 as a part of the author’s argument that Jesus is superior to Moses and the priesthood of the Hebrew Bible.  This is the theme which will continue through chapter 10.  In fact the book of Hebrews is interested in Jesus as a priest more than any other book in the New Testament.  Jesus is called a priest and high priest only in this letter.  Since the argument of the next few chapters is based on the idea that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, it is critically important to understand what these offices meant in the first century.

Two words of caution here.  First, the high priesthood of Jesus is based on the ideal forms found in the Bible, not in the high priesthood as it actually functioned in the first century.  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.

Secondly, 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.

The original intention of a priest in the Hebrew Bible was to be an intermediary between God and Man.  The High Priest chosen to enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement.  He represented the nation and did his duty on that Day on behalf of the nation.  If the High Priest performed his function right, then the sin of the nation was covered.  Since he was a fallible human, there was always the possibility that the atonement was imperfect.

Not so with Jesus as the ultimate High Priest.  He is the perfect intermediary between God and man because (Hebrews argues) he was true human – untainted by sin.  Therefore he preformed his duties in the real sanctuary properly, providing real atonement to the whole world, once and for all!

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.

Unfortunately the image of Jesus as a faithful high priest is presented in popular preaching and teaching only as a personal encouragement, something like “Jesus suffered this way too so stop complaining.” The theologically rich image of Jesus as a high priest should not be so quickly turned into pep-talk for dealing with normal daily stress. Does the writer of Hebrews think the image of Jesus as a High Priest should be used like this?

After proving that Jesus is superior to the angels in Hebrews 1-2, the writer moves to his second argument, that Jesus is superior to Moses.  Why move from angels to Moses? For most modern readers, angels are superior to humans, so if Jesus is superior to angels, he would obviously be superior to Moses. But it is important to read this argument in the context of first century Jewish Christianity.  For Jews living in the Second Temple period, Moses was the most significant person in salvation history. In Sirach (about 200 B.C.), Moses is described as equal to the “holy ones” or even God himself (as the Hebrew text of Sirach can be translated):

Sirach 45:1-2 …and was beloved by God and people, Moses, whose memory is blessed. He made him equal in glory to the holy ones, and made him great, to the terror of his enemies.

In addition, messianic hopes in the first century sometimes focused on the coming of a prophet like Moses. Hope for a “return of Moses” as messiah was so strong that at least one messianic pretender stopped the Jordan in a re-enactment of the crossing of the Red Sea. Matthew’s gospel is designed to highlight Jesus as a new Moses who goes up on the mountain and gives the people the Law (the Sermon on the Mount).

Charlton-Heston-as-MosesThe writer of Hebrews might be trying to counter an objection to the first two chapters of Hebrews: Jesus might be superior to the angels, but the ultimate servant of God was Moses, who gave the Law. In the context of the first century, then, our author will argue that Jesus is a superior to even Moses as a servant of God.  Ultimately, this will lead to the conclusion that the covenant which Jesus made (the New Covenant) is superior to that of the Old Covenant made by Moses.  In verse two Moses is compared to Jesus, then he is subordinated to Jesus (verse 3) and by verse 5 he is contrasted to Jesus, negatively.

The author of Hebrews makes a “lesser to greater” type of argument. If Moses was faithful in God’s household in the previous age, how is Jesus be superior to him in the present age? First, Jesus is superior because he is the builder of the house.  Here the writer is making the point that Jesus is God, and because God is the designer of the administration that Moses presided over, he is therefore superior to him.

Second, Moses is a servant of the house, but Jesus is the son of the Builder, and therefore heir to the administration himself.  He is of a different class that Moses, beyond servant.  This takes into consideration the first argument of the book, that the angels were servants, but Jesus is the son.  Moses is a servant, but the word here is unique in the New Testament to Moses.  It is not a slave, but an “attendant,” one who “renders devoted service” (BDAG). The LXX uses the word for Moses in Num 12:7 (as well as Exod 4:10 and 14:31). Moses was a servant of the first class, but he is still a servant of Jesus.

How does the author of Hebrews develop this Moses/Jesus typology? Does he intentionally denigrate Moses or the Law when he argues Jesus is superior?

 

 

One of the problems with reading Hebrews is identifying the date and recipient of the letter. I am convinced the recipients were in Rome, living just before the Neroian persecutions.  I think the standard arguments for this position are solid, although I realize there are other possibilities.   Karen Jobes (Letters to the Church) argues the book does not capitalize on the destruction of the Temple as a “proof” that the Old Covenant has been replaced by the New, implying a pre-A.D. 70 date. In addition, the church has “not yet suffered to the point of shedding blood” (12:4).  If the recipients are in Rome, then the letter must refer to a time prior to Nero’s persecution of Christians (A.D.64), but after Caligula expelled Jews (A.D. 49).

Given this context, the recipients struggle with the promises of Christian faith.  If Jesus is the true sacrifice and the fulfillment of the promises of the Hebrew Bible, why have they suffered so much?   As J. W. Thompson says in his Hebrews commentary, the book is written to “reorient a community that has been disoriented by the chasm between Christian confession of triumph and the reality of suffering it has experienced.”

Coptic Christians protest against the killings of people during clashes in Cairo between Christian protesters and military police, and what the demonstrators say is persecution of Christians, in Los Angeles, California October 16, 2011. Egyptians detained in connection with clashes between Christian protesters and military police that left 25 people dead should be tried in civilian not military courts, presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei said on Sunday. The former U.N. diplomat's comments reflect public frustration at the army's handling of clashes on Oct. 9, when protesters said they were attacked by unidentified "thugs" and then said military police used excessive force against them. The authorities have detained 28 people on suspicion of attacking soldiers during the protest. Trials will be held before a military court. Rights groups have criticised the use of such courts by Egypt's ruling army council. The demonstrators are rallying for Barack Obama's administration to intervene. REUTERS/David McNew (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST RELIGION)

This is not apologetics in the modern sense, it does not argue against Judaism, nor does it state that Judaism was bad or wrong in any way.  Rather, the writer constructs a positive argument for Jesus’ superiority to various elements of Judaism; he is superior because he is the fulfillment of these things. (He is the substance to which the shadow pointed).

If I am right about the context of the book and the recipients have suffered for their faith already (and are about to suffer even more so under Nero), then the readers may very well have struggled with the shame of suffering in a culture which did not see suffering as a virtue. Within a Jewish context, suffering is sometimes seen as a result of sin, or at the very least, a lack of blessing from God.  We only need to look at the discussion in the book of Job to see that there was a lively discussion of why humans suffer.  If Christians are right and Jesus has triumphed, then why are his followers not blessed?  Why are they suffering?

Within a Greco-Roman context, Christians were not seen as successful because they suffered.  Roman thinking was very much based on honor and shame, of one suffered shame and humiliation in public, one cannot be described as successful!

The book therefore addresses a very real problem.  If Jesus is already seated at the right hand of the Father, why is it that Christians suffer shame and persecution?  Christians are not “of this world,” they are part of the real, unshakeable reality which is not of this world at all.

The theological dissonance which the book of Hebrews addresses is certainly applicable to Christians living in the persecuted world. They may ask, like the recipients of Hebrews, “what good is being faithful”? There are many examples of faithful Christians who suffer frequent shame and humiliation. I am not sure it has come to this in American, where we considered a Red Cup oppressive. But it is true Christianity is becoming a minority voice in American and evangelical Christianity may soon have little or no impact on culture.

How does Hebrews help the Christian who suffers in an anti-Christian world?

Herbert W. Bateman, IV. Charts on the Book of Hebrews. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2012. 266 pages, pb. $26.99. Link.

When I first started teaching, I made a great deal of use of several “chart” books published by Zondervan. These books summarized large topics (Christological controversies, Old Testament Kings, etc.) in a simple, visually appealing format. Since the topics covered by these chart books were broad, the charts tended to be very general, although occasionally there was a page or two on a very specific topic, such as the date of the Exodus, etc.

Hebrews ChartsKregel has revived the idea of a “chart book with their“Charts of the Bible and Theology” Series. This new series is much more focused than the older Zondervan series.  The series already includes Mark Wilson on Revelation and Lars Kierspel on Paul’s Life, Letters and Theology. Herb Bateman’s contribution to the series is focused solely on the book of Hebrews. This book is 8 ½ by 11 inch and seems designed for copying and use in a classroom. The copyright page specifically states that no part of the book may be reproduced “except for classroom use.”

The book is divided into four sections, each with several subsections. About 50 pages are devoted to introductory questions.  Here Bateman collects data from both historic and modern commentaries on authorship, destination, recipients and date of Hebrews. For Hebrews, these are all topics which have generated considerable discussion. The data for authorship, for example, is presented several ways. Several charts list the suggested authors of the book by era, then several additional charts list arguments for (or against) the major candidates for authorship. What makes these charts valuable is the wealth of bibliographic information, citing not only the scholar’s name but the work in which the suggestion was made whether a monograph, commentary or journal article. I particularly liked the chart on the canonical placement of Hebrews (chart 26). I knew that Hebrews appeared after Romans in some manuscripts. Batemen lists them along with date and text-type, but also the other seven places Hebrews appears on other manuscripts.

I think that some of the charts could have been more efficiently designed. Chart 9, for example, lists the destination of the book in major, modern commentators in alphabetical order by the scholars last name. Since the vast majority of these commentaries support the consensus view that Rome was the destination of the letter, those might have been listed under one heading, with the dissenting views under a separate heading. The data is still very valuable for quickly surveying 20+ major commentaries from 1987 to 2010. Several charts struck me as “filler,” such as chart 15, a comparison chart of the date of all New Testament books in eight different New Testament Introductions. There are several charts on formation of the canon which are not particularly focused on Hebrews at all (chart 29, for example). While all of this is valuable information, it goes beyond the scope of a “chart on Hebrews.”

The second section of the chart book deal with Old Testament and Second Temple Period influences on Hebrews. There are several charts on Old Testament citations and allusions, with the data sorted in different ways. Batemen includes several charts showing the design of the Tabernacle and some summaries of Old Testament feasts as well as the elements of the Day of Atonement alluded to by Hebrews. This section contains valuable charts with relevant pseudepigraphical literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls with relevant parallels to Hebrews. Again, these are detailed and useful charts which summarize a great deal of information in a page or two. The charts on messianic figures in the Second Temple Period literature (charts 48-50) are very well done and contains a great deal of data on the topic in the literature of the Second Temple Period. There are a few “filler” charts in this section as well – the high priests of the early Hasmonean period (chart 45), Herod’s family tree (chart 46) and the high priests of the Herodian period (chart 47) are excellent collections of data (names, dates, and reference in Josephus), but their connection to the book of Hebrews is tangential at best.

Hebrews Charts 2The third section concerns the theology of Hebrews. These are perhaps the best charts for use in teaching the book of Hebrews in a classroom or Sunday School setting. Most take a theme in Hebrews and list the texts in the book which develop this theme. For example, Jesus and Wisdom (chart 63) and the “better than” statements in Hebrews (chart 67) work these themes through the book, giving many examples from Hebrews. . Some of these charts contain massive amounts of texts. “Titles Ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament” (chart 66), for example, includes all of the titles in Hebrews, but gives parallel texts in the Gospels/Acts, the Pauline Letters, and the General Epistles.

The fourth section of the book contains charts for exegesis. Many of these are parallel columns comparing the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, and Greek New Testament for specific citations. The value of these charts is for the exegete who wants to study how the writer of Hebrews cites Scripture, or perhaps adapts Scripture for his own use. This section also includes several charts comparing the manuscript evidence for the text of Hebrews. The major text variants in the book are included with some commentary drawn from Metzgar’s Textual commentary. Chart 103 has a list of words which are unique to Hebrews, in Greek alphabetical order, along with various translations of these unique words (KJV, NIV, ESV, etc.) This data is then repeated in chart 104, but it is arranged by chapter. These sections are about seventeen pages each, so they would be better described as an appendix than a chart.

The book concludes with sixteen pages of commentary on the charts. This section gives more information on the charts and perhaps should be seen as “suggestions for using this material.” Occasionally bibliographical material is included here so the reader can study the material on the charts in more depth. Bateman also provides eleven pages of bibliography broken into the sections found in the book.

Conclusion. There is a staggering amount of information in Charts on the Book of Hebrews. I think that Bateman has drawn together valuable information from a wide range of sources. The student of Hebrews will find sections of this book valuable for covering issues at a glance. Although there are some sections which I described as “interesting filler,” there is little in this book that is without value for the study of Hebrews. I think that some of the charts would be valuable as handouts for a Sunday School class or serious Bible Study. The theology section especially will help a teacher treat sections of the book of Hebrews which are quite difficult. I will be teaching Hebrews in the fall of 2013 as part of an undergraduate course on Jewish Christian literature and plan on making use of this book.

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

You can download a free PDF sample of Faithful to the End:  An Introduction to Hebrews Through Revelation by Terry L. Wilder, J. Daryl Charles, and Kendell Easley courtesy of Broadman and Holman.  It is the entire chapter on Hebrews and gives you a good idea of what the whole book is like.

I am using Faithful to the End as the textbook for my Jewish Christian Literature class this spring and have enjoyed it so far.  While there are not very many books covering this section in survey fashion, this is certainly one of the best.  It forms the last part of a NT survey set, with Craig Blomberg covering the Gospels and Acts and Epistles in two separate volumes.

One of the problems with reading Hebrews is identifying the date and recipient of the letter. I am fairly well convinced that the recipients were in Rome, living just before the Neroian persecutions.  I think the standard arguments for this position are solid (see Faithful to the End, for example).

Given this context, the recipients struggle with the promises of Christian faith.  If Jesus is the true sacrifice and the fulfillment of the promises of the Hebrew Bible, why have they suffered so much?   As J. W. Thompson says in his Hebrews commentary, the book is written to “reorient a community that has been disoriented by the chasm between Christian confession of triumph and the reality of suffering it has experienced.”

This is not apologetics in the modern sense, it does not argue against Judaism, nor does it state that Judaism was bad or wrong in any way.  Rather, the writer constructs a positive argument for Jesus’ superiority to various elements of Judaism; he is superior because he is the fulfillment of these things. (He is the substance to which the shadow pointed).  If I am right about the context of the book and the recipients have suffered for their faith already (and are about to suffer even more so under Nero), then the readers may very well have struggled with the shame of suffering in a culture which did not see suffering as a virtue.

  • Within a Jewish context, suffering is sometimes seen as a result of sin, or at the very least, a lack of blessing from God.  We only need to look at the discussion in the book of Job to see that there was a lively discussion of why humans suffer.  If Christians are right and Jesus has triumphed, then why are his followers not blessed?  Why are they suffering?
  • Within a Greco-Roman context, Christians were not seen as successful because they suffered.  Roman thinking was very much based on honor and shame, of one suffered shame and humiliation in public, one cannot be described as successful!

The book therefore addresses a very real problem.  If Jesus is already seated at the right hand of the Father, why is it that Christians suffer shame and persecution?  Christians are not “of this world,” they are part of the real, unshakeable reality which is not of this world at all.

The theological dissonance which the book of Hebrews addresses is certainly applicable to the church today, especially in America.   Evangelical American Christian can be described as “triumphant,” especially in the last half of the 20th century.  Evangelical churches expanded greatly and had a greater impact on culture than at any time in history.

We very well may be past that now.  Studies indicate that the church is still growing, but at a pace which is slower than the general population.  We are beginning to lose ground and we have in many ways lost our voice in the public square.   Perhaps this is due to Christians who have humiliated themselves and brought shame to the cause of Christ, or because some very bad people chose to use evangelical Christianity as a way to advance political careers.

Whatever the reason, the tide is turning in America and we may face a time when we can ask, like the recipients of Hebrews, “what good is being faithful”? We think we have been faithful and we continue to suffer shame and humiliation.  We are in fact losing ground to the secular world.   Certainly this has already happened in Europe, Christian is a minority voice, evangelical Christianity has virtually no impact on culture in Europe.

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Christian Theology

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