Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Assembling the Cloud of Witnesses

Heythrop College University of London
Centre for Textual Studies

Assembling the Cloud of Witnesses
Essays in Honour of Marie Isaacs (1936 - 2016)
Friday 9 March 2018 at 10.30am

The Heythrop Centre for Textual Studies presents a one-day colloquium in honour of Rev. Dr. Marie Isaacs, a New Testament scholar, the author of The Concept of Spirit: A Study of Pneuma in Hellenistic Judaism and Its Bearing on the New Testament (1976); Sacred Space: An Approach to the Theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews (1992); Reading Hebrews and James: A Literary and Theological Commentary (2002). Marie taught at Heythrop for 30 years, becoming head of the department of Biblical Studies and serving as college Vice-Principal. Alongside her academic career, Marie was an ordained minister and one of the first women ministers in the Baptist Church.

The programme will include contributions by Marie’s former colleagues from Heythrop and King’s College as well as a new generation of Heythrop-associated scholars, paying tribute to Marie’s scholarly work and exploring various areas of biblical studies. The list of confirmed speakers includes:

Nick King, The Spirit in John's Gospel: A tribute to Marie Isaacs

Jenny Dines, Witnesses Under a Cloud: who and what are Hypocrites in the New Testament?

Ann Jeffers, The Case of the Clever Ancestress: the afterlives of Sarah in Hebrews, Philo and the Testament of Abraham

Bridget Gilfillan Upton, Neither History nor Fiction: John's Gospel as Persuasion/Propaganda

Mary Mills, Literary Violence in the Book of Revelation

Sean Ryan, Sacred Space in the Apocalypse: The "shrine of the tent of witness in heaven" (Rev 15:5)

Jonathan Norton, The Rhetorical Purpose of the Hypocrite in Romans 1-3

Alison Fincham, In Training for the Heavenly City: Hebrews 12:1-13

Starting at 10 for 10.30am. Registration fee of £15 will be charged to cover the cost of catering.

Conference organisers: Dr Jonathan Norton, Dr Sean Ryan (Heythrop Centre for Textual Studies)

Friday, March 2, 2018

Whitfield Reviews Dyer, Suffering in the Face of Death

Bryan J. Whitfield reviews Bryan R. Dyer, Suffering in the Face of Death: The Epistle to the Hebrews and Its Context of Situation for RBL.

I have a review of Dyer's book forthcoming in the June issue of the Horizons journal. I will publish the review once it has appeared in print. Since I was constrained by a word limit, you will find Whitfield's review to be more thorough.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Hebrews Highlights February 2018

Phillip Long continues his series on Hebrews:
     Hebrews 7:1–3 – Who Was Melchizedek?
     Hebrews 8–9 – Old Israel, New Church?
     Hebrews 9:11–22 – The Christ, the Unblemished Sacrifice
     Hebrews 10:32–39 – Recall the Former Days
     Hebrews 10:39 – We Are Not of Those Who Shrink Back
     Hebrews 12:1–3 – Running the Race
     Hebrews 12:18–29 – Marching to Zion
Ken Schenck has completed his series on Concentrated Hebrews:
     Hebrews 4:14–5:11
     Hebrews 5:12–6:20
     Hebrews 7:1–28
     Hebrews 8:1–10:18
     Hebrews 10:19–11:40
     Hebrews 12:1–29
     Hebrews 13:1–25

Mike Heiser answers questions about the book of Hebrews:
     Hebrews Q&A Part 1
     Hebrews Q&A Part 2

David deSilva preaches a sermon on Hebrews 12:28–13:16: "Going to Serve Christ"
He preaches another sermon on Matthew 4:1–11 and Hebrews 4:12–16: "The Divine Source Code"

Austin Duncan explains how you can Preach Like Hebrews.

Stephen Rankin preaches a sermon on The Peaceful Fruit of Righteousness based on Hebrews 12:7, 11.

Henry Neufeld offers A Brief Note on Hebrews and Structure.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Review of Ribbens, Levitical Sacrifice and Heavenly Cult in Hebrews

A slightly edited version of this review has appeared in Horizons: The Journal of the CollegeTheological Society 44.2 (December 2017): 513–14. Copyright: College Theology Society 2017. Used by permission. 

Levitical Sacrifice and Heavenly Cult in Hebrews. By Benjamin J. Ribbens. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2016. Pp. XVII +297. $140.00.

In assessing Hebrews’ understanding of the relationship between the old covenant sacrifices and Christ’s new covenant sacrifice, many scholars conclude that Hebrews takes a negative view of the old covenant cult. Ribbens challenges this position by contending that Hebrews affirms the efficacy of the old covenant sacrifices while also asserting the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice.

Chapter 1 sets forth the need for this study. Some scholars have negatively evaluated Hebrews’ theology of sacrifice, claiming that Hebrews’ argument is self-contradictory and/or intentionally misinterprets the Septuagint. Ribbens’ survey of various proposals concerning the relationship between the old and new covenant sacrifices reveals a lack of scholarly consensus regarding Hebrews’ understanding of the efficacy of these sacrifices. This study attempts to remedy these defects.

In chapters 2–3 Ribbens attempts to situate Hebrews within its socio-religious context. Chapter 2 examines Second Temple Judaism’s understanding of the efficacy of sacrifice. Sacrifices were meant primarily to provide atonement, forgiveness of sins, and purification. Chapter 3 then considers the concept of a heavenly cult in Second Temple Judaism. The chapter focuses particularly on texts that describe a heavenly temple in which God dwells and angels function as priests. The earthly cult derived its legitimacy by properly imitating the heavenly cult.

Chapters 4–6 turn to an examination of Hebrews itself. In chapter 4, after dealing with the obligatory introductory matters, Ribbens turns to consider the possible conceptual background for Hebrews’ notion of a heavenly tabernacle. He rejects the Platonic/Philonic tradition in favor of the Jewish mystical apocalyptic tradition as the more likely background for Hebrews’ thought. After investigating several key passages in Hebrews, Ribbens contends that Hebrews follows a Day of Atonement pattern. Christ’s sacrifice is a process that begins with his passion on earth, but is not completed until Christ rises from the dead, ascends through the heavens, and enters the heavenly Holy of Holies as the heavenly high priest who offers himself as a sacrifice through the presentation of his own blood. Since the earthly tabernacle derived its validity by being modeled after the heavenly sanctuary, the same thing could be said about earthly sacrifices since they are patterned after Christ’s heavenly sacrifice.

Chapter 5 examines Hebrews’ view of the old covenant sacrifices. They are efficacious in that they provide atonement and forgiveness of sins. However, the author also critiques them for what they could not accomplish. They could not provide access to God, perfection, or redemption. Chapter 6, by contrast, enumerates the many salvific benefits that Christ’s new covenant sacrifice did accomplish. These benefits include atonement, forgiveness, purification, perfection, redemption, removal of sin, and cleansing of the conscience.

In chapter 7, in light of the results achieved in his study, Ribbens returns to evaluate the proposals surveyed in chapter 1 highlighting their inadequacies to account for the relationship between the old and new covenant sacrifices. He concludes the chapter by arguing that his study supports a more positive view of the old covenant sacrifices as sacramental, christological types. The old covenant sacrifices were external rituals which only derived their efficacy to achieve forgiveness and atonement by being linked proleptically to the efficacious sacrifice of Christ.

Ribbens writes with lucid prose and presents a well-crafted argument. His survey of the various scholarly proposals is clear and concise. He cogently develops his argument and keeps it tightly focused without getting sidetracked with peripheral issues. When assessing various interpretive options, he represents the views of others fairly while also charitably critiquing those that are inadequate. Ribben’s main contribution to the scholarly discussion of Hebrews is to get us to reconsider Hebrews’ attitude toward the old covenant sacrifices. Hebrews’ argument regarding sacrifices is neither self-contradictory nor does it mishandle the interpretation of the Septuagint. Hebrews instead offers a synkrisis which compares good versus better. While Hebrews views the old covenant sacrifices positively, it regards them as incomplete and anticipatory of the perfect, singular sacrifice of Christ which renders their observance no longer necessary. This monograph is more suited for graduate-level work and would be a valuable addition to any theological library.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

New Dissertation on Social Identity in Hebrews

I stumbled across this dissertation today. I am adding it to the dissertations page:

Kissi, Seth. “Social Identity in Hebrews and the Akan Community in Ghana.” Ph.D. diss., University of Pretoria, 2017.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Two New Articles on Hebrews in Novum Testamentum

Two new articles on Hebrews have appeared in the latest issue of Novum Testamentum:

Baugh, S. M. “Greek Periods in the Book of Hebrews.” Novum Testamentum 60.1 (2018): 24–44.

"It is typical for students of the book of Hebrews to comment on its long, complex sentences or “periods” as evidence of the author’s literary and rhetorical skills. This essay surveys ancient and modern views on the Greek period and finds that they are typically shorter, antithetical or “rounded” statements which may or may not coincide with a grammatical sentence. Example periods in Hebrews are then discussed along with observations on other, supporting literary features of the epistle in those places where the author occasionally employs a periodic style."

Doran, Robert. “The Persuasive Arguments at Play in Heb 2:11 and 7:12.” Novum Testamentum 60.1 (2018): 45–54.

"The phrase ‘from one’ in Heb 2:11 does not refer to some common ancestor or creator, but is the commonplace that common predication connects those so predicated. At Heb 7:12, the author draws upon the accepted connection in the Mediterranean world between form of government and worldview/religion—to change one is to change the other—and so the argument is rhetorically persuasive."

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

New Article on the Sabbath Rest in Hebrews

The following article has just appeared in NTS:

Langziner, Daniel. “‘A Sabbath Rest for the People of God’: (Heb 4.9): Hebrews and Philo on the Seventh Day of Creation.” New Testament Studies 64.1 (2017): 94–107.

"This article examines the background of the concept of Sabbath rest (σαββατισμός) in Heb 4.1–11. Special attention is given to the relation between God's rest and God's activity, which seemingly are in tension with each other: on the one hand, the author's argument is based on the assumption that God entered his rest at the seventh day of creation and stopped working forever (4.10); on the other hand, there is a clear reference to God's works after creation (3.9–10). A comparison with Philo's explanations of the seventh day of creation, however, reveals that for a Jewish Middle Platonist this tension does not appear to be a problem because rest and activity in God are two sides of the same coin. It is argued that this background helps to explain Hebrews’ concept of Sabbath rest. A concluding outlook shows that the suggested Middle Platonic understanding of Hebrews 4 fits well the context of the epistle as a whole, as the same coexistence of rest and activity can also be found in Hebrews 7 in relation to Jesus’ intercession in the heavenly tabernacle."

Church on the Temple

A link to the following dissertation has been added to the dissertations page:

Church, Philip Arthur Frederick. “Wilderness Tabernacle and Eschatological Temple: A Study in Temple Symbolism in Hebrews in Light of Attitudes to the Temple in the Literature of Middle Judaism.” Ph.D. diss., University of Otago, 2012.

HT: Cliff Kvidahl

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Jesus' Indestructible Life

A new article has appeared which discusses Jesus' indestructible life:

Kibbe, Michael. “‘You are a Priest Forever!’ Jesus’ Indestructible Life in Hebrews 7:16.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 39.2 (2017): 134–55.

"Hebrews 7:16 suggests that Jesus entered the priesthood by virtue of his “indestructible life.” But what sort of life is that? How and when did he obtain it? If it pertains to his resurrected-human life, was he therefore not a priest prior to that moment (including, in particular, during his death on the cross)? If it pertains to his divine life (thus he possesses it always), in what sense could the man Jesus have actually died? I suggest that the author has neither deity nor resurrection in view as the source of Jesus’ indestructible life; rather, the point is merely that Jesus’ perpetual existence undergirds the oath that immediately follows in 7:17. However, Hebrews as a whole requires that we envision that existence in relation to both Jesus’ deity and his resurrection, and I argue, furthermore, that the two cohere via the divine Son’s agency in his own resurrection."

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

New Books and Essays on Hebrews

Having recently returned from the annual SBL conference, I came across a few new resources on Hebrews.

First, Concordia has come out with a commentary on Hebrews by John Kleinig:

"This commentary is built on the common agreement that this book is a written sermon by an unknown speaker. John Kleinig, the author of this Concordia Commentary, proposes an interpretation of the text that uses a new kind of liturgical rhetoric, a new method of discourse analysis, and a new consideration of the context and purpose of the homily."

Second, InterVarsity Press has come out with the latest installment in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series with its volume on Hebrews-James by Ronald Rittgers:

"In this volume of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture, church historian and theologian Ronald K. Rittgers guides readers through a diversity of early modern commentary on both Hebrews and James. Readers will hear from familiar voices as well as lesser-known figures from a variety of theological traditions, including Lutherans, Reformed, Radicals, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics.

Drawing on a variety of resources—including commentaries, sermons, treatises, and confessions—much of which appears here for the first time in English, this volume provides resources for contemporary preachers, enables scholars to better understand the depth and breadth of Reformation commentary, and helps all who seek the assurance and conviction that is found in Christ alone."

Third, GlossaHouse has produced a festschrift for Donald Hagner, entitled Treasures New & Old. It contains a couple of essays on Hebrews:

Schreiner, Thomas R. "Another Look at the Warnings in Hebrews: A Response to Critics." Pages 231–48.

Mackie, Scott D. "Experiential Cultic Soteriology and the Origins of Hebrews' High Priest Christology." Pages 249–67.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Hebrews at SBL

The annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature will be held on November 18–21, 2017 in Boston, MA. The following are sessions relevant to the book of Hebrews.


Institute for Biblical Research
1:00 PM to 3:15 PM
Room: Back Bay C (Second Level) - Sheraton Boston Hotel (SB)Theme: Scripture and Doctrine Seminar
The Scripture and Doctrine Seminar (SADS) focuses on the intersection of Scripture and Doctrine. It explores how Scripture leads to the formulation of doctrine and how doctrine illuminates our reading of the Bible. For further information contact the chair, Benjamin Quinn (bquinn@sebts.edu) and see http://www.stgeorgesonline.com/centre/sads/ and https://www.ibr-bbr.org/ (Click on Research Groups). The Seminar is a joint venture between the St. George’s Centre for Biblical and Public Theology and the St. Paul Centre for Biblical Theology.
Benjamin Quinn, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Presiding
Benjamin Quinn, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Welcome (10 min)
Steve Harris, Hamilton, ON, Canada
Hebrews in Historical Theology: The Contours (20 min)
Craig Bartholomew, KLICE, Tyndale House, Cambridge
Creation, the Ongoing Priesthood of Jesus, and Divine Action in Hebrews (15 min)
Gareth Cockerill, Wesley Biblical Seminary
The Present Priesthood of the Son of God (15 min)
Break (3 min)
Luke Stamps, Anderson University
"No One Greater": Hebrews and Classical Christian Theism (15 min)
Scott Hahn, Franciscan University of Steubenville
Covenant, Sacrifice, and Divine Action in Hebrews (15 min)
Break (2 min)
Q & A Panel with Presenters
Discussion (40 min)
Q & A Additional Panelists
Michael Rhodes, Memphis Center for Urban Theological Studies, Panelist
Amy Peeler, Wheaton College, Panelist
Closing Prayer


Space, Place, and Lived Experience in Antiquity
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Tufts (Third Level) - Boston Marriott Copley Place (MCP)Theme: Sanctuary, Space, and Place in Antiquity
Perspectives on sanctuary, space, and place in antiquity.

Kenneth A. Vandergriff, Florida State University
Power, Empire, and Space: Constructing Sanctuary in a First Century CE Church and American Sanctuary Churches (30 min)


Intertextuality in the New Testament
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Republic A (Second Level) - Sheraton Boston Hotel (SB)Theme: Pentateuch in the New Testament

Channing L. Crisler, Anderson University (SC)
Abel as a Protological and Polyvalent Figure in Early Christian Intertextuality (20 min)
Discussion (10 min)


1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Beacon H (Third Level) - Sheraton Boston Hotel (SB)Theme: Current Issues in Hebrews
David Moffitt, University of St. Andrews, Presiding
Brad Bitner, Oak Hill College
Dexiosis and the Son in Hebrews 1:3-4: Divine Kingship in Light of Epigraphical and Sculptural Evidence (30 min)
Shawn J. Wilhite, California Baptist University
“To which of the angels did God ever say?”: Filial Language and the Angelic Polemic in Hebrews 1–2 (30 min)
Eyal Regev, Bar-Ilan University
Hebrews' Priestly Christology and the Understanding of the Death of Jesus: Taking the Temple Cult Seriously (30 min)
J. Harrison Duff, University of St. Andrews
A Sacrifice for His Own Sins? Heb 4:15 and 7:27 in the Sixteenth Century and Beyond (30 min)
Paul Middleton, University of Chester
‘It is for discipline that you have to endure’ (Hebrews 12.7a): Persecution as divine chastisement in Hebrews (30 min)


Intertextuality in the New Testament
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: New Hampshire (Fifth Level) - Boston Marriott Copley Place (MCP)

Caroline Schleier Cutler, McMaster Divinity College
Finding Sophia: The Use of the Book of Wisdom in Hebrews 1:3 and Its Christological Implications (20 min)
Discussion (10 min)


African-American Biblical Hermeneutics
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Maverick A (Second Level) - Hilton Boston Back Bay (HBB)Theme: Experimental Methods, New Meanings, and New Voices
This is an open session that pushes the field beyond current methodological and interpretive boundaries.

Eric A. Thomas, Drew University
On the PULSE of Mo(u)rning: Reading Hebrews 11:29-12:2 Between Orlando and Charleston (25 min)


1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Back Bay A (Second Level) - Sheraton Boston Hotel (SB)Theme: Hebrews as Interpreted in the Reformation
Amy Peeler, Wheaton College (Illinois), Presiding
Presenter withdrew (30 min)
Bruce Gordon, Yale Divinity School
Protestant Reformers and the Priesthood of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:1-10) (30 min)
Peter Opitz, Swiss Reformation Studies Institute, Zurich
Zwingli and Bullinger as Exegetes of Hebrews (30 min)
Jennifer Powell McNutt, Wheaton College
Don’t Do It Yourself: Hermeneutics for Hebrews through the Material History of Sixteenth-Century Reformed Bibles (30 min)


Writing Social-Scientific Commentaries of the New Testament
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Tremont (First Level) - Boston Marriott Copley Place (MCP)Theme: Social Identity Theology Investigations: Critical Advances and Evaluations
Visitors are most welcome to the sessions of the seminar. Papers are distributed beforehand and only summarized in the sessions. If you are interested in participating and receiving the papers, please contact the chairs: Petri.Luomanen@helsinki.fi or Brian.Tucker@moody.edu

Matthew Marohl, Saint Olaf College
Comparing the Faithfulness of a Servant to that of a Son (Hebrews 3:1-6) (10 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Hebrews at ETS

The 69th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society will be held Wednesday through Friday, November 15-17, 2017 at the Rhode Island Convention Center and the Omni Providence Hotel. The following sessions are relevant to the book of Hebrews.

Wednesday, Novermber 15
2:00 PM – 5:10 PM
Omni – Providence II
Letter to the Hebrews
Moderator: George Guthrie 

(Union University)

2:00 PM – 2:40 PM
Jesse Coyne
(Mercer University)
Tabernacle, Transition, and Turbulence: Hebrews and Numbers in Concert

2:50 PM – 3:30 PM
Todd R. Chipman
(Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)
Weapons, Wealth and the End of the World: Investigating Hag 2:6 in 1QM and Hebrews 12

3:40 PM – 4:20 PM
Shawn J. Wilhite
(California Baptist University)
“To which of the angels did God ever say?”: Filial Language and the Angelic Polemic in Heb 1–2

4:30 PM – 5:10 PM
Matt Kimbrough
(Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)
‘You Ought to Be Teachers’: Community Obligation in Hebrews 5:12 

Wednesday, November 15
2:00 PM – 5:10 PM
Convention Center – 556
New Testament
General Studies II

4:30 PM – 5:10 PM
Matthew C. Easter
(Missouri Baptist University)
Esau as Prototypical Defector from the Community of Faith in Hebrews 12:16-17

Thursday, November 16
3:00 PM – 6:10 PM
Convention Center – 553 B
Letter to the Hebrews
The Atonement in Hebrews
Moderator: Jon C. Laansma
(Wheaton College and Graduate School)

3:00 PM – 3:40 PM
Michael Allen
(Reformed Theological Seminary)
Living and Active: The Exalted Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews

3:50 PM – 4:30 PM
Gabriella Gelardini*
(Universität Basel)

4:40 PM – 5:20 PM
David Moffitt*
(University of St. Andrews)

5:30 PM – 6:10 PM
Derek Z. Rishmawy
(Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)
Offered Up through the Eternal Spirit: A Dogmatic Reading of Christ’s Pneumatological Priesthood in Hebrews 9:14

Monday, November 6, 2017

Hebrews Greek Reading Videos

Todd Scacewater has informed me that Exegetical Tools.com is providing a Greek reading video series on Hebrews. The author is Amy Peeler, who is Associate Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. She walks you through translating every verse in the epistle to the Hebrews in 48 videos. The $49.95 fee will give you access to all of the online videos. There is a preview video you can look at.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Hebrews Highlights October 2017

Michael Kruger argues that One of the Best (and Most Overlooked) Passages that Demonstrates the Divinity of Jesus is Hebrews 1.

Mike Heiser has posted his latest podcasts on Hebrews 3 and Hebrews 4:1–13. (I'll be adding links to the podcasts on my multimedia page as they become available)

Ken Schenck has some thoughts on Hebrews and New Perspectives. This looks like a section in a book that he is writing on Hebrews.

Charles Savelle poses Five Questions with Roger Pugh on Hebrews. Pugh has written a new commentary on Hebrews: Hearing God's Voice and Responding in Faith: A Commentary on Hebrews, available on Amazon.com. It appears to be on a more popular level.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Monday, October 16, 2017

Jesus as the Immolated Goat in Hebrews?

In a recently published monograph, Andrei Orlov argues that, in Hebrews, Jesus is identified with the immolated goat of the Yom Kippur ritual. His argument can be found in the following chapter:

Orlov, Andrei A. “Jesus as the Immolated Goat in the Epistle to the Hebrews.” Pages 65–72 in The Atoning Dyad: The Two Goats of Yom Kippur in the Apocalypse of Abraham. Studia Judaeslavica 8. Leiden: Brill, 2016.

Thanks to Andrei for a copy of the chapter.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Review of Laansma, The Letter to the Hebrews

Laansma, Jon C. The Letter to the Hebrews: A Commentary for Preaching, Teaching, and Bible Study. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017. Pp. xxii + 342.

This commentary was originally slated to be a part of Baker’s Teach the Text series, but that series was cancelled. Laansma states, “The intended reader of this commentary is a motivated, curious, experienced reader of the Scriptures . . . who wants a specialist to get straight to the bottom line with each passage” (xiii). References to primary and secondary sources are kept to a minimum. The commentary is geared towards busy pastors and teachers.

In the introduction, Laansma notes that the genre of Hebrews is best described as a sermon with an epistolary ending. He believes that chapter 13 is a genuine part of the book. The author is a rhetorically skilled communicator, but he does not follow a set rhetorical structure but shapes his argument in order to address pastoral concerns. Laansma briefly outlines the argument of Hebrews and presents an outline. The outline follows the fairly standard paragraph divisions. Laansma divides the commentary into 37 units for the purposes of exposition.

The author of Hebrews cannot be determined. He is likely a highly educated male. There are some good reasons to suspect that the audience was in Rome, but nothing definitive can be asserted. Laansma surmises that the audience was ethnically mixed. He seems inclined towards a date in the 60s, but again nothing definitive can be determined. The church addressed has been in existence for some time. It started out as a robust Christian community but persecution had begun to wear on them and some were beginning to flag in their faith. The author calls them to persevere in their faith.

Laansma next considers the reception and canonicity of Hebrews. Hebrews was more quickly accepted in the East than in the West. It did not receive broad acceptance until well into the fifth century. Laansma opines that “Hebrews declared its own authority and its place in the Christian canon, possessing the (finally) irrepressible voice of apostolicity” (p. 12). Ultimately, Hebrews has passed the test of time and must be read as “inspired, canonical divine speech” (p. 12).

Laansma gives an overview of the preacher’s strategy. It involves including the readers in the salvation story of Israel which finds its culmination in the Son. He then considers the author’s thought world. While Hebrews seems to share similarities with Philonism, these similarities are more confined to “parallels of expressions that substantially differ in meaning” (p. 17).

Laansma then examines the Christology of Hebrews. He focuses in particular on the names and titles (Son, Jesus, Christ, Lord, priest, mediator) and what they reveal about him, though he cautions that we should not understand these titles apart from whole portrait of Christ portrayed in the book. Hebrews also affirms both the full deity and humanity of Christ. Hebrews appropriates the Old Testament witness. It foreshadows the person of Christ, but not in a complete way. Laansma then makes some comments about the heavenly tabernacle in Hebrews. It is not entirely clear whether we should take Hebrews’ imagery literally or figuratively; these may be modern categories imposed upon an ancient text. Nor is Hebrews’ heavenly tabernacle imagery entirely consistent. What the imagery does accomplish is point to the person of Christ.

Laansma then discusses the vast soteriological terminology of Hebrews (i.e., purification, sanctification, atonement, perfection, forgiveness, redemption). He then analyzes Hebrews’ soteriology through the lens of John Barclay’s paradigm of “the gift”. Laansma also notes that “covenant” is one of the driving themes in the discourse of Hebrews.

Laansma also spends some time situating Hebrews within the larger witness of the apostolic writings. The Jewish people are “near” to God by virtue of God’s grace, while the Gentiles are “far” away and must be grafted into God’s elect people. Yet in another respect the Jew is just as far from God as the Gentile; both need forgiveness and cleansing. The history of Israel is also humanity’s history for it is through the Jewish people that God would enact his saving plan for humanity. Furthermore, the history of humanity is divided between the time before Christ and the time after; between Moses’ covenant and the new covenant of Christ.

Laansma then notes that the goal of salvation, according to Hebrews, is a place: the Most Holy Place in which resides God’s throne; it is God’s resting place; it is the heavenly Jerusalem. It is the place of the holy God to whom access is obtained only through the bodily sacrifice of his Son. Hebrews summons its readers to obedience by drawing near to this God through Christ.

In the commentary proper, each unit is divided into five parts: (1) context: situates the passage within the literary context of Hebrews. Some of the chapters contains outlines which help give a sense of the flow of thought in Hebrews; (2) background: deals with background material that will aid in the interpretation of the passage; (3) comments on wording: this section is essentially a verse-by-verse commentary on the phrases and clauses contained within each passage. However, it is not an exhaustive, detailed commentary. The commentary is more in the way of notes or brief comments; (4) comments on theological terms; and (5) teaching Hebrews: this section highlights certain themes that will aid in teaching the book. For example, for 1:1–4 the themes highlighted are: scripture, revelation, and canon; Christology; salvation; and preaching.  Occasional side-bars are found sprinkled throughout the text. The commentary contains one excursus on “the Sabbath celebration in God’s resting place.”  End matter includes a moderate-sized bibliography and a subject index.

As can be seen in the previous paragraph, this commentary is somewhat distinctive from other commentaries. First, let us be clear about what this commentary is not. It is not a highly technical commentary. It does not deal with text-critical issues; it does not delve into the grammatical or syntactical issues of the Greek text; it references comparative literature sparingly; and it does not often weigh interpretive option regarding contested passages. Rather, this commentary is pitched at a more popular level (which is not to imply that it is unscholarly). Its writing style is more accessible and occasionally the author uses homely illustrations and metaphors to get his point across. I would say that this commentary is directed more towards busy pastors and teachers who need to get at the heart of the message of Hebrews, without plodding through the lengthier, more technical treatments of some Hebrews commentaries. I will confess that I prefer commentaries that having a running exposition of the text, but some readers may prefer the more segmented approach of this commentary.

It will be impossible to note all of the exegetical decisions that Laansma makes throughout the commentary. I will simply note some things that stood out for me.

Hebrews 1:6 has been a highly contested passage. Scholars are divided as to whether the passage refers to Jesus’ incarnation (birth), exaltation (enthronement), or second coming. Laansma takes it as a reference to Jesus’ enthronement when he will receive worship. The majority of recent scholars take the passage to be a reference to Jesus’ exaltation and so Laansma falls within the majority at this point.

Laansma raises the question of whether we should adopt the exegetical methods of the apostolic writings. Many scholars find their exegetical methods strange. Laansma proposes that we neither replicate nor replace their exegetical methods, but to translate them “into our cultural setting for the sake of effective proclamation and mission” (p. 60). The challenge, of course, is how to do this effectively.

In the commentary on Heb 2:5–9, Laansma seems to take an anthropological reading of Psalm 8, rather than a Christological one—scholars are equally divided over which reading is best. However, Laansma does a good job of noting how the author reinterprets the psalm in light of Christ.

Hebrews 2:11 is another contested passage. The phrase “from one” has been variously interpreted as referring to God, Adam, or Abraham, or to a more generic term like family, race, seed, or source. Laansma believes that it refers to Abraham, although he gives allowance for the possibility that it refers to God.

On page 85, Laansma notes that Heb 2:5–18 provides a storyline of Jesus: (1) humiliation: when he becomes human and descends below the angels; (2) exaltation: when he is raised, crowned with glory and honor, and acts as heavenly high priest; and (3) final dominion: when he places all things under his feet and provides aid to his brothers and sisters.

In an excursus on “the Sabbath celebration in God’s resting place,” Laansma explains that the Sabbath and God’s resting place is a celebration, it is a summation of all of Israel’s festivals, it is an entrance into the full shalom of God, it is a time of casting out wickedness and blessing the poor, it is an enjoyment of the presence of God, it is the goal of the journey of faith.

Along with many other interpreters of Hebrews, Laansma notes that 4:14–16 and 10:19–25 are framing passages for the central unit which focuses on Jesus’ high priesthood and self-offering.

In his discussion of 6:4–6, Laansma notes that in the NT documents there is tension between preservation and perseverance. He believes that Hebrews contains both, but generally presents believers as pilgrims on a journey towards salvation. So, in this respect one cannot truly lose one’s salvation because one has not arrived.

When dealing with 7:1–10 Laansma argues that Hebrews does not view Melchizedek other than as a human figure. This goes against the grain of many interpreters who believe Melchizedek is portrayed as an angelic or heavenly figure. Rather, Laansma argues that Hebrews simply makes a textual argument. Hebrews is rather restrained in its depiction of Melchizedek compared to the wild speculation of other contemporary literature. There is no evidence in the text that Hebrews was influenced by Melchizedek speculation.

Hebrews 9 contains a number of exegetical difficulties. Regarding the placement of the altar of incense in the tabernacle (9:4), Laansma chooses not to resolve the difficulty since it has little impact on the interpretation of Hebrews (He does provide a helpful diagram illustrating the placement of the altar of incense according to Hebrews’ and the Old Testament’s scenarios).

Regarding the enigmatic statement in 9:8, Laansma takes this to mean “that as long as the first (the Mosaic) tabernacle was operative, the way into the (second, the genuine and heavenly) Most Holy Place had not been disclosed” (p. 197). Now the way into the heavenly sanctuary has been revealed thus displacing the earthly sanctuary.

Regarding the symbolic value of the offering of blood, Laansma ultimately does not settle on whether blood represents life or death since the biblical texts are ambiguous regarding the manner in which it brings atonement. Laansma concludes that “Hebrews’ interest is to advance that Christ’s blood . . . effects cleansing and forgiveness rather than to explore how it does” (p. 198).

Another highly contested passage is 9:14. The phrase “through eternal Spirit” has variously been interpreted as a reference to the Holy Spirit or to Christ’s own spirit. Laansma takes it as a reference to the Holy Spirit while only briefly acknowledging the difficulty of the passage.

Laansma makes an interesting argument when discussing 9:15–22. Hebrews does not have one Old Testament ritual in view when discussing Christ’s sacrificial death. The author moves fluidly from Day of Atonement imagery to the inauguration of the covenant imagery. Laansma contends that in Hebrews all of the OT rituals are summed up in the one ministry of the Son. Hence, Hebrews frequently conflates OT ritual imagery throughout his argument. I think this is an important point that he makes and should be kept in mind when struggling to interpret the cultic imagery in the central portion of the book.

With many interpreters, Laansma believes that the author employs a word play for diatheke in 9:16–17. Diatheke can mean both “covenant” and “last will and testament.” The author exploits the ambiguity of the word in his argument. Just as the author shifts between Day of Atonement and covenant inauguration imagery seamlessly, so he shifts between the two meanings of diatheke.

Hebrews 9:23 is a notoriously difficult passage. Why does the author claim that “heavenly things” need to be cleansed? Laansma interestingly interprets the cleansing of the heavenly things as the new covenant people who have received their heavenly calling. It is the new covenant people who are cleansed. This is an intriguing suggestion that I don’t recall encountering before.

The quotation of Ps 40:6–8 (39:7–9 LXX) in Heb 10:5–7 involves a perplexing textual problem. The Hebrew literally reads, “my ears you have dug.” However, Hebrews quotes the LXX translation which reads, “a body you have prepared for me.” Laansma contends that the author used Ps 40 based on deeper theological reflection on the context of the psalm and not merely due to the fortuitous wording of the LXX.

Hebrews 10:20 is another difficult verse. Scholars have alternatively identified “flesh” with the “veil” or with “way.” Another question deals with how the preposition dia functions in the sentence (i.e., locally or instrumentally). Laansma briefly notes the difficulty of the verse but does not probe into the interpretive option. He simply opts for the view that Jesus’ “flesh” is the means of entrance into the heavenly realm.

Regarding the warning passage in Heb 10:26–31, Laansma remarks that “10:26–31 asserts the objective fact that rejecting this sacrifice is to leave one with no sacrifice, since there is no other; it does not explicitly repeat the threat of the impossibility of repentance (6:4–6)” (p. 253).

Hebrews 12:2 also has been variously interpreted. Laansma simply mentions in passing that “the joy set before him was the joy of sharing his salvation with his brothers and sisters (2:5–18)” (p. 300). From my research, this appears to be a minority view. More commentators take the joy to be the heavenly reward that awaited Jesus after enduring the crucifixion. This seems to me to be the more probable meaning of the verse, although Laansma's view is certainly possible.

As I noted above, this is not a highly technical commentary. Readers looking for intricate discussions on the Greek text or the weighing of interpretive options will need to go elsewhere. Only on a few occasions does Laansma acknowledge the difficulty of certain passages, but often he gives no hint that some passages have been highly contested among scholars. Clearly Laansma has other purposes in mind for this commentary. I think he has tried to offer a more accessible commentary by gliding over some of the more contested passages. This commentary is quite distinctive, not only in its format, as I have noted above, but also in much of its discussions. His discussions are not the usual fare that one finds in many of the more technical commentaries. I think readers will find that the unique manner in which he discusses the text will help them discover some fresh angles from which to view Hebrews.

Thanks to Jon Laansma for an electronic copy of this book and to James Stock of Wipf & Stock for a complimentary hard copy of the book.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Hebrews Highlights September 2017

Hebrews has seen some considerable discussion this month, but it has all been on Michael Kok's blog: He provides some Ancient External Evidence for the Authorship of Hebrews. He links to articles about Irenaeus and Origen on the Epistle to the Hebrews. He then examines the Internal Evidence for the Authorship of Hebrews. He then considers evidence for The Date of the Epistle to the Hebrews. He then provides a nice overview about the issues regarding The Audience of Hebrews. He provides some links to some online scholarly Outlines of Hebrews. He explores a couple of options for The Genre of Hebrews. He then discusses why Hebrews make Jesus out to be A Priest Like Melchizedek. He then discusses New Covenant Theology and Interfaith Dialogue. He then highlights Jewish Scholars on the Epistle to the Hebrews.